On gurus and shishyas, teachers and disciples…

We watched a Marathi film Katyar Kalijat Ghusali about music, musical traditions and the learning or grooming of the artist. The film is excellent, and no wonder, it is based on the old Marathi play, the music for which was written by Pt. Jitendra Abhisheki, who was the guru of my first Indian music teacher, Arun Apte. In the film, they have retained a number of songs from the original play, and, of course, it had to remind me about my four months of learning music in Vaitarna, and also about some of the stories Arun Apte was telling about his guru and their relationship.
It is really amazing, how the story in the film touches on the subtleties of the guru-disciple relationship. I will probably need to watch it again, and perhaps more than once, to understand more of it – if you only have a hint of this experience in your own life, and especially if you are not really a part of that tradition, it’s not easy to understand it beyond the superficial level of the apparent.
The film is about the stages of the maturing of an artist, and the challenge in maturing without a guru who can instruct you, or without one who is willing to do so. Yes, of course, it is also about going beyond the ego – that most difficult arrogance one acquires, when one begins to master some, even tiny aspects of the art, and this is the message the film claims to deliver, from the very beginning till the end. But I don’t think this is the most valuable message of this story, at least for me that was not what felt most important, inspiring and meaningful. It was interesting to see struggles the hero has to go through to connect gradually to deeper and deeper sense of music – through learning the knowledge, then imitation to the point of identification with the guru, then to mastering a different style, and perhaps eventually finding one’s own style, though this film finishes at the point when that stage would have probably just start.
What moved me the most, was the importance of being “recognized” and blessed by your guru to go on being an artist. It is not just about the learning and the instruction, and not about the ego-oriented achievement or pride, but about that special love and care that flows between the guru and the disciple, both ways, that ties them together, for that special kind of relationship that exists between the two, part friendship and part parent-child relationship, both of them together, and yet neither of them, but something else, the relationship that becomes even more beautiful because of the difference and uniqueness inherent in it. So when the guru witnesses the disciple who has mastered the art, not only the technical proficiency, but also the respect for the art and for other artists, and has met the essence of the art, that is the greatest and the only gift that disciple can offer back to the guru, as gratitude for all the lessons, for the generosity and the dedication that the guru has given while teaching. That is why it is so important for the hero in the film to have a chance to sing for both his gurus.
Maybe I’m wrong in saying that one has to be Indian to really get to the heart of what it means to be a disciple and to have a guru. Maybe it is so difficult for me to find the inspiration to finish this dissertation, because Sam has died – it has been written for Sam, working with his art, having made mistakes that disappointed him and having tried to correct them, having worked though the difficult challenges and found the treasures of understanding that he praised and admired. Now this last stage of putting the parts together, adding the final decorations and polishing the work, seems meaningless, when he is not going to be there to witness his disciple “perform on stage”. Yes, yes, I know it has to be done, but it’s hard to find that drive, that creative call and commitment, that flows from the bountiful expressions of the art practiced by a live guru.
Of course, it’s a different story, when the guru-disciple relationship is happening in the field (kshetra?) of spirituality, rather than a more “human” art. It is said (if I understood it somewhat correctly), that when a disciple has reached the state of mastery, then there is the recognition of God being the Guru. The one who has achieved that state, is learning from God directly, and is performing for God, to please that Divine Guru and to give thanks for the teaching, the love, and the care. Maybe I’m wrong again, and that’s also the case with music as well as philosophy and any other “art”?
Here is the recording of my first music teacher performing for his (our) spiritual Guru, and singing to please God. This is my favorite of all his recordings that I have seen, though I probably never heard him singing this song live… Enjoy…

By the way, that Marathi film with English subtitles is here: http://www.einthusan.com/movies/watch.php?marathimoviesonline=Katyar+Kalijat+Ghusali&lang=marathi&id=2783

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