Simply majesticJul 24th, 2009 | By editor | Category: City Culture, Music & Dance
At the beginning of the 21st Century, a galaxy of brilliant musicians appeared who not only carried forward the great heritage of our classical music but also contributed in their own distinct ways. Since it is an oral tradition, an Indian classical musician is required to improvise according to his/her own understanding of the raga, and that’s the reason our music has always remained contemporary.
The various stalwarts like Ustad Abdul Karim Khan, Ustad Latafat Hussain Khan, Aftab-e-Mousiqui Ustad Faiyaz Khan, Ustad Nissar Hussain Khan, Ustad Amir Khan, Pandit Mallikarjun Mansoor, Pandit Nivrutti Bua Sarnaik and the great women singers like Kesarbai Kerkar, Hirabai Barodekar, Roshanara Begum, Siddheshwari Devi, Rasoolan Bai, Badi Moti Bai,Vidyadhari Bai, Gangubai Hangal and Begum Akhtar — they all left a distinct mark with their gayaki for generations to come and appreciate classical music. Today we have lost Gangubai Hangal, an important landmark in Kirana gharana. May God grant long life to Pandit Bhimsen Joshi ji — the last light of this gharana.
Gangubai ji was born in the early 20th Century in Karnataka and was trained by Pandit Sawai Gandharva who also trained Bhimsen Joshi. Gangubai ji had a very powerful, deep
and sonorous voice
unlike the shrill timbre of most women singers of today.
Her precise notes
The first time I heard her was when she received her Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in Delhi. Beautifully dressed, she looked grand on stage with her daughter Krishnabai Hangal accompanying her on the tanpura. On her right was her brother Sheshagiri Hangal. She was singing Bihag with precise notes and the unfolding of the raga was amazing. What was distinctly noticeable was that her music was devoid of any jugglery or any ornate frill to make her performance sound appealing which is a routine with most musicians these days.
I was amazed to find that she sang three ragas one after another but didn’t make any attempt to sing any bhajan or a thumri and left the rasikas spellbound with her austere music. I went backstage to find a barely five-foot woman who appeared so majestic on stage. She obviously was aware of my training under Siddheshwari Devi. When I touched her feet, she patted my back and said, “Your guru is very happy with you. I hope you know she is the most brilliant thumri singer of this country. We all have great respect for the koel of the Banaras gharana.” The two were great friends.
In 1975 — international women’s year, we at Kaladharmi organised a special concert called “Women music makers of India”. Begum Akhtar, one of the founder members of the organisation, had herself drawn out a list of singers to perform and Gangubai ji’s name obviously had to be there. Dressed in spotless white, she looked like Saraswati. She sang Bageshwari and in what a beautiful way she introduced the Pancham!
After few months, I went to meet her in Hubli to interview her for my research project on tawaif, as a fellow of the Ford Foundation. She gave a whole lot of insight into the subject. On asking a naive question which I shouldn’t have, she gave me a very beautiful answer. I asked her how come her daughter and her brother had the same surname. She went silent for two minutes as if lost in some other world, and then she held my hand and said, “Rita, it is the birthright of any woman to look beautiful and to be a mother, and what difference does it make who is the father?” That statement still rings in my ears and gave a whole new approach to my project.
She was sad deep in her heart that even though her daughter sang so well, she couldn’t be graded in AIR even for light music. She was worried about her daughter’s future after she was gone. Little did she know that her daughter would never face this problem and leave this world before her. The last time I met her was about five years ago when she had come down for a Spic Macay festival. She sat down with Ustad Vilayat Khan remembering old times.
With Gangubai ji’s departure, a very important chapter of Indian classical music has come to an end. May God grant her peace.
(The author is a renowned classical singer.)