23rd Sep, 2016
Bhatkhande Music Institute Deemed University, Lucknow


A trained Indian classical singer of the khyal style from the Jaipur-Atrauli Gharana, Prof. Shruti Sadolikar-Katkar is a scholar, a musician and a veritable storehouse of knowledge about the Indian classical art forms. She is the recipient of the Sangeet Natak Academy Award for Hindustani Vocal music for 2011 and has been serving as Vice Chancellor of the much-acclaimed Bhatkhande Music Institute Deemed University, Lucknow since 2009.

Excerpts from an interview with the noted scholar on the history and current position of Bhatkhande Music Institute as the premier music university in the country:

Thank you for your time Prof. Sadolikar. Could you please tell us a little bit about the history of how the university came into being?

The germ of the idea took shape at a conference between Maharaja of Baroda, Shah ji Rao Gaekwad and Pt. Bhatkhande. Shah ji Rao was a great patron of arts and understood the fact that there is a lot of science and rigorous discipline behind all the performing arts. Pt. Vishnu Digambar Paluskar had already established his Gandharv Mahavidyalaya in Lahore by then as the first formal institution to impart musical education. Back in 1901, he put together the entire musical curriculum for the college, developed his own style of musical notation (as the western style of notation was thought to be too restrictive for Indian classical music) and started conducting examinations for the first time.

Pt. Paluskar was a true visionary and understood the need for institutionalized training for the Indian classical art forms. He knew that any knowledge has to be scientifically validated, coded and only then will it garner respect from the increasingly scientifically minded population.

Shah Ji Rao Gaekwad hosted another conference in 1924-25 in Lucknow where a lot of other musical scholars participated. There were discussions on various aspects of music including ragas, the timing of the ragas, the rhythms, the technical aspects of performance etc. It was also at this conference that the idea of having a college of music in Lucknow was first mooted.

Fortunately, Lucknow then had several patrons of arts in the form of talluqdaars and other landed gentry. People like Rai Umanath Bali, Rai Rajeshwar Bali and Raja Nawab Ali understood and agreed with the idea. They hoped that if the science behind the craft were to be made more accessible, the coming generations would be able to look up at their cultural and artistic heritage with a new understanding and respect.

In 1926, with the help and support of such patrons and the then Governor of United Provinces, Sir William Sinclair Marris, the Marris College of Music came into existence. In 1966, the Govt. of Uttar Pradesh took over the college and in the year 2000, it was declared as a Deemed University. The only such Music University in the country.

Tell us about this building that currently hosts the university.

The building from which the university currently operates is the erstwhile Parikhana of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah. Part of the land was also donated by Rai Umanath Bali. The building had been taken over by the British and housed their offices for a long time before it was earmarked for the Marris College of Music.

Do you think that students today understand the significance of an institute like Bhatkhande or what it is doing for the cultural landscape of the state?

I have been here since 2009 and when I came here, I was delightfully surprised to see the students touch the university ground and put it to their foreheads, as a mark of respect while entering the university. We don’t tell them to do so. This spontaneous feeling of respect, this hint of divinity has permeated the atmosphere of the university because of the work ethics of the people who have graced this university in the past.

Every house in the city has some relative, some aunt, uncle, grandmother, mother, father who has been associated with the university at some point in their lives. Since its inception in 1926, the institute has trained thousands of students. And these students carry the light of their experience at Bhatkhande to their homes. We don’t just produce performers, but also a knowledgeable, appreciative audience for those few who end up performing on the stage. These are people who have the trained ear to appreciate the nuances, the emotions of a performance. A knowledgeable audience helps an artist evolve as well. This is the reason why artists love to perform in front of an audience that understands the idiom of music and the mastery of the performer.

This silent river of music has been flowing through the city and the state and the Bhatkhande Music Institute has played a significant role in bringing this to fruition.

We know of the institute’s pre-eminence and contribution to the field of Music. What would you say is the institute’s biggest contribution to the cultural and artistic heritage of the state or the city where it is located?

The Bhatkhande Music Institute has been fortunate enough to have eminent musicians and scholars who have dedicated their lives towards making this institution what it is today. One such exemplary man was Sri Krishna Narayan Ratanjankar. He was a disciple of Pt Bhatkhande ji and was the second principal of the college. He was a performing artist par excellence and on his guru’s insistence, he gave his entire life to the institution. There were financial constraints with the university even then and there were times when teachers wouldn’t get their salaries for 2-3 months in a row. But he never allowed such things to become an obstacle for what he wanted to achieve for the university. He used his extensive network of musicians and artists to invite them as guest faculty for the institute and at times, would pay for their travel expenses from his own pocket. The visiting musicians came gladly and often refused payment as they considered it an honour to teach at the college on his invitation.

Mind you, this was a time when musicians and those connected with the performing arts were generally looked down upon. It was considered undignified and people from respected families rarely, if ever, sent their wards to learn music or dance. Ratanjankar ji helped change this perception.

He invited people from the respected families of the city to come and learn music at the institute. He made sure that the girls and ladies felt at ease in the institute’s atmosphere. With his own impeccable work ethic and dignified behavior he helped change the perception of musicians and artists in general. He gave them respectability and allowed the public to view them in a better light. This to me is his single biggest contribution towards the cultural heritage of the city.

India has had a rich tradition of Guru-Shishya relationship and learning under the tutelage of masters. How is institutionalized learning different from learning under an Ustaad or a Gharana?

See, these are very distinct yet complementary mediums of imparting education. In a Gharana setting, the student is part of the Guru’s household. When you are constantly in the presence of your Guru, when you are living with him/ her, you imbibe not just the formal knowledge but also the rites and traditions of the guru’s household. This is education that you receive organically without actively learning it from a book or a lesson. Like a child goes to a school for education but imbibes the values and thought processes of his/her parents. A girl learns how to behave as a woman from her mother. A boy sees his father and learns how to behave as a man. In a Gharana setting, your Guru is your role model for everything and his authority is unquestionable. The guru knows his/her disciple on a personal level and coaxes out the right notes from their students painstakingly. He/she may, for example, keep you practicing a single raag for 6 months or even a year. Some Gurus may do it just so that your voice can acquire a certain texture, your rhythm is polished and your mind is attuned to the notes in that single raag. Or he/she may ban certain raags for you. The guru may decide to teach certain raag or bandish only to his favourites or immediate family members.

In an institution, on the other hand you have a set syllabus that you have to complete in a set amount of time. Everyone is given the same amount of attention and is taught the same syllabus. The syllabus not only trains you in the practical aspects of the performance, but also educates you with the theory behind the craft. When Pt. Paluskar first thought of institutionalizing musical education, his intention was to create educated musicians who knew the what, why and how of their renditions. A great musician may not necessarily be a scholar of music as well. A scholar understands the science, the rhythm and the math behind the performances. He wanted the performers to be educated musicians who would be loved for their craft but also respected for their knowledge.

In my case for example, I had the good fortune of being trained under my father, Mr. Wamanrao Sadolikar, who himself was trained under Ustaad Alladiya Khan and his son Ustaad Bhurji Khan. Later on, I learnt under Shri Gulubhai Jasdanwala ji for close to 12 years and am currently under the tutelage of Ustaad Azizuddin Khan sahib. Apart from my training under the Jaipur-Atrauli Gharana, I did my graduation from Mumbai University with English and Marathi. I wanted to further do my masters in linguistics, but my mother advised me that I should instead take up a degree in Music. She advised me that the theoretical knowledge that you’ll get from having studied it in an institution is what will add authenticity/gravity to your performance. She prodded me to take up music as a scholar rather than just a performer.

I took up her advice. She had the vision to push me towards the scholarly study of music. It is because of this solid grounding in theory that I am able to express my opinion with absolute authority.

While there is more individual attention in a Gharana style of education, the learning is more informal in nature. In an institution, the learning is formal, according to the texts and is the same for everyone regardless of their family background or their proximity to their guru.

Tell us something about the research currently being done in the university? And how focused is the university on research? Do you see yourself as more of a research based institution or primarily an education provider?

I think there has to be a balance between the 2 and that is what we aspire towards. Research is how you develop your understanding of a particular subject, in depth. It helps future scholars to consolidate their understanding of music, its history and the science behind the performances. Research helps us get to the root of things and you also find solutions to problems. It helps highlight notable works of the past greats and preserve our cultural legacy.

We have been involved with research on folk music, folk arts, folk songs, on particular aspects of performances etc. There is one currently going on about percussion instruments in the Indian classical and folk traditions. There is another one where medical and health benefits of Kathak have been studied from an acupressure perspective.

Research is an integral part of a university setup and we try to ensure that our research scholars produce works that have a lasting value for future scholars.

As a performing artist and as a teacher, do you think there is popular support for the arts in Uttar Pradesh?

Of course! We get huge crowds for our in house performances. The just concluded Bhatkhande Jayanti Sangeet Samaroh (19th – 21st Sep) saw packed houses on all 3 days. People take pride in sending their wards to our institute. From 8-year-old kids to 80-year-old grandfathers, we have students from all walks of life, all economic and social backgrounds. Uttar Pradesh has a rich tradition of classical and musical art forms and despite the turning of the wheel of time, the enthusiasm for classical art forms has not abated.

Although sometimes, I wish parents were a little less enthusiastic about seeing their children performing on stage. For instance, we had a young girl coming in to learn vocal singing. A very promising talent, she had a beautiful, powerful voice that seemed to originate somewhere beyond her small frame. Hardly 2 months into her training, her parents wanted to know why she hadn’t had a single public performance even after she had been training all this while!

We noticed the Casual Admissions program on your website whereby the students don’t have to comply with the min 75% attendance mandate and do not get degrees at the end of their courses. What is the thought behind allowing casual admissions?

In today’s fast paced life, be it young children or grown up professionals, we are all pressed for time. The children are under pressure from their studies, the professionals are busy with their jobs. I always tell the parents that you give your kids a good education, you give them cars, flats, latest gadgets, but what are you giving them to elevate their souls? How are you helping them find solace of the soul? Arts provide you with something that you cannot otherwise buy for them. I think everybody should spend at least a couple of years at Bhatkhande or any other music or art institute for that matter. You understand how to appreciate art better and listen to performances in a whole new light. You understand the intricacies of the craft and the hard work that goes into producing the simplest of notes. So we encourage students to learn even when they cannot dedicate themselves completely in pursuit of the performing arts. We don’t enforce the 75% attendance rule and we do not give them degrees, but the learning that they take away is its own reward.

In the 21st century, how is the university keeping pace with the times? Do you have an online presence and/or social media channels to promote your activities?

We have a website of course but it needs to be updated. We can’t always move as fast as we want to. We want to do more, but one can’t always have everything. We have had financial constraints in the past but I am fortunate that I have been given a second chance, a second term of 5 years, to build up on what we have been doing up until now.

We are in touch with other universities to promote interdisciplinary research. I want to be able to coincide the technological advancements in technology with the present music practices.

We want to provide more professional opportunities for our students. Everybody can’t be a performer or a critic or a teacher. What other professional avenues can we open for them? We have a huge talent pool here in the state of Uttar Pradesh and it withers in the absence of good opportunities or professionally oriented skills. So for example we are conducting lectures on Sound engineering, on speech modulation etc. An audiologist and a speech therapist from Mumbai comes in to talk to the students about proper usage of microphone or how to take care of their voice, how not to abuse their throats.

With so many films being shot here in Uttar Pradesh now, there is a tremendous opportunity for sound engineers and technicians from the state to find good professional opportunities within their home state. The Mumbai film industry is filled with thousands of professionals from Uttar Pradesh. Why can’t we utilize their talents here? The subsidies provided by the CM have attracted the filmmakers here and it is a great success. How can we use that to generate employment opportunities for artists and technicians here? I advised the Chief Minister that now that we are providing them subsidies, we should also look into providing them with the necessary studio infrastructure so that they can do their entire sound recording and dubbing here. We have all the talent we need, we have work coming in in huge quantities, if we just have the infrastructure, we can deliver quality work right here in the state of Uttar Pradesh.