Manna from Mansur
Nearly two years after becoming his student, one day, Mansur taught his devoted student the art of grasping the Shadja. To this day, Panchakshari Swamy Matigatti, the recipient of this year's Kanaka Purandara Award, who was in the City recently, vows that nobody but his guru could merge swaras into the timbre of the tanpura drone to complete perfection, writes DEEPA GANESH.
AT THE end of a conversation with Panchakshari Swamy Matigatti, recipient of this year's Kanaka Purandara Award, one had learnt more about Mallikarjuna Mansur, his beloved teacher, than about the man himself. To this day, his first teacher Panchakshari Gawai's way of life and the great Mansur's music hold tremendous sway over this unassuming, publicity-shy musician, who, perhaps, is the only person, with the exception of Siddarama Jambaladinni, to have been taught by Mansur for a considerable length of time. Matigatti's association with music has been for about seven decades, of which, his association with Mansur makes up for nearly half a century, till the latter breathed his last in 1992.
Born in 1927 in the little village of Shishunala (his mother's home, and incidentally, that of the mystic poet Santa Shishunala Sharief), Matigatti was greatly enchanted by music from the very start. A great grandson of Sharief, Mounuddin Baba, who had returned to the village after several years of training in Carnatic music from Tanjavur, used to sing at the temple. Lured by his music, the young Matigatti would leave his bag behind at school and run to the temple.
"Palayamam shree gouri... ", Matigatti bursts into the song, as he remembers his first lessons from Mounuddin Baba. Curiously, even after several decades of training in Hindustani, his Carnatic graces are intact. Very soon, the schoolmaster turned up at the truant's home to complain, and Mounuddin Baba was driven out of the village on the pretext that he was leading innocent children astray.
However, very soon, his father Channabasavanna came to the boy's rescue. Apparently, before Matigatti's birth, Panchakshari Gawai had come to the village to seek alms, a routine practice at Veereshwara Punyashrama. When Channabasavanna went to see the great man, he had said: "You send me one of your children and I will teach him music." So, in 1936, recognising his son's passion for music, he sent him to the ashrama for lessons.
At the ashrama, students were not just trained in music, but also in theatre. An actor didn't just deliver his dialogues, but also sang. Music, theatre, travelling... life was eventful. It was 1960. Sampoorna Hema Reddy Mallamma, an ashrama production starring Matigatti, had become a hit, seeing 376 performances on a single stage.
Kempanna, a friend of Mansur, who had come to watch the play, sang praises of Matigatti to Mansur. Mansur unobtrusively turned up for the next evening's show. During the intermission, Matigatti noticed the musical genius and ran up to him. "I watched the play right from the beginning. I heard your Goud Malhar and Patdeep. Tomorrow I want to meet you at the Municipality grounds, at 5 p.m. sharp," he ordered, and walked away. When Matigatti kept his appointment, he found Jambaladinni Siddanna and Bhimanna Arakari with Mansur. "How long do you want to don grease paint?" Mansur asked, and without giving Matigatti a chance to answer, said: "You should pursue music." He then offered to give a letter of recommendation to any musician Matigatti wanted to learn from.
"Panchayya, it is like sitting at the seashore and looking for water. Can you find a teacher better than Mansur?" Bhimanna interrupted.
Mansur agreed and demanded a fee of Rs. 25,000 for five years' teaching.
"I am a poor man. From where will I get that much money? Can you teach me for Rs. 15,000?" Matigatti pleaded, to which Mansur acquiesced.
Matigatti vividly remembers every little detail of his interaction with Mansur. In his very first class, Mansur taught him a rather complex raga, Shivmat Bhairav. As he narrates, Matigatti starts off the cheez... "Prathama Allah ho". "I would have classes thrice a day. That evening, I went for my class and the tabalji didn't turn up. I just sat there not knowing what to do. Buva flew into a rage and shouted at me for wasting time. The very next minute he started Lalita Gauri. The class went on and on. At one point in time, I happened to look at the clock and Buva got irritated. It had struck nine. `It's nine already. I thought we had just started!' he said in a matter-of-fact tone and pressed me to have dinner with him."
Matigatti was in the habit of having an early dinner and turning in by 6.30 p.m.. He would wake up at the stroke of midnight and do riyaz till five in the morning, and then head for his morning class. Mansur, on the pretext of a walk, would go past Matigatti's house well after midnight, every day. If there was a lapse, the next morning he would ask: "What happened to your riyaz last night?"
When Mansur took Matigatti in as his student he had instructed him not to sing for All India Radio. Matigatti, ever the obedient pupil, complied. After about two years, the master said: "Panchayya, why don't you sing for AIR? The money you will get will be of help to you."
When he resumed his contracts with AIR, the organisation arranged for two programmes. Matigatti, curious to know his guru's reaction, sent his helper on a spying mission. Mansur, who did not have a radio at home, went to a nearby tea stall to listen to the programme. He had apparently exclaimed "Wah!" thrice during the Todi recital, which the spy duly reported. But that afternoon, when he went for his class, he asked angrily: "What kind of singing was that?" and proceeded to hold forth on how it was important for a musician to concentrate both on the swara and laya. For that evening's recital at AIR again, Matigatti sang Maru Behag. Mansur appreciated him for that.
Later, Matigatti applied for the post of a tanpura artiste with AIR. When Mansur heard of this, he was deeply pained. He persuaded him not to take up the job. "My student should not take up such a lowly job," he pleaded. But Matigatti had a family to support and had little choice. Mansur rushed to AIR and successfully persuaded the Station Director to give Matigatti the job without conducting an interview.
Meanwhile, he also approached R.C. Math, the then Vice-Chancellor of Karnatak University, and requested him to give Matigatti a job in the Music Department. Without a second thought, the job was given to Matigatti. Only then did Mansur rest in peace.
Panchakshari Swamy Matigatti.
As he narrates this incident, Matigatti is overwhelmed by a deep sense of indebtedness to the genius of the Jaipur-Atrauli gharana. At that time, Mansur headed the department in the university, with stalwarts such as Gangubai Hangal, Basavaraj Rajguru, Sangameshwar Gaurav, and Rajeev Purandare being part of the team. Little wonder then that it was hailed as the best music department in the country.
Panchakshari Swamy Matigatti, like Mansur, is a walking encyclopaedia of rare ragas. To this day, this 76-year-old man makes trips to Kolhapur to take his music lessons from Alladiya Khan's grandson Azeezuddin Khan. "I am but a tiny drop in the mighty ocean of music. If you see Alladiya Khan's collection, you realise how small you are. Just in the Bilaval prakar, there are 95 ragas," says this incredibly modest man.
He is well aware that he hasn't got the recognition that is his due. But it does not bother him. "The Jaipur-Atrauli gharana makes huge demands on the singer. Tell me, is there another musician like Kesarbai, Mogubai, or Mansur buva?" he asks humbly.
Whenever Matigatti talks of Mansur, he invariably does so with awe and admiration. So much so, this accomplished musician refuses to talk about himself and his achievements. This tone of complete honesty and genuineness is accentuated by the very earthy twang of the Dharwad dialect in which he speaks. He says: "I have accompanied him in almost all his concerts and have not just won his appreciation, but his affection also. What more can I ask for? I want to be a student of music till the very end."
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