Chitrangana Agle Reshwal on being the only female pakhawaj player in the country.
Chitrangana Agle Reshwal's fingers dance elegantly on the pakhawaj — a barrel-shaped, two-headed drum, which makes spirited bass sounds. In a matter of a few seconds, she changes her strokes and makes the macho-sounding pakhawaj throb with unusual and richer rhythms. Her eyes don't lash out with the intensity of passion that characterises percussionists; instead, Reshwal seems to slip, beat by beat, into a trance, though her fingers continue to thump up a range of rhythms. This is a small glimpse into Reshwal's world through one of the numerous videos floating around YouTube, most of which have a long line of appreciative comments. Reshwal, based in Indore, is the only female pakhawaj soloist and accompanist in Indian classical music. She recently presented her skills at the annual Darbar Festival that also featured artistes such as Ustad Shujaat Khan and Rajesh Prasanna.
"The world, including many pakhawaj players, has declared that playing instruments such as the pakhawaj and the mridangam is entirely about physical strength. It's not. It is about technique and the passion you have for the instrument," says the 35-year-old Reshwal. She recalls how she was told off by her family when, mesmerised by the echoes of the pakhawaj in her house, she asked to be trained in the instrument. So much so, that she was introduced to kathak and told to take up more feminine instruments such as the sitar and the veena. "What was surprising was that all the male members of my family had played the pakhawaj for six generations," says Reshwal.
Then 10 years old, she had set her heart on mastering the pakhawaj. Reshwal was fascinated by the aural quality of her family instrument and did not give up. She would secretly listen to her brothers' lessons as her purist father, Pandit Ambadas Pant Agle of the Nana Panse gharana, would discuss the ropes of playing the instrument. "I used to listen and remember what he taught my brothers and try to play the same notes in their absence. One day, my father returned a little early and heard the pakhawaj being played in our music room. He thought it was my brother doing his riyaaz. After he figured out it was me, he gave in and began teaching me alongside my brothers," says Reshwal, whose name is also registered in the Limca Book of World Records.
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