Goswami Tulsidas has largely shaped the Hindu sensibilities of North India, if not of all Hindus. He was neither a guru, nor a sant, not even a preacher. He mingled with the masses. He wrote for the masses distilling the essence of Vedas and Upanishads in simple, common man’s language. His most popular work is Ramcharitmanas, the story of Ram. His other works are compiled in several books e.g. Vinay Patrika, Geetavali, Kavitavali. A copy of Ramcharitmanas is almost mandatory in a Hindi-speaking household. Tulsi’s writings are meant to be sung and they have indeed been so through the last four centuries throughout India and wherever the North Indian diaspora is; Mauritius, West Indies, Fiji and so on. They have also been made into commercial recordings, the famous one being Mukesh’ 5 CD set of Ramcharitmanas. D.V Paluskar, Kumar Gandharv, Bhimsen joshi, MS Subbulakshmi, Pt Jasraj, to name just a few of the illustrious line of singers , have sung Tulsidas’ works.
Another illustrious name in this series- though much younger than them- is Sanjeev Abhyankar. An exponent of the Mewati gharana and a disciple of Pt Jasraj. Abhyankar underscored his talent pretty early in his career when he got the best playback singer award for his very first film song (in the movie “Godmother”) when he was barely 30 years old. His soft, melodious voice sometimes emerging depths of deep meditation and sometimes floating in the air weaving the listener in silken strands of melody has been enthralling listeners for the past few decades.
So, when Tulsidas and Sanjeev come together, the expectations are sky high.
And add to this heady mix, the famous director, poet, lyricist, Gulzar. What would you expect?
The rest of this piece is about the ensuing magic. Tulsidas is meant to be sung, I have mentioned this earlier. But I had not realized before I heard this compilation how musical- and magical- can musical be.
This album is a collection of the poet’s works taken from Ramcharitmanas, Vinay Patrika, Geetwali, Kavitavali etc. These were recorded for the play Jo Chaho Ujiyaar based on Tulsidas’ life, which was premiered recently. The music album has just been released by Times Music.
Gulzar’s introduction to Tulsidas kicks-off the CD. What follows is sheer bliss for the entire 72 minutes recording. It is a deeply researched work with selections popular and not-so-popular. Sure there is the ever-popular “Hanuman Chalisa”, but its vigorous rendition has perhaps been attempted for the first time. “Sri Ramchandra Kripalu Bhajuman” is there as well, and I have never heard a version suffused with so much bhakti, such utter surrender to Lord Ram. That stuti to Shiv, “Namami Shameeshan” is there too, but none has ever heard it similar to the two versions in this album. The serene one by Abhyankar and the vigorous- near violent- by an upcoming Lucknow based singer, Shobhit. Then there are those perennial favourite bhajans: “Tu dayalu deen hon”, and “Aiso ko udaar jag mahin”. Or this poignant piece when Ram’s mother laments his departure for vanwaas, “Ram, hon koun jatan”. And this mother’s lament sung in a male voice! See the play for the context.
There are other lesser known ones, mostly pieces from Ramcharitmanas which have been integrated into this selection. The title song, if I may call it thus, “Jo Chaho Ujiyaar”, embedded in the middle of the CD, plucked from the depths of Ramcharitmanas. In one of the initial songs, “Mangal Karni, kalimal harni” Tulsidas talks about the importance of Ram Katha in the welfare of people. And the one which comes towards the end of the CD (also the last doha from Ramcharitmanas), “Mo sam deen”. And of course my favourite- if one can have a favourite in this rich collection- “Ram Vivaah”. That magic of Abhyankar coupled with the shehnai pieces of the Lucknow-based Sahibe Aalam. I press the replay button over and over again to listen to this. And Sahibe Aalam’s mesmeric shehnai comes back later too in “Sriram Chandra Kripalu Bhajuman”.
Hem Singh, a music director from Lucknow, probably makes his national debut with this album. Take a bow, Hem Singh ji. I am sure we will see a lot more from you in the coming years.
I am a lay reader and a lay music person. So do not expect any pithy comments on the nuances of music. I love listening to multiple genres of music. And Jo Chaho Ujiyaar is one of the best I have heard in recent years.
Go ahead, enjoy this classic album. You will love it.
And finally, a few personal disclosures.
- I have been privy to the making of this album, I have heard all the versions of the CD of this album- all the scratches.
- I have been privileged to have a copy of this album for the past 4-5 months, and have been listening it to it at least twice a day. Once while driving to work, and other while returning.
- The producer and the man behind this CD, Anshu Tandon, is a close friend of mine. And I have written about this play in multiple posts of mine. Here are the lnks: On the making of the music, my take on the play.