An exceptional musician

Print edition : June 17, 2005

PANDIT PUTTARAJA KAVI GAVAI is likely to enter the Guinness Book of Records for a rather obscure reason. On his 92nd birthday on May 23, he would have performed the "tulabharam" for the 1,111th time. Getting himself weighed against cash that goes as donation for running a charitable music institution is a subversive twist of a ritual practice that is otherwise meant to elevate the donor in the eyes of God. Guinness recognition is perhaps of little consequence to him. The financial health of his institution is.

When asked by Frontline if he is satisfied with all that he has achieved, Puttaraja retorted almost immediately in the negative. "There is much that remains to be done. My biggest ambition is to convert the ashram into a university of music," he said. The ashram runs entirely on donations, and the educational institutions run by the trust are self-financing. It receives no financial help from the State or Central government.

The low-profile ashram has not received the recognition and publicity that would have helped to make Puttaraja Gavai's goal of a university of music realisable. His demand is entirely reasonable, given the ashram's 61-year track record in the field of music education. The multi-faceted accomplishments of Puttaraja himself are little known. He is today undoubtedly one of India's foremost music educators. He plays the tabla, the veena, the violin and the sarangi. He is said to be a great and acknowledged master of the harmonium. He is a prolific writer, having composed vachanas, 20 plays, 15 puranas and eight mythological pieces. He has translated Siddhanta Shikamani from Sanskrit into English, and has transcribed the Basava Purana, the Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads in Braille.

Puttaraja Gavai is the recipient of several Central and State awards. He has received, amongst other awards, the national Sangeet Natak Academi Award in 1999, the Basava Puraskara in 2003 from the Government of Karnataka, and the Kanaka Purandara Prashasti in 1998, also from the Government of Karnataka.

However, the most prestigious of the national awards, such as the coveted Padma awards, have passed him by, a matter of great anguish for his disciples and admirers. The country is certainly the poorer for the failure of successive national governments to recognise and reward an exceptional Indian.

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