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Govindrao Tembe

Govindrao is dead and with him is gone the majesty of the mehfil. His arrival at a concert or at a theatre- gathering was indeed  an event.   The  audience would whisper "Govindrao is here ... Govindrao is here," and when he left the mehfil would appear deserted. The  only  person   whose mere arrival could light up a mehfil and who could almost extinguish it when he departed has now  left  us permanently!

I  had  seen Govindrao at music recitals on several occasions before I was formally introduced to him. To watch him hear and  appreciate classical music at a concert was itself an aesthetic experience. I can recollect an entrancing  recital   by  Manji  Khan with  Govindrao  in the forefront of the select audience. On such an occasion it used to be difficult to decide whether one  should listen  to Manji Khan's singing or watch Govindrao's appreciative gestures and the charming responses reflected on his face.  I be-
gan  to feel an irresistible desire to be introduced to this person and get to know him well. This happened twenty-six years  ago though  its memory is still as fresh in my mind as if it had happened yesterday. Govindrao is no longer amidst us and   his  death has created a void which is not likely to be filled in future.

Govindrao's death was unexpected. Of late, he had taken considerable interest in the work of the Central Audition  Board  of  All India Radio.  He had gone to Delhi in connection with the work of this Board and suffered a heart attack on 29th   September,  1955. Dr.  Sumati  Mutatkar conveyed the news to the Minister in charge of Information and Broadcasting Dr. B.V.  Keskar  and   Shri  P.M. Lad,  I.C.S.,  who  took keen personal interest and had Govindrao removed to Wellington Nursing Home. They also arranged  for  a thorough medical check-up and treatment by expert doctors. It was felt that somebody from Govindrao's family should go over to Delhi  and  stay with him. Shri P.M. Lad, Secretary to Government in the Department of Information and Broadcasting, wrote  to   Govindrao's  eldest  son,  Pilunana  and  called him to Delhi. For the first few days Govindrao was unable to move his hands  and  feet. But  soon he rallied round and was well enough to send a telegram home saying - "I am feeling better. The A.I.R. officers have made excellent arrangements for my treatment.  There is, therefore, no
need for anybody from the family to come here. There is absolutely no cause for anxiety." In the meantime his youngest son, Bhaurao and his eldest daughter-in-law, Indirabai, had left  Kolhapur
for Delhi; but having seen (at Pune) the reassuring telegram from Govindrao they returned home.  Fearing that  the  telegram  might not have reached Kolhapur and that Bhaurao might have started for Delhi, Govindrao pressed Pilunana to go to the Delhi Railway Station  to  fetch  him. Pilunana left the Nursing Home for the station.  At 5.35 p.m. Govindrao suffered a heart attack  apparently caused   by  a  coughing fit which brought his life to an end in a matter of seconds. When Pilunana returned from the station  at  7 p.m.  he   found that his father had passed away.  Officers of the All India Radio rushed to the hospital on hearing the news.   Dr. Keskar too came to pay his respects to the departed soul. He gave instructions to his officers in regard  to  the   funeral.  During this terminal illness of Govindrao, Dr. Keskar, Shri P.M. Lad and Dr. Sumati Mutatkar had paid personal  attention  to  Govindrao's treatment  and made every effort to make his stay at the hospital as comfortable as possible. They all felt a sense  of  guilt  for the  tragedy   since  it  was in response to their invitation that Govindrao had gone to Delhi.

It appears that Govindrao's death was destined to take  place  in Delhi,   the  Capital of India. In a sense it was both natural and inevitable. He had lived like a prince; so it was proper and fitting that he should breath his last in the Capital of India. Born in a middle class family and pursuing a career in music,   theatre and  literature,  Govindrao  went  through events and experiences which even a prince would have envied. He was on the  most  intimate   and cordial terms with Rajas and Maharajas. These latter at
least had or seemed to have the responsibility of running the affairs  of their States. Govindrao did not have any. He was fortunate enough to enjoy the beauty and fragrance of a  rose  without suffering  the  pricks  of   the thorns.  He did not have to worry about running the affairs of his family or perhaps he was not habituated to bear the burden of family anxieties. As he was always surrounded by artists, the affluent and the powerful, his personal  needs were automatically taken care of. He was, therefore, in
a position to give undivided attention to the pursuit  of  beauty in  all its forms. He did not hanker after the impossible and did not, therefore, suffer the   pangs  of  unfulfilled  desires.   It should  also be said that he was extraordinarily adept at drawing the curtain over tragic happenings.

In this connection an incident in his life  is  worth  recording. Some   sixteen  years  ago, while Govindrao was staying with me in Bombay, he lost his most intimate friend and patron, the  Yuvaraj of  Mysore. He returned from the funeral with a very heavy heart. I had never seen him so stricken with grief. I said to him, "Your life has been a shock-absorber. You have the capacity to neutralize the impact of any grief or calamity.  Why  are  you  so   distressed  today?"  He  immediately put a rein on his grief. It was not a surprise that he was so grief-stricken that day;  the  surprise was that he collected himself so quickly.

This  trait is probably shared by many great artists. Bhaskarbuwa Bakhale lost a dearly loved daughter. When he found that  friends and  relations  around   him showed no sign of coming out of their gloom, he asked them, "Why are you all so quiet?  Why  don't  you ask  me to sing?" Govindrao had a similar quality of aloofness in things, which he maintained throughout his life; and it   was  because of this detachment and restraint that he was able to become such a faithful worshipper of beauty and enrich  it  in  so  many different ways.

This statement of mine may surprise many, but I am making it with a full sense of responsibility. I have  reached  this  conclusion after observing him at close quarters as his disciple over a long period of twenty-five years.  Govindrao, however, always  treated me  as  a  close friend and allowed me privilege of observing the innermost workings of his mind. Govindrao enjoyed the good things in  life  becoming  their captive. He did not allow himself to be carried away.

The purest among the classical artists used  to  take  particular delight   in  singing  light Marathi compositions of Govindrao. By now there have been numerous successful Marathi  sound-films  but
it  was  Govindrao who brought Ayodhyecha Raja (The king of Ayodhya). It was he who set the style of writing on music in Marathi. In his celebrated book Maza Sangeet Vyasang Govindrai has adopted
a model for later writers on music.

He traversed different spheres of life and thereby  enriched  his own life. He also established several high water-marks in his art career.  Both these things are very important. Leaving aside  his brief spells as a clerk, as a pleader, and as a manager of a circus troupe, his playing diverse roles as  a  stage  actor,   as  a playwright, as owner of drama company, director, composer and director of stage and cinema music, shows the extensiveness of  his life  and   versatality of his interests. Similarly his extraordi-
narily high reputation and popularity as  a  musicologist,  songwriter and composer show the depth of his interests.

Although Govindrao pursued various interests and vocations in his life, his main preoccupation for nearly half a century was harmonium  playing.   If   he was famous in Maharashtra and outside, it was because of his uncommon skill as a harmonium-player. He revolutionized  the  art of playing on the harmonium. Harmonium is an instrument basically suited to Western music.  Govindrao   brought Indian  classical  music  within the ambit of this instrument and for nearly forty years he identified himself with it so completely that Govindrao and harmonium became almost synonymous terms.

There  had  been  harmonium players before Govindrao, many of his contemporaries played harmonium, and there is no dearth  of  such players even today; but none could cast his spell on the audience as Govindrao did.  He made the knowledgeable give  their  nod  of approval and appreciation, mesmerized the ignorant and the uninitiated, and induced the serious-minded  to  store   the  music  in their  memory.  His technique of fingering was so perfect and entrancing that it was not observed  in  any  other   player  except those  few  who  were  fortunate enough to have received training from him. Govindrao in his prime displayed extraordinary virtuosity   but  he never allowed sheer skill to mar the aesthetic charm
of his performance. The compositions he played on harmonium  were rhythmic  and   of a caressing quality and utterly free from acrobatics. This needs to be emphasized because  acrobatic  exercises
dominate present day musical performances!

Narayanrao  Bal Gandharva's music, naturally sweet and velvety in its smoothness, clothed with the discipline of conventional classical  music,  is,  broadly speaking, how one can describe Govindrao's art. I was often intrigued to find that   Narayanrao  often referred to Govindrao as Guruwarya and Govindrao rated Narayanrao very highly. The mystery was cleared when I heard Govindrao playing  on   the  harmonium  one  day and attended Narayanrao's vocal recital on the following day. It became quite clear  to  me  that these  two   artists had an identical aesthetic conception. When I met Narayanrao at Nagpur on one occasion, he told me, "I have immensely  benefited  from   Govindrao's help and guidance. You also should take full advantage of his knowledge and  direction."  Although Narayanrao developed his aesthetic ideology quite independently, there is no doubt that  its  origin  and   inspiration  is traceable to Govindrao.

It  cannot be said that Govindrao received training in harmoniumplaying from any particular  teacher.  His  career  in  harmonium playing actually started with Marathi stage-songs and it was further developed under the influence of   celebrated  stage  artists like Bhaurao Kolhatkar, Dattoba Halyalkar and others whose company he sought and enjoyed. Later his harmonium-playing became more brilliant  and  sophisticated through listening constantly to famous Vocalists like Bhaskarbuwa Bakhale, Mojuddin  Khan,  Miyajan and Alladiya Khan. It acquired both a rare charm and a structural integrity. He had heard all the well-known vocalists and  instrumentalists of his period and had on occasion provided them accompaniment on the harmonium. He took immense pains to reproduce  in his   playing  every  nuance  and  improvisation employed by these artists with the same unerring grace and neatness. He  would  not
rest  content  with mere precision of the notation unless he also reproduced the grace of the singer; and even if he got  the  bandish  right  he was not happy if he did not reproduce it with the special caressing quality of his playing. Today the situation  is precisely  the  reverse.  Present day artists think they have not established their expertise unless they eschew all  feelings   and emotions  from  their performance. How I wish Govindrao were here to show them the way in this distressing situation! It is  indeed
unfortunate  that performers who are now lost in their acrobatics did not hear Govindrao when he was at the zenith of his career.

One special feature of Govindrao's art was the restraint he exercised  while   performing. He always prepared an appropriate background for exhibiting the pure beauty of a certain  note  (swara) or  a  group  of notes.   In doing so, he never did anything which would mar the beauty of what he meant to present. He appeared  to adopt a certain plan or strategy in the presentation and development of his art of playing. He made each rhythmic cycle (avartan) serve  as   the background for the succeeding cycles and each succeeding series appeared to enhance the melodic quality of what he had  played  earlier,  till   the whole pattern of notes reached a crescendo almost like a logical sequence. His tana patterns  were
also  organized  with the same objective in view and the internal structure of tana patterns was aimed to achieve similar  artistic culmination.  Uncommon   success is achieved in the field of music only if there is an integrated design in expression.

Govindrao devoted himself whole-heartedly to the study and  practice  of   harmonium-playing  and vocal music and without allowing his art to become sterile and dull he made beauty its  sole  aim. His  entire  life   was  full  of grace and charm. The creator had showered on him all the choicest gifts. He was  a  good  listener and  appreciator of art, be it vocal or instrumental music, dance or literature and his face would glow with pleasure   whenever  he could  discern  even  a fragment of beauty in the presentation of
art. Mogubai Kurdikar only recently said to me, "Govindrao  alone could   appreciate  good  music; he alone knew when, where and how much appreciation to bestow on a performer."   Govindrao's  heart
appeared to have a number of chords, each reserved for a separate performer. If an artist could strike the proper  chord  he  would get  immediate   response from Govindrao and his face never failed to, register this appreciative response. This was the main reason why  both  artists and listeners cared so much and longed for his presence at concerts. One who aspires to become an eminent artist must have very sharp and sensitive ears and an exceedingly receptive heart. To lose this sensitivity is to block the road to emi-

Although  Govindrao  had  derived  much  knowledge  in music from Bhaskarbuwa Bakhale and although he always remained  beholden  to him,   his ultimate loyalty, so far as music was concerned, was to
Khansaheb Alladiya Khan. His devotion, his love for Khansaheb was boundless.  He   once  said  to a friend in my presence, "I regard even a dog at Khansaheb's house as sacred." By  way  of  self-defence  he   immediately added, "Khansaheb's dog also would be such as would possess a dignity no other dog can have." Since his  devotion  and  loyalty to Khansaheb was so completely unadulterated it was only natural that the influence of Khansaheb  should  have been  discernible  in  his aesthetic ideology, harmonium-playing, temperament and even his gestures. His harmonium playing was   entirely  based  on  Khansaheb's  gayaki  (style).   He had not only searched for Khansaheb's aesthetic  principle  but   had  actually found  and  mastered  it.  The  only difference (and this was inevitable) was due to the technical changes made necessary by   the different  media through which it was expressed - human voice and the harmonium.

Perhaps because the harmonium could not fully absorb  Govindrao's musical   virtuosity,  the  overflow  was diverted to theatre. His achievements in music had their origin in  Marathi  stage  music; and   now  he dedicated to the same stage music what was not fully absorbed by the harmonium. The music compositions which  he  contributed  to  the   Marathi  plays  -  Manapaman  and Vidyaharan - brought about a two-fold revolution in Marathi stage music.   The tunes  he  gave   to  the stage music were based on pure classical Hindustani music. But along with it he also provided semi-classical  music  of  the  Purab (Eastern) variety. Since then, Marathi stage music has represented a very happy combination  of  highly classical and Purab style music and the credit for blending these two variants of Hindustani music must go to Govindrao.

Though music was Govindrao's first love, his  literary  life  was equally   rich.  In him music and literature went hand in hand and his artistic life would not be fully revealed or  understood  unless  we  take into consideration this happy and rare blending of two kinds of talents. His published literary output would  amount to  nearly 2000 to 2500 printed pages (without counting his other scattered published material numbering about  500-1000  pages  of articles  on  Bhaskarbuwa  Bakhale,  the  famous singer Goharjan, etc.). These include Maza Sangeet Vyasang, his  autobiography;  a work  on   scientific analysis of music, his biography of Alladiya Khansaheb, his several plays, his music compositions as  well  as operas.   His   literary contribution is thus variegated and rich, taking into consideration the variety of topics  dealt  with  and the excellence of expression and style.

His  famous  book  Maza  Sangeet  Vyasang will remain an immortal achievement not only in the field of fine  arts  but  also  as  a priceless piece of Marathi literature. This publication has given a new turn to literature on music. It has also opened a new vista in Marathi literature while giving an appreciative account of the contribution of famous musicians he had heard.  The   book,  while drawing  attention  also  to  the   abiding  values in music, in a sense, established a new tradition of appreciative writing on musical  performances. Govindrao must be considered the high priest of this literary genre. His recent book Kalpana Sangeet has again made  a new and valuable contribution to scientific literature on music. His novel interpretation of the evolution and  development of  the  various notes of the octave, his novel method of written notation based on western staff notation, his new   classification of  ragas  (Jati  vyavastha) which is essentially akin to that of Bharata  and  which   is   distinctly    different   from Pandit Bhatkhande's  Thaat  system   and his selection of about a hundred ragas to portray their structural beauty are   some  of  the  main features  of  this  work.   This book is indeed a fine blending of science and artistic experience.

One more important facet of Govindrao's career is  his  contribution to musical compositions, an activity in which he concentrated the quintessence of his musical   career.  He  also  wrote  and staged  his plays, e.g., Tulasidas, Patwardhan, Varavanchana etc. He himself wrote the lyrics for these plays and set them  to  music.  These  songs  soon  attained the status of highly classical khayal compositions. It is indeed rare to come  across   a  person who  combines  in himself the qualities of a musicologist, first-
rate music composer and a man of  letters.  In  ancient  Sanskrit lore   such a gifted person was designated - Vaggeyakar. Govindrao was the Vaggeyakar of modern times.

Yet one more outstanding achievement of his career  as  musician, actor   and playwright were the operas which he composed, directed and staged.   Jayadev and Mahashveta,  which  were  only  recently
broadcast  on  All India Radio, are two examples of the operas he wrote. Mahashveta was also put on the  stage.  Swaranatikas  (operas)  were   an  entirely  new addition to Marathi literature and Marathi stage critics have  expressed  many  different  views  on them.   Are  these operas essentially a form of music or a form of literature ? Do they lend themselves easily and appropriately  to the employment of high class music or, alternatively, folk music? Does classical music obstruct the natural  flow   of  an  opera  ? Would  the staging of operas necessitate changes in stage-craft ? These are some of the technical issues which have arisen in   this context. To employ high classical music so as to make a play fully musical and to run it on the stage for two hours and  a  half, smoothly  and  in   a  manner which would sustain public interest, needs considerable imagination, tremendous effort and skill of  a
very  high order. These operas are the culmination or end-product of Govindrao's experience as an actor (the principal roles played by  him were Dhairyadhar, Kach, Dushyant, Arjun, Pundarik, Charudatta etc), as a playwright and as a music  composer.   They  also provide irrefutable evidence that Govindrao, even at the ripe age of seventy-four, still retained his  freshness  of  outlook,  his zest for novelty and his readiness to experiment.

I  went to Pune towards the end of August 1954 and I found Govindrao preparing to stage an abridged version of Soubhadra for  the All  India  Radio. When I called on him he was asking the man who
played the role of Narad to sing the song Radhadhar Madhu Milind. I had previously heard the man sing but on this occasion his performance was absolutely entrancing.  It was a clear demonstration of how an ordinary artiste's performance could be transformed into great art under Govindrao's magic touch.

How can one do full justice to  Govindrao's  artistry  ?  I  have learned from him many cheejs during the last twenty-five years. I had yet to learn from him many more. I had to  discuss  with  him innumerable  subjects and I had to explore the mainsprings of his artistic life. I used to find my discussions with him  completely absorbing.  We  had  spent  long hours together and I was looking forward to spending even more time in his company. But it  proved to  be  a  dream. He went away without a word of farewell. He hasdeparted leaving the art of music orphaned!

When he left for Delhi be had  promised  to  return  in  about   a month. But he was to go to that place from which no traveller returns!

From: parrikar@ferrari.Colorado.EDU (Rajan P. Parrikar)
Subject: Great Master 29: Govindrao Tembe -
musician, composer, aesthete etc etc
Date: 7 Jan 1999 08:29:42 GMT
First published in 1955 Translation  by  Ram  Deshmukh  and  B.R.

by Vaman Hari Deshpande

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