Festival in memory of Pt Kumar Gandharva - Kaalajayee

Pt Kumar Gandharva’s 100th birth year is celebrated across the country in various cities. In addition to music concerts, the trail-blazing musician’s immense contribution to music is remembered by scholars from various disciplines, and not just musicians.

The first festival, organised by the Kumar Gandharva Pratishthan, was held in Mumbai to coincide with his birthday, 8 April; the 2nd festival was held in Pune in June. There are plans to hold commemorative festivals in Chennai, Bangalore, Sholapur, Delhi, Dewas and other towns.

The event in Pune connected all participants, artists and audience alike, with a wave of nostalgia, shared memories and music. It opened with the release of two books on Kumar Gandharva for children. One was in Marathi by Madhuri Purandhare, and the other, completely different, was in English and Hindi by Sopan Joshi. Both authors have no deep connection with music and have approached their subject with a fresh perspective, uncoloured by an intimate knowledge of the maestro’s revolutionary music. Kalapini Komkali, daughter of Kumar Gandharva, explained,”I wanted the younger generation to be given fresh perspectives of my father and his music, so I asked two people from different streams of expertise to analyse his life and work.”

After the book releases, Madhup Mudgal from Delhi presented his music. He  heads the Gandharva Mahavidyalaya in Delhi and has a decades-old relationship with Kumar Gandharva; today, he is among his senior disciples. He started his early evening concert with raga Bhimpalasi, with a mellow vilambit Ek taal composition, Jaanu re, immortalised by his guru Kumar Gandharva. His carefully worked out progression (badhat) revealed the extent of his mastery; the contours of the raga were presented in full, and the mood was maintained with flair. He moved onto an unusual tarana’ in drut Teen taal. The next raga was composed by Kumar Gandharva, Shri Kalyan. A unique combination of the dusk raga Shri and Kalyan, the raga combines both the lament of Shri and the pleasant structure of Kalyan. Incidentally, Kumar Gandharva, like many other older musicians, never referred to the raga by its later name, Aiman or Yaman. Madhup Mudgal sang this expertly, briefly, moving onto another traditional raga Kamod. Here he sang the familiar Aeri jaane na doongi also sung as Kari jaane na doongi, with an interesting twist. Instead of stopping on the pancham at doongi, he halted on the madhyam, moving onto the rishabh, giving the composition a refreshing novelty. Madhup’s concert established his stature as one of today’s senior meditative vocalists, with a singing style hugely dependent on his guru’s but today quite distinctive. He was accompanied by the maestro Aravind Thathe on harmonium and an equally adept Bharat Kamat on tabla.

Violin maestro N. Rajam took the stage with her two granddaughters, Ragini and Nandini. As a reminder of her age, she used a small stand to rest the end of her violin; in no other way could one believe she is past 80 years. Indeed, one could say the vigour of her playing was matched by the younger violinists, not the other way around!

The trio played raga Jaijaiwanti with their usual grace, the muted mellow strokes creating a soothing ambience. Following the vocal tradition rather than that of the instrument (with aalap-jor-jhala), they went straight into the compositions.They played three before concluding with a favourite of Rajam -Jab Janaki nath sahay karein, in raga Khamach. On the tabla was Banaras gharana’s redoubtable Arvind Kumar Azad. 

The concluding item was Jaipur Attrauli gharana’s Ashwini Bhide Deshpande. Immensely popular with the audiences, the late timing did not deter anyone who stayed till the end. She sang raga Khambavati; this relatively unusual raga was handled with expertise. Indeed, one looks forward to hearing rare ragas sung with insightful knowledge by her.

She explained that the second composition (Ye imaipiya) was sung by maestro Alladiya Khan, after whom the gharana was named. The unusual use of the rishabh in the composition established that one cannot take current conventional note usage in ragas for granted. Ashwini’s effortless voice throw, wonderful raga delineation, and mature soch were always impressive. Her second piece in raga Gaud Malharwas was another true delight, both compositions taking her audience to ecstatic heights, combining unusual laya with beautiful note patterns. Proof that she is a wonderful teacher as well, there were her two accompanying disciples – Rutuja Lad and Swarangi Marathe. On the tabla was Bharat Kamath, a favourite of most vocalists today (including the late Kishori Amonkar) and the masterly Suyog Kundalkar, another hugely popular musician.

The second session of the festival was in the morning, giving the Pune audience the opportunity to hear morning ragas. Starting the session was Mewati gharana’s Sanjeev Abhyankar, prime disciple of Jasraj. Despite having a voice not known for its power, Sanjeev has infused impressive fluidity, tunefulness and dexterity in it—combined with an awesome chintan, and of course, impeccable talim, his music today is truly memorable. He sang raga Mian- ki-Todi; the vilambit composition was Ab to harayiyo. One of the finest presentations this author has heard recently of Sanjeev Abhyankar, the Miyan-ki-Todi had everything – emotion, layakari, pleasing delineation of raga, a plethora of fantastic taans combining unusual note patterns with speed, traversing the three octaves with ease. After the heights he attained, his concluding piece in raga Charukesi felt a slight letdown. He was accompanied on the tabla by Punjab gharana’s Rohit Majumdar and on the harmonium by Abhinay Ravande.

After such a magnificent concert, it took Kalapini Komkali a while to settle the audience. Although laudable, her choice of the esoteric raga Saheli Todi, composed by her father Kumar Gandharva, did not make her task easy. Her powerful voice and style so akin to her legendary father, held sway, and her rendering of both compositions took her listeners down memory lane. Both the beautiful vilambit compositions, Kaahe e jagava, in Ek taal and the drut Chandaasa mukh banaara were composed by Kumar Gandharva.

The second raga was another rare one, Shukla Bilawal, in which Kalapini sang a Jhaptaal bandish, the traditional Kalana paratmohe. In a tribute to her vocalist mother, she next sang another traditional, but rarely sung, tarana that had been taught to her mother by Kumar Gandharva, though he himself never sang it. Showcasing the diverse musical tradition in which she was taught, Kalapini concluded with a lok sangeet, Rangeeli ghangor sawariya. As the host of the festival, Kalapini gracefully kept her renderings short, so as to give more time to the other artists.

The concluding artist of the festival was the veteran Kirana and Gwalior gharana vocalist, Vinayak Torvi. Blessed with a wonderful bass voice, the doyen sang raga Jonpuri, a somewhat unusual choice, as one would have expected a raga of a later time slot. The traditional vilambit khayal, Baje jhan jhan payaliya was a treat; he was accompanied most ably by his senior disciples Dhananjay Hegde and Siddharth Belamannu. The concert was most enjoyable, sung without haste and an evident enjoyment by the maestro. The next ragas were Surdasi Malhar and Mian Malhar, on request, which were superlative. The composition in Surdasi Malhar, Badarwa barasan ko aaye was by the ascetic musician Kunwar Shyam and the drut composition in Ek taal Ayi badareeya by Delhi gharana’s Tanras Khan. On the tabla was Prashant Pandav, harmonium Arawind Thatte. Overall, the excellent ambience created was one that will be remembered for long.

The concluding session of the festival was memories and tributes by artists and admirers of Kumar Gandharva. Sadly, they were conducted in Marathi, leaving some bits incomprehensible to this writer. Eminent vocalist Alka Dev Marulkar shared a close association with the maestro; she shared how she gained so much as a young girl listening to Kumar Gandharva’s insightful analogies of everyday occurrences with music. One that struck this writer was how leaving berries to ripen on a bush is akin to letting your gayaki mature and become both sweeter and thus palatable. Avid fan Judge Mukul Mudgal learnt from the doyen that one should never seek favours for oneself. A wonderful audio and film presentation on Kumar Gandharva by Srijan Deshpande presented the humorous, witty side of  Kumar Gandharva; when asked why he never sang with a swarmandal, he replied why do you wear tight pants!

The impact of  Kumar Gandharva was summed up by a video of  his singing at a private concert. The closeup images of his intoxicated eyes and total involvement in his singing elicited this comment from a young listener – “Imagine, if the effect of his video is so enormous, what it must have been to hear him live!”


(Writes on music, musicians and matters of music)