Keen observation is one of the key tools to learning an art as intense as Indian classical music. When Pandit Vinayak Torvi was 12 years old, he was discovered by his first teacher, Guru Rao Deshpande (1889-1982). The latter had taken him away to his gurukul (Deshpande’s residence where his disciples stayed with him) where he was supposed to learn vocal music. But for 3 long years, Deshpande taught him nothing.
It was only later when Pandit Torvi realised that his guru had stalled his musical education during those three years because he wanted him to take his time to unlearn everything, observe his guru every day and create a clean slate in the mind before starting anew.
Pandit Torvi is from Dharwad, a small province in western coastal India, which is fabled as a fertile territory of music and the cultural capital of the region. True to its reputation, Dharwad is home to some of the greatest Indian classical musicians like Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, Mallikarjun Mansur, Gangubai Hangal et al. Historically, musicians who have traveled from north India to south and vice versa have transitioned through Dharwad, inevitably enriching the music of the region and contributing to its rich culture.
Pandit Torvi is one of the most respected teachers and a prolific stage performer who has led a life steeped in sadhana (immersive practice). Apart from learning in the Gwalior style from Guru Rao Deshpande, he has also learned for many years under Pandit Bhimsen Joshi (1922-2011), imbibing the sophistication of the Kirana gharana. Pandit Torvi’s renditions progress with the subtleties of the Kirana style of elaboration that is devoid of flashiness. Pandit Torvi’s deep voice and ability to weave elegant rhythmic patterns in a recital carry an appeal that is both candid and exciting.
In this interview, he describes Indian classical music as a complex art form in which, ragas, rhythms, improvisations and an array of strong and subtle nuances come together. This makes it a rather intuitive and interactive form of art which is not entertainment in itself but of which, entertainment is a part.
He talks about the true essence of the gurukul system, an ancient tradition of teaching in India which requires the student to reside in the guru’s abode and imbibe an art form for years. He is of the opinion that like marriages, the relationship between the guru and his disciple is also made in heaven.
In a lively conversation recorded in 2014, Pandit Torvi gives some age-old insights about the values of Indian music and musicians that still have strong relevance today.