An old friend contacted me the other day to ask if I had any gandharva music. I really didn’t know what he meant and so did a bit of searching. I learned the following.
Gandharva refers to a class of mythical male beings in Hinduism and Buddhism who entertained the gods and guarded their divine drink, soma. Like Ambrosia, soma has special properties, mainly energy-giving, and has been a part of Indo-Aryan mythology and cosmology for millennia. Indeed, soma was what gave them their divine natures. The greatest Vedic gods, Indra (God of War and Weather) and Agni (fire) consumed huge amount of the drink making them drunk on divinity.
Raging like a bull, he took the Soma, he drank three flagons of the pressed-out Soma. The Bounteous One (Indra) took up his mace and missiles, he slew that first-born of the serpents. (Rg Veda 1.32.3)
Gandharva were excellent singers and had to be musically inclined. They carried messages between humans and gods and were also excellent and brave warriors. In the Buddhist tradition gandharva can fly through the air, and are connected with trees and flowers, and described as dwelling in the scents of bark, sap, and blossoms. They are among the beings of the wilderness that might disturb a monk’s solitary meditation.
Here is a soma drinking hymn from the Rg Veda 10.119. 1-13).
|Gandharvas must be musical and can fly through the air.|
Indeed my mind would give horses and cows. Kuwit! I have drunk much soma. / The draughts lifted me up like the buffeting winds. Kuwit! I have drunk much soma. / The draughts shook me as swift horses shake a chariot. Kuwit! I have drunk much soma. / The hymn came to me like a cow to its dear calf. Kuwit! I have drunk much soma. / Like a carpenter shaping the body of a chariot, with my heart I shape the verse. Kuwit! I have drunk much soma. / For me the five great races are not even as a mote in my eye. Kuwit! I have drunk much soma. / Both heaven and earth are not equal to my other wing. Kuwit! I have drunk much soma. / Now in greatness I surpass the heavens and this great earth. Kuwit! I have drunk much soma. / Verily I would move around this earth, now here, now there. Kuwit! I have drunk much soma. / Verily I would bat this earth around, now here, now there. Kuwit! I have drunk much soma. / My one wing is in the sky, the other one drags (on the earth) below. Kuwit! I have drunk much soma. / I am great among the great, I rise up among the clouds. Kuwit! I have drunk much soma. / I am the oblation-bearer, I go eagerly to the gods with the oblation. Kuwit! I have drunk much soma.
I replied to my friend, that the only gandharva music I have was that of Kumar Gandharva, the phenomenal classical and devotional singer from Belgaum in Karnataka. I post some of that for your joy tonight.
I’ve written of Gandharva’s background in other posts so will not expound on that again. These live recordings are from India’s amazing National Centre for Performing Arts archive and date to 1984. One of the features of Gandharva’s greatness was his refusal to be pegged and labeled as belonging to any particular gharana. And this collection demonstrates that versatility and eclecticism. He covers the water front of ragas and blesses his listeners (you!) with some Kabir nirgun bhajans as well. Kumar’s wife Vasundhara Shrikhande accompanies him on most of the tracks which is the first I’ve heard of him singing in duet with another singer. They indeed sound like two strains of a single voice.
Excellent top shelf music from one of the Washerman’s Dog favourite artists.
01 Raga Kalyan
02 Raga Kanada Bahar
03 Raga Kedar
04 Raga Khamaj
05 Raga Tilang
01 Raga Sorath
02 Raga Bihagra
03 Raga Bhairavi
04 Raga Sanjari
05 Kabir Bhajan