Carsten Wicke remains one of the very few international rudra veena players today who shows expertise both in the Khandarbani and the Dagarbani style of dhrupad. Born in Germany, Carsten was trained there as a vocal musician and learnt violin as a child. His foray into Indian classical music began while he was learning India’s popular percussion instrument, tabla, from the renowned tabla maestro Pandit Anindo Chatterjee in Kolkata. Fascinated by the classical dhrupad music, Carsten met India’s legendary rudra veena master, Ustad Asad Ali Khan, whose musical family tradition goes back to many generations, including the outstanding beenkars (veena players) like Sadiq Ali Khan, Musharraf Khan and Rajab Ali Khan. Ustad Asad Ali Khan accepted him as one of his veena disciples and taught him playing the traditional rudra veena in Khandarbani Style. Carsten also studied Dagarbani Dhrupad with Ashish Sankrityayan, the current director and teacher at the Dhrupad Kendra in Bhopal.
While accompanying his teachers in India and Europe, Carsten has been working as tour manager, organizer and teacher. He graduated from Universität Hildesheim in Germany with a degree on Cultural Science, specializing in his theses on veena and sitar. As a film-maker, author and media producer he documents Indian music traditions, particularly the old-classical dhrupad music. When we, from the Caesurae Collective, approached him to spare some of his precious time and expound on the history of rudra veena, Carsten kindly agreed to honour the occasion with a lecture demonstration at his residence. Shri Bhabanishankar Dasgupta, the elder son and disciple of the eminent Sarode maestro Pandit Buddhadev Dasgupta, steered the musical conversation with his insightful questions and remarks alike.
A daunting task as it is, the history of rudra veena, could not have been better explored if Carsten himself did not agree to play a Raga performance on the majestic instrument. Accompanied by Aditi Karmakar on Tanpura and Prabal Nath on Pakhwaj, Carsten played raga puriya and Raga Sohini with a grace unmatched. The musical conversation began with Carsten reminiscing about his own journey with rudra veena. The rudra veena, according to the Hindu mythology, was created by Lord Shiva (one of his alternative names being Rudra), while he was contemplating on the perfect beauty of his wife Parvati. This is one of the oldest musical instruments and is often referred to as the Queen or Mother of all Indian stringed instruments. The oldest preserve can be found as portrayals on temple architecture from around the fifth century A.D. It shows a simple, one stringed instrument consisting of a bamboo cane with a gourd for resonance. The instrument’s association with Lord Shiva made the veena a popular instrument of the yogis und ascetics. For them, playing the veena signified a unification of ritual and meditation. It is said, that the music of the veena possessed the power to purify the mind of the musician and the listeners alike and uplifted their consciousness to the transcendental spiritual plane. Just like a wand chooses its wizard, Carsten fondly remarked, “The veena was my instrument. It suited my inner voice and
helped me achieve the inner peace.” Based in Kolkata, Carsten also develops and manufactures new veenas in collaboration with the local craftsmen, thereby experiencing a holistic relation with the instrument.
Around the sixteenth century the rudra veena developed its actual shape with frets and two symmetric resonance bodies. It was also during this time that it evolved into one of the most important melody instruments of the aristocratic court music and later became the main solo instrument of the primary vocal dhrupad music style. With the rise of the khayal, the modern classical music style of North India, and the therewith aligned evolution of newer instruments like sitar and sarode, the veena lost its importance from the nineteenth century onwards. Carsten’s performance, therefore, took us back to those old days when rudra veena shared its supreme glory. With extreme subtle playing techniques and aesthetics which require lifelong devotion and self discipline, rudra veena harks back to an era of past times and reveals an unparalleled musical journey between silence and ecstasy. Carsten’s raga presentation united the meditative depth in the alap (introduction) - the unparalleled fortitude of the Dagarbani Dhrupad - with the dynamic interpretation of the faster performance stages (Jor, Jhala) - a distinguished characteristic of the Khandarbani style. When asked about the cultural difference that colours his relation to rudra veena, Carsten drew a fascinating comparison between Western Classical and the Dhrupad and evoked a sense of music that connects one and all. Combining subtle melodic variations with complex rhythmical finger stroke techniques, Carsten’s performance truly created a unique listening experience that goes beyond cultural differences.