Less than two years ago, audiences were pleasantly surprised when Shyamala G Bhave, who had just suffered from paralysis, came on stage and enthralled them with a wide range of musical scores at the eco-friendly Byrathi House. After the concert, she said, “Paralysis may cripple the body to a large extent, but not the mind or the heart that is thirsty for melodies. Your mental make-up can decide whether you want to be in bed or be adventurous.”
That particular performance was not just a sample of what determined people could do, but was also a beacon of hope for artists suffering from life-threatening ailments, says Sangeeta Katti, Hindustani musician and a close associate of Shyamala for the last 30 years.
“Guruji Shyamala was a positive person. When senior musicians and officials formed Sangeetya to spread awareness on the various facets of art and culture, as acting president, she put us all to shame with her energy and spirit,” says Sangeeta.
Senior member of Sangeetya, KC Ramamurthy, says she was a rock of support to the team. She is a role model, she was the only musician in India who could sing Carnatic, devotional, Bhavageethe and Suvarna Gaana with ease.
Shyamala’s school, Saraswati Sangeet Vidyalaya in Seshadripuram, was a big draw with youngsters as they could choose the genre of music they wish to learn depending on their interest.
“It was thanks to her multi-disciplinary talent,” says her senior student Nadopasaka Pt Vageesh Bhat, who was also her personal assistant and is now Secretary at the Sangeet Vidyalaya. “I trained under her for 47 years. She has composed melodies in more than 10 languages and has sung in a gamut of genres.”
A frontline performers of the Gwalior Gharana, Shaymala was gifted with a mellifluous voice and “an impeccable sense of sur and laya Bhat says. “She used to teach her students on the subtle micro tones that characterize classicism. The mood and feeling of her raags have soul, according to iconic filmmaker, GV Iyer. Guruji Shyamala had composed music for his Sanskrit film, Adi Shankaracharya.”
Shyamala had an impeccable control on her idiom and nuances that characterized the Carnatic and Hindustani styles. “Her potential was recognised and appreciated very early by Sir M Visvesvaraya, who conferred the title of Ubhayagana Vidushi on her. A title that had her propagate Dakshinottaram, a technique of Ubhayagaan concert, where one presents a single artiste-jugalbandi,” says Sangeeta.
Shyamala was associated with running the Saraswati Sangeet Vidyalaya ás a teenager when her father, Govind Vittal Bhave, set it up in 1931. The area near Nehru Circle in Seshadripuram was known as American Colony, because foreigners stayed there.
Vittal Bhave studied Hindustani classical under Vishnu Digambar Paluskar. That is why he was familiar with the notational system rarely practiced by musicians who are used to the oral tradition in Hindustani music, according to Bhat.
“Guruji Shyamala had often said her father had never given a fee to Paluskar. He wanted him to travel to different parts of the country and set up schools for classical music. So in 1930, Govind Bhave came on a South India tour from Maharashtra and decided to set up
Saraswati Sangeet Vidyalaya in Bengaluru,” says Bhat.
By 1953, Shyamala had established herself as a performer, and began to run the school full-time. “What started off as a ‘guru-shishya parampara’ where a student would learn music full-time changed with the steady influx of students who went to conventional schools for academics but also needed a rigorous guide for music and we provide that,” Shyamala told this reporter in 2001 when the music school turned 70. “I am happy that with my background of classical, light music and film sangeet, I am able to satiate the melodic needs of people of all ages.”