Narendra Kusnur's music musings …

The grace of Gwalior


Laxman Krishnarao Pandit

EVERY Sunday morning, the Karnataka Sangha auditorium in Matunga West, Mumbai, organises a concert. The hall is rarely packed, but those who attend are regulars with an immense knowledge of music.

On August 3, one may have expected a larger crowd, but that was not to be, despite the fact that the very senior vocalist Laxman Krishnarao Pandit was performing. Yet, there were many true rasikas, who had come to listen to some rare gems of the Gwalior gharana.

Grandson of the legendary Shankarrao Pandit and son of Krishnarao Pandit, LK Pandit has been one of the torchbearers of the gharana for years. His talented daughter Meeta Pandit provided vocal accompaniment, and what one heard was nothing short of pure magic. The singer turned 80 in March, and barring a couple of throat-clearing parts in the beginning, there wasn’t a moment when his voice wavered. And he sang for two hours, without showing any sign of fatigue or stress.

With tabla sangat by Omkar Gulvady and sarangi accompaniment by Farukh Latif, Pandit began with raga Lalit, and followed it with raga Alhaiya Bilawal (which featured a tarana in the drut section) and two compositions in Miyan Ki Malhar, specially chosen to celebrate the rains. The final piece was ‘Madhave sakhi Madhave’, a traditional ashtapadi, a hymn with eight lines in the composition.

The Gwalior style of khayal is in fact marked by a systematic eight-fold elaboration of the raga, consisting of the alaap-behlava, bol-alaap, taan, bol-taan, layakari, gamak, meend-soot and murki-khatka-jamjama. While these terms will be better understood by serious followers of Hindustani vocal music, let’s suffice it to say that Pandit’s rendition was a textbook demonstration of each of these facets.

While Pandit shone in the taans, bol-taans and gamaks, the coordination between father and daughter was excellent. Meeta is an accomplished singer in her own right, and it has been heartening to see how she has developed to represent the next generation of the gharana.

THE oldest school in Hindustani vocal music, the Gwalior gharana was said to have been inspired by Raja Mansingh Tomar of Gwalior in the early 16th century. He was a master at the dhrupad form of singing, but along with his court musicians, wrote compositions in Brijbhasha. This style was popular during the reign of Emperor Akbar later in that century. The great Miyan Tansen followed the Gwalior dhrupad style, and today, the Tansen Samaroh is held annually in his memory in that city.

Eventually, dhrupad made way for khayal, and though the latter form had been prevalent for a few years, the Gwalior singers played a major role in popularising it. Though there are different theories on the actual evolution of the gharana, it is generally believed its main innovator was Nathan Pir Baksh, who eventually passed on the art to his maternal grandsons Haddu, Hassan and Nathu Khan. It was during this time that the gharana developed the way we know it today.

Besides khayal, the Gwalior school is well known for styles like tappa, which is a very difficult form of singing, ashtapadi, thumri, tarana and pad. And over the years, it has boasted of a great line-up of vocalists.

From the older generation, the names of Nissar Hussain Khan, Rehmat Ali Khan, Balkrishnabuva Icchalkaranjikar, Shankarrao Pandit, Vishnu Digambar Paluskar, Ramkrishnabuva Vaze, Mirashibuwa, Rajbhaiyya Poochwale, Omkarnath Thakur, Krishnarao Pandit, Eknath Pandit, Vinayakrao Patwardhan, Narayanrao Vyas, Sharatchandra Arolkar, Vinay Chandra Maudgalya, Rajarambuva Paradkar, Yeshwantbuwa Joshi, Lakshmanrao Bodas, Abdul Rashid Khan, Shankarrao Bodas, Jal Balaporia and Dattareya Vishnu Paluskar come to mind.

The late Pt CR Vyas blended the Kirana, Gwalior and Agra styles, whereas Narayan Bodas mixed Gwalior with Agra. Though BR Deodhar was a disciple of VD Paluskar of the Gwalior gharana, he was trained in various other styles too.

Among current singers, LK Pandit, Malini Rajurkar, Veena Sahasrabudddhe, Neela Bhagwat, Vidyadhar Vyas and the young Meeta Pandit have carried forward the purer nuances of the gharana. Of late, Amarendra Nandu Dhaneshwar has been giving many concerts in Mumbai.

There are also many singers who have primarily learnt in the Gwalior style, but also added elements of other gharanas like Kirana and Atrauli-Jaipur. They include Padma Talwalkar, Ulhas Kashalkar, Vinayak Torvi and Kedar Bodas, and Kashalkar’s disciple Manjusha Patil-Kulkarni. Trained in other styles as well, Sawani Shende has imbibed elements of the gharana through guidance from Veena Sahasrabuddhe.

Clearly, the Gwalior gharana has had a huge wealth of singers. And what’s really remarkable about this style is its emphasis on swara and on simplicity. The bandish, or composition, comes at the heart of the presentation, and thus, one finds it easy on the ears.

To come back to LK Pandit’s concert, one only wished more people had been there to enjoy its brilliance. This was the Gwalior gharana at its purest, and one really hoped more people had relished the experience.


Comments on: "The grace of Gwalior" (2)

  1. Thank you for that information rich article. I live in Bangalore. I was wondering if a recording was done of this concert…Can it be posted on youtube

    • Dear Chitra
      Thanks for your mail. I don’t think any video recording was done. I only saw a couple of still photographers

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