Reading Hour Sep-Oct 2014: Guru Tattva

The Ashada full moon day is of special significance in Indian culture. On this auspicious day, Guru Tattva, or the supreme element in guiding one’s quest for knowledge in various walks of life, is celebrated by paying respects and expressing gratitude to the Guru.

Shri Keerti Kumar Badseshi, renowned Hindustani vocalist and respected Guru, shares his views with Rashmi Venkatesh about the significance of a Guru’s presence in one’s life.


The Guru-Shishya relation is unique to Indian culture...

Someone with adequate training and innate skill can be a teacher. A Guru, however, goes beyond technical knowledge and becomes a mentor and spiritual guide for the shishya. To lead and to be led, both the guru and shishya need sincerity and dedication to each other. Paying a teacher a fee and attending a class does not establish a guru-shishya relationship. A disciple (the word originates from discipline) dedicates himself to the Guru because of an inner desire to be led. The Guru, in turn, takes the shishya as a ‘sesha’ (an integral part of his life) and considers the mentoring of the shishya as his sacred duty. Only such mutual dedication and attachment makes for a guru-shishya relationship.

It is the general opinion in these days that the guru-shishya tradition has not remained what it was… what is your view?

All my life, I have placed my faith in what our Upanishads have highlighted about the guru-shishya relationship. In this relationship, the shishya considers the Guru to be God himself and has absolute faith in his teachings and guidance. For his part, the guru dedicates himself to the guidance of the shishya. There is no competition in this relationship but there is mutual respect. The accomplishments of his shishya give immense satisfaction to the Guru. Such is the basis of this relationship. For both the Guru and the shishya, finding each other is as much about good fortune as it is about one’s own willingness and determination to find knowledge wherever it might reside.

You have made a remarkable name for yourself as a Guru. What is your advice to a shishya, to ensure that the journey towards knowledge is smooth sailing?

The relationship between the Guru and shishya is as delicate and fragile as a sheet of glass. A slight jar can cause a crack in it. Similarly, a small difference with the Guru can strain the relationship, and this can widen into a big gap. Therefore, the disciple should be constantly alert as to whether he is fulfilling the complete criterion of a shishya, and should analyse this aspect from time to time. He should ask himself whether he has assimilated all the qualities necessary for a disciple and whether he has been able to become a perfect disciple. By such an analysis, the heart becomes clear of all doubts and the chances of differences with the Guru are eliminated.

Understanding and imitation is not enough to master a performing art such as music. How does a Guru impart creativity and how does a student cultivate it?

Any art is a creative expression of self and there is little scope for continued imitation… being in association with a Guru is similar to being with a parent for years. One unknowingly imitates whom one looks up to. A Guru must nurture the spark of creativity and encourage originality. The disciple must balance originality with all that is learnt from the Guru, without disturbing the overall outcome of the efforts of both.
Is it one and the same thing, being true to one’s art and to one’s Guru?

I believe that it is one and the same thing…

You have paid rare homage to the Guru-shishya bond, with the creation of your ‘Guru Naman’ (Times Music) album. What sparked the idea of ‘Guru Naman’?

Composing the Guru-Bandishes didn’t happen overnight. It took years to put my emotions into words, and then to bind the words into classical Bandishes, in appropriate raagas that would capture the emotion correctly. The making of ‘Guru Naman’ was a humbling experience... Raag, Riyaaz, Khayaal, Bhajan… all musical effort and creation originates from the Guru. He is always present in my music. I dedicated ‘Guru Naman’ to all those who have blessed and guided my musical journey.

Does today’s youth find it hard to follow the Guru-shishya tradition? Why do the numerous commercial music schools today thrive better than the traditional method?

In Indian classical music, if the Guru-shishya parampara is to be followed, until and unless you imbibe the discipline and etiquette of this tradition through your Guru, it cannot be learnt. Due to the rigour and commitment involved in the process, the casual seeker quickly backs out. Much of the younger generation has a value system which does not find the discipline palatable.

Today, film music dominates the musical platform, and it is all about instant success and short cuts; even so, it is heartening to see a steady number of young people taking to classical music too.

When should a Guru ‘let go’ of a student or vice-versa?

Completely ‘letting go’ doesn’t happen in a true guru-shishya relation. A dedicated disciple forever feels special bond with the Guru. And the Guru, having guided the disciple down a difficult path, can never become completely indifferent to the shishya’s growth.

But a disciple gains new experiences – good, difficult and bad ones, and a day comes when the ability to deal with any situation is attained. That’s when the disciple makes his own way… as Swami Vivekanand has said, “How often does a man ruin his disciples by remaining always with them! When men are once trained, it is essential that their leader leave them, for without his absence they cannot develop themselves. Plants always remain small under a big tree.”

A word of advice for the serious student…

A person learning music should be so deeply committed towards it that he becomes one with it, merges and immerses himself in the teachings of his Guru. Without commitment and dedication, he is little more than a kite severed from its string.

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