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Dr. Kumar Gandharva

Dr. Kumar GandharvaOn 8th April 1924 a shining star of Indian classical music was born. On the same date in 1974, Kumar Gandharva completed his 50th year. He is now proudly marching on to 60. One should be grateful to God for helping this gifted singer to fight against formidable odds and to emerge victorious and dedicate himself solely to the study and advancement of music.

About 30 years ago, Kumar had to undergo very complicated lung surgery, and consequently had to suspend his extremely promising career as a singer for a few years. This lapse into obscurity actually proved to be a blessing in disguise because, even though he had to discontinue his singing riyaz, Kumar spent his temporary forced retirement in introspective, contemplative and meditative concentration on the study of music. This helped him to emerge from the ordeal a much matured and seasoned artist with newly sharpened creative faculties. Today he has evolved a particular style of singing, entirely his own, which does not unduly tax his health and voice. He has rebuilt his audience all over the country with his ever new and fascinating art.

I have known Kumar since he was a lad in shorts, sometimes going about barefoot. When he was only 12 years old he held a large select audience of Pandits and musicologists spellbound with his spectacular performance at an All India Music Conference. Correctly judging the talents of the young boy, Professor B. R. Deodhar took him under his wing. He carefully groomed him and steered his talents into the proper channels.

Professor Deodhar taught Kumar to be steadfast in his aim and inspired him to make an exhaustive study of music. As a result, Kumar has acquired a very wide and progressive outlook which enables him to appreciate all that is best in different styles of music and to absorb them into his own peculiar style. In doing so he has courageously brushed aside long standing conventions and thrown a challenge to those singers of reputed gharanas who have been blindly following old traditions and illogical conventions.

Kumar studied very closely the folk music of Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Malwa, etc. This led him into composing Geet hemant, Geet varsha, Geet shishir, and Triveni- bhajans of 3 great saints: Kabir, Surdas and Meera- which proved a sensational hit. These experiments clearly portrayed his revolutionary spirit and his bid to be a trend setter. There are some who viewed these experiments with derision a few years ago, but the same critics have now come to appreciate him greatly.

Kumar who was a thin and lean teenager is now a chubby middle-aged person. In a concert hall, chewing paan and clad in a snow white zabba and pyjama or white dhoti with a black border, Kumar, with his arresting smile, immediately succeeds in spreading a lively atmosphere all around.

To watch Kumar tuning his tanpuras perfectly and tunefully is an enjoyable and memorable experience. Only those who are able to distinguish the finest subtleties of different notes are able to tune the four strings of the instrument so that they will blend perfectly. The two middle strings are required to be tuned to the tonic or shadja note, the last string also to the shadja note an octave lower - kharja, and the first string is tuned to pancham the 5th note, madhyama the 4th note, or nishad the 7th note, whichever may be in consonance with the compositions of the ragas the artist intends to present. The process of tuning the tanpuras is sometimes a lengthy one and may be a little boring to most listeners. Sometimes this instrument is as whimsical as the artist and refuses to stay steady. The strings resist attempts to blend them into a homogeneous unity, but a formidable musician like Kumar or Bhimsen can force them into submission. When the strings, perfectly blended in unison, resound and reverberate in the concert hall, the tense atmosphere suddenly becomes relaxed, and when Kumar blends his own voice so identically with the swara of the tanpura, the audience experiences a sensation divine and beyond description. After a lot of hard work and practice Kumar has mastered the technique of tuning this wonder instrument. Apart from the two tanpuras, one on either side. the only accompaniment Kumar uses is that of a soft harmonium and a tabla played in a tranquil, straightforward manner and in a tempo - laya - with perfect precision. Kumar's concert is therefore absolutely free from unnecessary gimmickry and acrobatics. It has a soothing effect on the audience whose whole attention is riveted on Kumar's singing that very soon envelops them in its magic.

When Kumar starts his methodical exposition of a raga picture, he puts before the audience the many mysterious and beauteous facets of the raga. The audience enjoys all these with ever increasing curiosity and delight. At one moment one is floating down a quiet and serene river of melody; at another one is rushing down a tumbling waterfall from the Taar saptak to the Mandra saptak. At times the swaras are swift and piercing like an attacking falcon; a little later they will sound caressingly soft and sweet and hauntingly imploring. Kumar's musical presentation is an experience of these contradictory impressions that are created with ease and grace.

Kumar has achieved recognition from the Indian Government. Recently he was awarded the title Padmabhushan. Before the advent of microgroove recordings I recorded Kumar's voice on a number of 78 R.P.M. discs It took some time and hard work to persuade Kumar to cut a long-playing record, but once he agreed he wholeheartedly cooperated, and apart from the recordings of my choice, he insisted on making some of his own choice that proved to be very successful commercially. His LP recording, Mala Umajlele Bal Garldharva, is an instance in point. Since one long-playing record containing the most popular songs of Bal Gandharva in his own voice had already been released it was a commercial risk to make, so soon after, a record of the same songs sung by Kumar. However, I appreciated Kumar's intense desire to pay a glowing musical tribute to Bal Gandharva, and allowed him to make the record. I must confess that contrary to my expectation this LP proved lo be a very good seller.

Kumar has made a distinctly valuable contribution to Indian music. His deep and extensive study of our ragas has enabled him to bring to light many forgotten ragas. Apart from this, the contribution of ragas of his own creation is very substantial. Among the new ragas which have already received public approbation are Sanjari, Malavati, Bihad Bhairava, Saheli Todi. Gandhi Malhar and Sohoni Bhatiyar. Kumar, who was born in Karnataka and spent his childhood there, came to Maharashtra, where he spent some years of his youth with Professor Deodhar. Later he migrated for reasons of health to Madhya Pradesh and settled down in Dewas. He speaks, therefore, an admixture of three languages - Kannada, Marathi and Hindi. His Marathi pronunciation, though faulty, has a peculiar twang which listeners have found irresistible.

As a result, his renderings of Marathi bhavgeets have become very popular. For instance, in his record of the late poet Anil's poem Ajuni rusun ahe, he has pronounced the word dhusfusalo in a rather jarring manner but his fans consider it as the beauty spot of the record.

Only those who are really close to Kumar are aware of his perseverance, his absorption, his deep study and his boundless enthusiasm. His creation of new ragas, peculiar songs attributed to different seasons, devotional compositions, and compositions of thumri, tappa and tarana are ample proof of this. Whatever he undertakes to do is carried out with perfection and precision. When he came to our studios for recording I always found him prepared to the last detail with what was to be recorded. Therefore recording him was never a long drawn, tedious affair. Singing in a concert he never caters to cheap tastes, never allows the audience to influence him, to lower his high artistic standard of singing. Instead he succeeds, with great confidence. in charming the audience into wholehearted acceptance of his own highbrow style. That is why younger audiences, even though they may not be very knowledgeable, are enthralled by tne magic of his artistry. Though Kumar studied the rudiments of music in the Gandharva Mahavidyalaya, he did not allow his art to be dominated by any particular style. One observes sometimes a very strong resemblance to the late Omkarnath's style, while at other times one has tantalizing glimpses of the Gwalior and Agra Gharanas. It is a matter of considerable speculation among those who are interested in our classical music whether Kumar, who had rebelliously cast away the cumbersome load of gharanas and traditions, will eventually establish an independent gharana of his own. Though Kumar has successfully explored and created fresh wonders in music, I do not feel that a 'Kumar Gandharva' gharana will become a reality, because there is and will always be one and only one Kumar.

Posted on RMIC by Rajan Parrikar as part of Great Masters Series.

An Unequalled Music A Tribute to Kumar Gandharva

  Gandharva would have been 75 years old on April 8, 1999. He died after a brief illness on January 12, 1992. Already a legend in his own lifetime, Kumar Gandharva seems to grow in stature posthumously. He did three simple things with complex consequences. First, he refused to accept that tradition in music meant merely continuation and repetition: he deconstructed it thus laying it open to new experiments and bold innovations. He, more or less, excavated the creative dynamics of tradition. Second, he rediscovered and reasserted the roots of the classical in the folk, in the process, reinvigorating the classical and elevating the folk. Third, he made the classical look modern in structure, intent and resource without ceasing to be classical. New Life Hindustani classical music, while it allows the individual talent to flower and mature, also simultaneously offers stubborn resistance to any attempt of the individual to leave a stamp on it. Kumar Gandharva boldly asserted the right of the individual talent to appropriate from tradition and mould it to one's own intrinsic vision. He famously said that ``A Raga is always bare and it is only the musician who clothes it''. In his own handling of the Raga music, Kumar Gandharva followed the grammar scrupulously and yet the Raga almost always attained an unexpected profile. It would appear that a Raga in the voice of Kumar Gandharva became a pretext for the text which was the singer himself. It is rarely given to a singer to become the song. Kumar Gandharva more often than not sang himself through the Raga. One was not so much listening to a Raga as to Kumar Gandharva. The somewhat post-modernist device of many different but equally valid readings of a text was already, long before the post-modern moment arrived and without any acquaintance with the western world of ideas etc., being employed by Kumar Gandharva. He could and did render Malkauns or Gauda Malhar in many ways, each one yielding a different meaning and pleasure. Disabled in his youth by the loss of a lung, Kumar Gandharva found a new life in his music. As he lay convalescing in Dewas at the foot of the `Hill of Devi' (the novelist E M Forster was a tutor in the princely house of Dewas), he started collecting hymns, verses and compositions of Nath yogis and fakirs who used to wander around the colonies in the morning asking for alms. Out of this grew his immensely rich repertoire of Nirgunia music which he further expanded to include Sagun Bhakti music as well as the folk music of the Malwa region. If for greatness the range of an artist is a critical element, Kumar had a truly wide range. From utter humility to regal presence, from joyful celebration to utter loneliness, his music could evoke and enact, with great subtlety and precision a wide variety of moods and emotions. He would sing sometimes like a Kabir approximating the unstruck note on the `Shunya Shikhar' or like a playful wizard or like an humble devotee. Having lived on the edge of life and close to death, as it were, Kumar Gandharva converted his music, with all its fragility and perishability, into a genre of struggle against mortality. His music reverberates with life and life-depicting images. It is an affirmation of life, of being. And yet it does not fail to interrogate the given meanings of life. An extremely lyrical and romantic mode of Khayal music in Kumar Gandharva attains an unusual level of enquiry and quest imbuing it with an epic dimension. It is affirmation but through exploration, anxiety and questioning. Musical Milieu Born in a musical milieu where the various Gharanas were furious and passionate contenders for musical creativity, true inheritance and popular attention and following, Kumar Ghandharva soon discovered that his own vision of life and music, his aesthetics of dynamic change needed a new mould. While he integrated in his music elements from many sources and schools, he developed a style of his own, a voice culture and a repertoire of rare compositions. he composed many new Ragas such as Nindiyari, Lagangandhar, Madhsuraja, Malavati, Sanjari, Ahimohini and many new Bandishes for the existing ones. He became the first, perhaps the only one in this century, to have dared to present a whole concert of folk music of Malwa. It was music of the roots -- an acknowledgement, by a classical musician, of both the origins of classicism and the vital energies still accessible in the music of the illiterate and the sidelined. Much as one is tempted to discover a tragic note in Kumar Gandharva's music -- the wail, for instance, in unsuspected spheres of his rich musical imagination -- his relationship with music, with the Ragas, the notes and the beats was essentially sensuous. And yet he would every once in a while, evoke the sense of mystery of all being, as it were. Wayback in 1984 at an intimate gathering at the Gandharva Mahavidyalaya on the occasion of the 60th birthday celebrations of Kumar Gandharva, the socialist intellectual Madhu Limaye had remarked: ``When I listen to Kumarji's music, I feel as if I am somehow touching the mystery of the universe''. To hold `raag' (passion) and `virag' (detachment) together gave Kumarji's music its existential tension. Its relation to life is also marked by the dialectic between involvement and isolation. There are moments, central and significant, which are radiant with a glow of wonder. Primeval Wonder Many a times it is the primeval wonder, at others it is the wonder at being alive, at the fact of music itself. It is this ceaseless sense of wonder that gives his sense of mystery a deeply human and yet an unquestionably spiritual dimension. It is not only a music of contraries, it is also a music which is spiritual and existential. It is in the last analysis a music of `the eternal moment' to borrow an expression from the Polish poet, Czeslaw Milosz. Kumar Gandharva would have gladly agreed with Milosz when he says: Whoever finds order,/Peace, and an eternal moment in what is/Passes without trace. Do you agree then/To abolish what is, and take from movement/The eternal moment as a gleam/On the current of a black river? Yes. Kumar Gandharva evoked the timeless within the realm of time. He was, to use words from Pasternak -- ``eternity's hostage/Captive to time''.

Subject: On Kumar Gandharva
Date: 7 Apr 1999 09:05:27 -0700
From Times of India -


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