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Wielder of rare instrument

Wednesday, November 21, 2018
By Amarendra Dhaneshwar

The vichitra veena is a rare musical instrument. There are only a handful of vichitra veena players in the country. It is indeed a tragedy that the seniormost among them Pandit Ramesh Prem passed away two days ago in the city. Ramesh Prem was 88 and was suffering from age related ailments. Ramesh Prem was known for his exceptional skill in wieding the instrument. An unusually soft spoken musician, Ramesh Prem did not go out of his way to solicit concert engagements. His musicianship was instantly recognized by the All India Radio which regularly broadcast his performances.

The Vichitra Veena is also called the Batta Been because it is played with the help of a glass object which is used for sound production. Sound is produced by sliding the glass object on the strings. This principle of sound production was later reproduced by slide guitar players. Ramesh Prem's music was always full of serenity.  He played serious ragas like 'Darbari' and 'Malkauns' and they exuded a real contemplative flavour. One recalls his performances at the Swami Haridas Sangeet Sammelan organized by 'Sur Singar Samsad'. Music world paid a silent homage to this veteran musician who made a quiet exit from this mortal world.

Ramesh Prem's departure brings into focus the need for taking some concrete steps to preserve rare musical instruments which are a part of our rich heritage. The veena is considered to be the original stringed instrument thrown up by our culture. There are again only a few rudra veena or rudra been players who have survived the onslaught of modernity. With  improvement in accoustics, instruments like the santoor and the bansuri have achieved unprecedented popularity over the last few decades. The rudra been or the vichitra veena could not reap the benefits of the amazing advances made by the sound amplification techniques. The Carnatic tradition has succeeded in preserving the Gotuvadyam which is another version of the Vichitra Veena. Ramesh Prem could have easily shifted his loyalty to another popular instrument and enjoyed the limelight that comes along with it. He, however, did now swerve from his chosen path and contributed his own mite to the musical culture in a handsome manner.

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