The ‘pakhawaj’, an adaptation of the mridagam, is believed to have been invented in 14th century India. It is a standard percussion instrument in the Dhrupad style. The art of playing pakhawaj has been a tradition which has been explored since ancient times. In successive generations this tradition blossomed and numerous Gharanas picked up the art. The Upadhay Gharana from Bihar has carried the pakhawaj legacy since almost 400 years. Mahima Upadhyay represents the 13th generation of artistes from this family. Not only is she the first female pakhawaj player from her family but also from the state of Bihar.
Mahima learnt the art from her father the Great pakhawaj maestro, Pt. Ravi Shankar Upadhyay. Her relation with her Guru was the same as any disciple would have. That her Guru was her father did not merit any leeway for her. It could be termed as the traditional Guru-Shishya relationship.
“Along with my training, the very first lesson which my father taught me was to remain grounded, disciplined and try to be a good human being” smiled Mahima.
Her first performance was with her father at the age of 12 at one of India’s most prestigious festival called ‘SAPTAK Music Festival’ in Amdavad, Gujarat. Since then she has travelled the world performing alongside her guru and noted music stalwarts like Grammy and Padma Bhushan, Pandit Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, Vocalist Vidushi Kaushiki Chakraborty and Padam Shree Pandit Bhajan Sopori ji. Every concert can be a great learning curve for an upcoming artiste. After a performance they can identify their strength and also their flaws. They augment their growth as a musician. Mahima counts her blessings that she has a great guide in her father to sort out her flaws or improve on her strengths.
(Pic: Mahima Upadhyay, Pandit Ravi Shankar Upadhyay)
Mahima is also a part of an all-female ensemble ‘Sakhi’ with one of the finest classical vocalist Kaushiki Chakraborty at helm. Like most musicians of her age, Mahima too is keen about fusing the sounds of her pakhawaj with western notes. She is keen to ideate to make the pakhawaj sound more rhythmic with the use of different dynamics.
“Fusion Music can become more demanding as we use both classical and western art forms together and different genres of music are explored. It has a completely different pattern. That excites me” gleamed Mahima.
With the advent of the fusion music era, pakhawaj has garnered quite a reputation. It can be paired alongside different Hindustani Instruments like santoor, sarod, flute, sitar and also can be accompanied with the Dhrupad style of vocals. It is also played in western music genres like Jazz or it can share the stage with the drums, saxophone and other instruments which has risen its popularity.
“Pakhawaj is a solo recital percussion instrument in itself. It has its own literature, layakari, tayari, mathematical work and more attractive dynamics. This will ensure pakhawaj has a bright future and shall only rise in the popularity graphs” opined Mahima.
The trendiness of the pakhwaj is also largely due to the fact that Indian classical music has now reached different corners of the world. Indian classical music has always been revered by sections throughout the globe but with the advent of technology and easy access to music, it is now developing new audiences. Along with the new followers, the western musicians are also keen to dabble in these genres.
“People, abroad, perceive Indian classical music and instruments with high regard. They are quite literate about Indian music. Whenever we perform they can feel the emotions and connect with the compositions. Also the Indian community abroad has done a tremendous job in promoting the music” feels Mahima.
Mahima is also an avid tech buff. She uses a variety of modern techniques to enhance the sound, make it more balanced or more rhythmic as she feels her audience would like to hear it.
“In my live performance I produce different kind of sounds by playing pakhawaj in a musical language. I basically produce different kinds of sounds by assimilating different bols using both hands to produce in a musical language while playing the pakhawaj” said Mahima.
Whereas In her recordings, she mainly focuses on the amount of sound and balancing so that the overall patterns fit into the system perfectly.
Apart from the pakhwaj, Mahima has always been drawn towards Hindustani vocals. She credits this to her guru and her mother Vidushi Malti Upadhyay. Her mother has been a Hindustani vocal guru and has been teaching her the nuances since her childhood. This mother-daughter duo is among the numerous women in the field of percussion and vocals. Mahima dreams of been able to draw women to be a part of percussion and vocal both. She intends to host an all women concert of percussionists and vocalists.
“I will try to promote all forms of percussion instruments widely so that people know about their literature and their essence. I think this will help our upcoming generation to understand their importance and also develop interest of the younger generation by our participation worldwide” hopes Mahima.