In the North Indian Classical music tradition, the human voice is regarded as the most precious and subtlest of all instruments, designed, as it is, to praise the creator with music in what is known in India as the Language of God. Some are gifted with this special power of devotion. Such a one is Pandit Laxmi Ganesh Tewari. He sings in the Gwalior style of Khyal which, in the eighteenth century, developed out of the ancient form known as Dhrupad.
"All through my life," Tewari said in a recent interview, when he was interrupted in his office happily at work in cyberspace, "I have tried to combine the three main aspects of my life: performance -- which is my worship... Whether I am giving concerts or not, I sing. I would never leave that, it is very important to me.
"The second aspect is my scholarship -- the work which I have been doing in India, and lately in Trinadad, and now Fiji. I have been collecting old songs for a quarter of a century, listening to traditional stories from the old musicians, from people in Indian communities around the world who still remember the old ways.
"The third aspect," he concludes, "is my teaching." Which he has now done at Sonoma State University in California for twenty-one years.
Much of his research work has been made public in the form of books, CDs and articles. Soon to be published is a book about his guru, Dr. Lalmani Misra, and a book about The Folk Music of India. This latter will include a transcription of the melody, a translation of the text, and a brief comment on or explanation of each of the almost unimaginably many and varied songs of the area in Uttar Pradesh where Tewari was born and reared. They will be classified according to ceremony, such as songs sung at childbirth, weddings, devotional songs, songs of different cast groups, songs sung in different seasons. Over 300 songs will be included in this collection. When asked if he planned to do collections of songs from other regions, he chuckled, "There are a prodigious number of songs in India, this book may be enough for this lifetime." However, he is already at work on the monumental task of a 1,600 to 2,000 page transcription of the Alha as sung by Jai Singh of the village of Bidokhar in Uttar Pradesh to be published in Hindi.
Depending primarily on publications to disseminate the vast and precious knowledge that he is collecting and preserving, Tewari leads a life that anyone inclined toward intellectual rigor, nomadism, and being-in-love-with-what-they-do will look upon with awe and envy. His vigorous enthusiasm for everything from research in remote Turkish villages, to being in touch with the world via Internet, keeping a large and beautiful garden of flowers and fruit trees, as well as his deep devotion to singing is truly inspiring.
He sings all the time, practicing in the morning, which he prefers, and in the evening. "People on campus," he laughs, "claim they can hear Tewari coming, for he always comes singing." He gives six or eight concerts in a year, and has just released a new CD entitled "Morning Glory."
Accompanied on tabla by Pandit Swapan Chaudhuri, by Pandit Ramesh Misra, one of India's finest sarangi players, and on tambura by Carolyn Tewari, Tewari sings Rag Ahir Bhairav and Kabir's Bhajan 'Saheb hain with flawless intonation on this fine new recording. His voice, rich, caressing, light yet full, brings out all the subtle pleasures of calmness, serenity and peacefulness inherent in this early morning rag. Swapan Chaudhuri, one of the world's greatest tabla players, moving from slow Ektal in the first bandish, to fast Teental in the second, is both superbly subdued, and elegantly dramatic. One dreams deep thoughts to the gentle beat of the drum, the haunting call of Ramesh Misra's sarangi, the beauty of Tewari's voice until the heart is quickened by the evocation of the sun's rising.
Tewari, born in Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh, India in 1938, moved to Varanasi in 1958. There, in the strict guru-shishya-parampara tradition he lived and studied with his guru Dr. Lalmani Misra, the Director of the College of Music at Banaras Hindu University and Pandit Madhav Vaman Thakar. Studying also with Professor B.R. Deodhar, he completed his music degree in 1967.
At Wesleyan University in the United States, after doing field research in Turkey and in his native Uttar Pradesh, he completed his Ph.D. in Ethnomusicology in 1974. That same year, he began to teach at Sonoma State University in California.
From his doctoral studies he produced his first three folk music records: "Turkish Village Music; Nectar of the Moon: Vichitra Vina Music of Northern India;" and "Folk Music of India: Uttar Pradesh." Since then he has made numerous recordings and CDs. His scholarly articles appear regularly in international journals such as "South Asia Research" from London's School of Oriental and African Studies, "South Asia Journal" of the University of Western Australia, "Asian Folklore Studies" from Nazan University in Nagoya, Japan. His book, "A Splendor of Worship: Women's Fasts, Rituals, Stories and Art," was published by Manohar Publications of New Delhi.
Eager to have this extensive knowledge about folk music available to others for use and study, he donates his original materials to the great archival collections, including the Archives of Traditional Music in Berlin, the Archives of both Columbia and Indiana Universities in the United States, and to the main archive in Delhi, at the American Institute of Indian Studies. Shortly, he will be sending his research material from Turkey to the Wesleyan Archives.
He attends many international music conferences, and occasionally teaches as visiting professor in India, as well as at such schools as Dartmouth, the Manhattan School of Music, the University of Hawaii, and the Ali Akbar College of Music in San Rafael. The students he has taught, both musicians and music scholars, now number among the thousands.
Today, Tewari enjoys not only a remarkable reputation as a scholar, but is regarded as one among the great Hindustani musicians, including such luminaries as Ali Akbar Khan, Ravi Shankar, Lakshmi Shankar, G.S. Sachdev, Salamat Ali Khan, Swapan Chaudhuri, Zakir Hussain, and Chitresh Das, that the United States is now fortunate to share with India.
In addition to his University duties, for eight years Tewari has driven 110 miles each way, twice a month, to teach several special groups and individual singers in San Jose. Known among his students as a person of rare patience and delicate discernment, many regard him as one of the finest teachers of our time.
"The music is not something you can do today, expecting to get the "fruit" a few years down the line." Tewari says softly. "You must constantly work at it to get the fruit to taste sweet, to make the sound beautiful. Nor is it an art you can put aside for awhile. But if you have the dedication, it will slowly and surely become a medium of meditation."
Asked about the future of Indian music, he replied: "I see it flourishing around the world in two different ways: both as a pure form, and as fusion music. The practical American mind feels it must be able to earn money at what it has studied so hard to accomplish. Thus there is a tendency to mix Indian music with Western music. I do not object to that.
"All over the world," he said, "the interest in Indian music is growing. There are major centers of it, not only in America, but in England. London has many great Indian musicians in residence, also Berlin, Toronto, the Netherlands. In every country there is both the study of pure classical music, as well as music that is fused with Western jazz and classical.
"The tendency of the new generation of immigrants and second generation Indians in America, and in many parts of the Western world, is to add Indian Classical music as a form of worship to their already successful business lives.
"In San Jose, everyone is a computer CEO of some sort," he laughs, "but I don't think they would have devoted themselves to the study of music in India, because they would have been too busy. In a sense we are returning to the old ways, where music was thought of more as an individual meditation, both for player and listener, than as a performing art."
One of Tewari's much looked forward to concerts, recently took place in the Hindu Temple in Fremont, California. He was beautifully accompanied by Ravi Gutala on tabla and by Rajan Parrikar on harmonium. During the first part he sang an enthralling version of Rag Sameshawari, which held the large, predominantly Indian audience spellbound. After intermission, during which Damodar Shastri gave an impassioned speech on Rag Ahir Bhairav, Tewari sang a number songs of his own composition from Rags Madhukali, Hansdhvani and Maru Bihag, as well as bhajans he has composed, one with a text by Kabir. The evening was a moving occasion at which one was deeply reminded of the original intent of music as a form of worship.
Selections from LAXMI GANESH TEWARI have appeared in India Currents Magazine. Other articles by Jan Haag about North Indian Classical Music include THE GOLDEN DRUMMING OF SWAPAN CHAUDHURI, ALI AKBAR KHAN, An Appreciation,and SISIR KONA DHAR CHOWDHURY.
Jan Haag may be reached via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org