Music as a service

For the past 100 years, Gadag’s Veereshwara Punyashrama is imparting free music lessons and life skills to the needy, turning the specially-abled into specially-gifted

Published: 10th October 2021 05:59 AM  |   Last Updated: 10th October 2021 05:59 AM   |  A+A-

Express News Service

GADAG:  Hindustani music, which enlivened the courts of the mighty rulers of the North since the 12th Century CE, has found a niche to beat in Gadag’s heart. From the greatest Hindustani maestros of the modern age to the most passionate musical soul, to each the district has played the stage to celebrate the genre. Taking this emotion many leaps forward, Veereshwara Punyashrama has kept its doors open since a hundred years, welcoming children who are no doubt poor or disabled, yet gifted with a flair for classical music.  

This prestigious institution’s roots go as far back as 1914, when renowned vocalist Panchakshara Gawai received a very noble thought. He decided to spread his musical knowledge among the most-deserving, adding new meaning to their life. With a handful of students at inception, the Punyashrama would rise to create absolute musical geniuses, especially from the rural pockets.

Working on his life’s mission, Panchakshara felt music is a symbiotic thread, an instrument which can erase barriers, enrapturing one and all in its ethereal notes. Despite being visually-impaired himself, Panchakshara visited many villages, most times on foot, and began taking in wards who were poor and also differently-abled.

His school, called Sanchari Pathashala at that time, began imparting lessons in vocal as well as instrumental music, which were provided by donors. A like-minded philanthropist, Veerappa Basarigidad, brought Panchakshara and his students to Gadag where they continued their creative pursuits at his residence.

One day, however, Veerappa requested the esteemed teacher to send his students back, to which the latter replied that he would rather sell the strings of his tanpura than part with his students. Moved by Panchakshara’s respect for his art and love for his students, Veerappa donated an acre of land on which a new school came up in 1940, adopting his moniker as a mark of gratitude -- Veereshwara Punyashrama.

A music class in progress at Veereshwara Punyashrama (below)

Panchakshara passed away in 1944, handing over the reins of his hallowed institution to one of his pupils -- Puttaraj Gawai -- on whose tutelage, Veereshwara Punyashrama has risen to the pinnacle of promoting art and rendering service.        

In the 1950s, Puttaraj, also visually-challenged, used to ride on the backseat of bicycles across the villages of North Karnataka, using theatre to connect with the masses. He collected funds to be used in caring for orphans, feeding and educating them. This spirit of sacrifice and unflinching determination has been the hallmark of the institution.

Of the more than 1,000 students residing at the Punyashrama today, 800 are either poor or blind. They are fed, cared for, and imparted lessons in Hindustani music. Dedicated, service-oriented teachers oversee the development of their pupils, who hail from different parts of India, belonging to different castes and religions. All this is accomplished in a disciplined setting.

Discipline and tradition are two other chords that bind this institution to its core values. An average day begins at 4 am. Students go through two learning sessions. They are also provided free instruments, such as tabla, flute, sitar, violin, harmonium and tanpura.  

“I came to Gadag in 1980. Puttaraj Gawaiji taught us harmonium, gave us pravachana, imparted Sri Rudra Pathana and lessons in Sanskrit. He took care of us and provided education, food and shelter,” says Siddeshwar Shashtri Tellur, an AIR and Doordarshan artiste from Gadag.

With the heartfelt intention of steering Veereshwara Punyashrama on its path of musical service, several individuals, from as close as the surrounding villages to the farther cities in Karnataka, have kept donations pouring in, in the form of even simple essentials such as food grains. Such is the magic of music, bringing people together to be a part of it, partake of it, and not to forget, perform it.

Abandoned baby a great singer
In 1975, a visually-challenged six-month-old baby boy was thrown near a well in the precincts of Veereshwara Punyashrama. Puttaraj Gawai, who heard about this, took in the boy and raised him. Trained in vocal music and harmonium, the boy grew to be Nagappa Gawai Shirol, who has bagged innumerable awards for his talent.

Back to the tune post-Covid
The Covid-19 pandemic had brought the activities at the institution to a standstill for over one-and-half years. With cases dwindling in the state and relaxations in lockdown curbs presently, students of the Punyashrama are once again brimming with enthusiasm, albeit adhering to safety norms.

Puttaraj Gawai’s successor
Kallaiahajja, a student of Puttaraj Gawai, has been ordained as the successor of Veereshwara Punyashrama. He came here as a little boy and learned music from Puttaraj.


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