Raga, Marwa, and Malkauns

On 31st July, at 20:20, Raga went into her surgery- for a tail amputation. She had developed gangrene and the decision was taken in the morning itself when I had taken her to the vet’s, for a catheterization- to empty her bladder. On a sudden thought I decided to take my electronic tanpura with me, hoping the vet would not mind my intrusion into his surgery!

IMG_20170802_100836400

I braced myself and asked him, if he would be okay that I played the tanpura to my little girl. He was a little amused that I asked, and asked me, if the dog understands it– I said, yes, I am a musician and this girl whose name is Raga is actually steeped in classical music!

He was amused I am sure and he gave me a nod. But not before asking me, whether I would be staying in the surgery while he performed the amputation. He must have thought this woman is a nutcase! But he was too tired to thrash out anything further, being the fag end of the day for him. In any case I wanted to stay because she was not going to get general anasthesia but a local one and having her in the surgery without me would not have been possible that way.

I played the tanpura and put my arm on her across her neck- two boys held her, and the procedure went ahead. There were three boys to support the vet, and I sang along to my baby. I sang Marwa first- piya more anat des (Amir Khan Sa’ab’s bandish) and then I sang what Khan saheb is singing here-

Obviously I was in no mood to sing the Raga in the sedate way it is supposed to be- my intent was more to keep my girl calm. I was sad, but deeply calm- ditto her. Was she sad? Cannot say, but definitely very quiet and unperturbed.

And then when I felt that things were progressive, and possibly I ran out of ideas of how to do more alap in Marwa, I turned the Madhyam on the tanpura and lo and behold Malkauns popped in front. Jin ke mann ram biraaje, by Khan sa’ab connotes Malkauns to my mind. Another deeply felt bandish, that I sang a great deal once upon a time.

The surgery was over in less than an hour. Raga, me and Imdad bhai returned home- it was a new experience for everyone. My baby was cool enough to come home and have a meal- as I had not fed her earlier as per the vet’s suggestion due to the surgery.

Life and surgeries can go so smoothly with the right melodies…

 

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Ustad Amir Khan- online repertoire

Ustad Amir Khan was such an enigma that most people have not been able to analyse the reason for the appeal of his music. Anyhow this link that I shared above is a compilation by someone who was kind enough to permit me to use from his site. Here it is the entire thing, though the link in the opening line, takes to his blog or site.

Ustad Amir Khan

“Amir Khan’s music combined the massive dignity of the dhrupad with the ornate vividness of khayal.” — Susheela Mishra in the “Great masters of music” series.

Ustad Amir Khan (1912-1974) was among the greatest and most influential Hindustani vocalists of the twentieth century. To quote Ustad Faiyaz Khan (from Susheela Mishra’s article ), “One must play with a raga with a lover’s passion. One must learn to love it to pay court to it, like a cavalier, and then alone can a musician tell the story of joy and grief; of laughter and tears. Music must please and move.” This is an apt description of Ustad Amir Khan’s music. Amir Khansahib had an intellectual’s approach to Hindustani music while always managing to bring out, with great sensitivity, all the emotive aspects of a raag.

As is well known to insiders, much of the recordings of great Hindustani musicians languishes in private collections. In recent years, thanks to the internet and the generous efforts of people at sawf.org and sarangi.info and numerous others on websites like esnips.com, a large number of recordings are now freely available online to music lovers. Unfortunately, these collections are often hard to locate. I have attempted here to put together a list of recordings by Ustad Amir Khan along with links to recordings online. This is just a beginning; I hope that, over time, and with the help of other fans of Amir Khansahib, I will be able to make this a more comprehensive list so that these gems are easily accessible to all music lovers who have access to the internet. Many links appear and disappear in time; I would appreciate information regarding broken links and any new links that may have appeared.

Musicography with links to online resources

  1. Abhogi “Laaj rakhi lee jo mori” on youtube
  2. Abhogi “Charan dhar aayo” on esnips.com
  3. Adana on The Vijaya Parrikar Library of Indian Classical Music
  4. Adana “Muhammad Shah Rangile” (78 RPM) on youtube
  5. Ahir Bhairav: Vilambit khayal “Jago re bande” on youtube on esnips.com
  6. Ahir Bhairav: Chhota khayal: “Piya para been parama sukha chatura” on LP/tape recording titled Surmanjari. AK’s composition.
  7. Ahir Bhairav: Chhota khayal
  8. Aiman (Yaman): on sarangi.info
  9. Aiman (Yaman) kalyan: on sarangi.info
  10. Amirkhani Kauns: Madhya laya “Paar karo” AK’s composition.
  11. Asavari Todi on on Rajan Parrikar’s site
  12. Bageshree: “Bahu guna kamna” on Rajan Parrikar’s site and on LP/tape recording
  13. Bageshree: “Kaise kate rajni” (from the film Kshudito Pashan, with Protima Banerjee) on youtube
  14. Bageshrikanada: “Gore gore mukh par” on sarangi.info
  15. Bahar on esnips.com
  16. Bairagi: “Man sumarata” on sarangi.info
  17. Barwa on youtube and on The Vijaya Parrikar Library of Indian Classical Music
  18. Basant Bahar: “Parana koyaliya kuka rahi” on youtube on sarangi.info
  19. Basant Mukhari: “Prabhu daata” on musicindiaonline.com and on esnips.com
  20. Bhatiyar: “Nisa dinana” on The Vijaya Parrikar Library of Indian Classical Music
  21. Bhatiyar: “Barani na jaye” on youtube on sarangi.info
  22. Bhimpalasi
  23. Bihag “Kaise sukh” on youtube on musicindiaonline.com
  24. Bilaskhani Todi: on sarangi.info
  25. Chandni Kedar Ye ri tu dhana dhana
  26. Chandrakaunsi: tarana on Patrick Moutal’s website
  27. Charukeshi: “Laaj rakho tum more” on sarangi.info . AK’s composition.
  28. Darbari: “Mori aalee, jab se bhanaka paree” (piya ke awan ki) on sarangi.info
  29. Darbari: “Tumari jay jay karta”
  30. Darbari: chhota khayal “Yare man biya biya” (Persian). AK’s composition.
  31. Deshi with D.V. Paluskar: “Aaj gawat man mero” on youtube
  32. Deshkar
  33. Gaud Malhar (short live recording) on youtube
  34. Gurjari Todi
  35. Hansdhwani vilambit: “Jaya maate” on youtube on sarangi.info
  36. Hansdhwani dhrut: tarana on sarangi.info
  37. Harikauns
  38. Hemkalyan on esnips.com
  39. Hemkalyan on esnips.com
  40. Hindol Basant
  41. Jaijaiwanti on youtube and on esnips.com
  42. Jog: “O balma” on youtube on esnips.com
  43. Jog: tarana on esnips.com
  44. Jog: tarana (in Persian). AK’s composition.
  45. Kafi Kanada
  46. Kalavati “Anmaani Piya So Rahat Hai”
  47. Kalashri
  48. Janasanmohini: “Kaun jatan ” on The Vijaya Parrikar Library of Indian Classical Music
  49. Kaushikanada vilambit on The Vijaya Parrikar Library of Indian Classical Music
  50. Kaushikanada dhrut on The Vijaya Parrikar Library of Indian Classical Music
  51. Khamaj thumri “Piya ke aavan ke” on sarangi.info
  52. Komal Rishabh Asawari “Jagat Sapna” on youtube or on esnips.com . AK’s composition.
  53. Lalit Vilambit khayal: “Tadapath hoon jaise” on sarangi.info
  54. Lalit Chhota khayal: “Tadapath hoon jaise” (second version) on LP/tape recording
  55. Lalit (“Jogiya mere ghar”) in opening credits of the film “Raagini” on youtube
  56. Lalit (“Jogiya mere ghar”) with a Farsee anthara added (perhaps his own composition) on youtube
  57. Lalit khayal: vilambit “Charan kaise aavu”, dhrut: “Jogiya mere ghar aaye” on sarangi.info
  58. Madhukauns “Bairanbhai Rain” youtube and on esnips.com
  59. Malkauns: “Jinke man Raam” and “Aaj more ghar aali na balma” on youtube on sarangi.info
  60. Malkauns: tarana on youtube (with video)
  61. Malkauns: “Jinke mana raam” mehfil recording on sarangi.info
  62. Malkauns: “Lagi la manwa” live recording. AK’s composition.
  63. Marukalyan on The Vijaya Parrikar Library of Indian Classical Music
  64. Marwa Vilambit khayal “Jag bawra” on LP/tape recording and (poor quality recording) from a concert in Pune on esnips.com AK’s composition (?)
  65. Marwa Vilambit khayal “Piya more anat des” on sarangi.info
  66. Marwa chhota khayal “Guru bin gyan na pave”. AK’s composition
  67. Megh “Barkha ritu aaye” on sarangi.info
  68. Megh tarana on esnips.com
  69. Miyanmalhar “Karim naam” on esnips.com
  70. Miyanmalhar and Ramdasimalhar “Karim naam” on sarangi.info
  71. Multani vilambit “Jaako mana Allah” on sarangi.info
  72. Multani dhrut “Balma mohe tumso laagali preet” on sarangi.info
  73. Multani “Daya karo hey girdhara gopala” bhajan from the film Shabaab on R. Parrikar’s website on sawf.org
  74. Nand youtube or on esnips (part 1) on esnips (part 2)
  75. Nat Bhairav: “Sumaranko” on esnips
  76. Pancham Malkauns bandish
  77. Priyakalyan (or Ramkalyan) on The Vijaya Parrikar Library of Indian Classical Music . AK’s composition. He also created the raag.
  78. Priyakalyan “Sarmad gham-e ishq” Persian composition. (clip from an interview) AK’s composition. He also created the raag.
  79. Puriya bandish title
  80. Puriya Dhanashree “Tori jay jay karta” on esnips.com
  81. Raagmala with Bismillah Khan Sur Malhar, Bageshree, Chandrakauns, Ramkali, Bhatiyar, Desh. From the film “Goonj Uthi Shehnai”. on youtube.
  82. Rageshree “Beguna ko guna de” on youtube (with video) and Patrick Moutal’s online collection (video) and on The Vijaya Parrikar Library of Indian Classical Music
  83. Ramdasi Malhar Chhayee Badariya Kaari
  84. Ramkali on esnips.com on The Vijaya Parrikar Library of Indian Classical Music
  85. Shahana on youtube
  86. Shree “Hari ke charana kamala nisadina sumarana re” on sarangi.info and on youtube
  87. Shuddh Kalyan “Karam karo” on youtube and “Mandara Bajo Re”
  88. Shuddh Kalyan tarana on esnips.com
  89. Shuddh Sarang on sarangi.info
  90. Suhakanada on The Vijaya Parrikar Library of Indian Classical Music
  91. Suha tarana on youtube Suha sughrai
  92. Todi vilambit and madhya laya (“Man ki panchi”) on esnips.com AK’s composition for madhya laya.
  93. Todi vilambit (“Ja re ja pathikava” (Sadarang)) and madhya laya (“Man ki panchi”) on esnips.com AK’s composition for madhya laya.
  94. Todi tarana (short recording) on esnips.com
  95. Mian Ki Todi, All India Radio programme, vilambit khayal “Shagun Bicharo Bamna’ and drut ‘Garva Mai Sang Laagi’
  96. Yaman vilambit jhoomra on youtube (Kishori Ray’s links) , continuation: also on youtube (Kishori Ray’s links)
  97. Yaman kalyan “Kajra kaise daroon”. AK’s composition (?) and LIVE recording of Yaman Kalyan, Kalashree and Darbari (London) on youtube

If you know of others, please let me know the name along with (if possible) information about where to find them. Many of the bandish titles above are probably misspelled, especially the ones with question marks, since I have relied almost entirely on guess work. If you notice any mistakes on this page, please inform me, thanks.

My email address: mharan@stat.psu.edu

Acknowledgments
I am grateful to Daibashish Gangopadhyay for corrections and additions to the above list. Bhuvanesh Bhatt also provided corrections.

Several of the recordings listed above are available online at these wonderful repositories of Hindustani music:

A short Films Division documentary on Ustad Amir Khan can be found here.

Perhaps the best website devoted to Ustad Amir Khan is one put together by John Campana and others at the University of Toronto: Amir Khan memorial website.

When the guru aligns with you

I did not know that Saturday was guru purnima. Neither did Madhuri aunty, my guru, when she called in the morning to say that we could do an extra class together. I notice for the last few days she is generally happy with teaching me, and is more generous in sharing complex compositions that she has acquired over a long span of learning with her own teachers.

On Thursday, 10th July 2014, we started with Raga Lalit- a raga that I have always founded complicated and liable to go off-key easily in. But may be because I had not sung it in the last nearly two decades, nor learnt again ever after taking the exam in my teenage…it just came easily this time. Aunty gave me the option of one khayal, which could be either raen ka sapna or arre mann ram. Since I had learnt the former in my younger years, and its poetic appeal to my mind was not very high, I chose the latter. And both of them are uploaded here. In any case most bandishes for me are now about Bhakti or music is, or perhaps life itself is.

(The first bandish which talks about the night’s dream, perhaps alluding to the illusion of ignorance, which is akin to living in darkness of the night- does not really attract anymore. I find in it an element of lament that the illusion has been shattered, because the dream seen in the night is so confusing that the person who has seen the dream is unsure who to share it with.)

raen ka sapna, kaa se kahoon apna

(who shall I share the dream with, the one I saw in the night?)

When aunty heard me sing the khayal, she was so happy that she said she might teach me an extra class on Saturday. As per promise she called on Saturday morning herself and said we would have an extra class. I just thought what a turnaround life is – once upon a time there was a time when extra-classes looked like such an anathema. And now? A blessing from above. This is what I mean by the guru’s energy coming into your line with your own, when they are now willing to share their knowledge with you freely and by choice, by seeking you out. I have no gratitude to express, for I came close to this situation so many times earlier in my life, but never quite THERE- so now I am. Deepest gratitude to life, my teachers, my torturous road and my family in all parts of the universe.

Neither of us knew it was guru purnima that day, till another of her disciples called up to offer her regard and pranam to Aunty. And then for the first time in my life I had a strange feeling, that on guru purnima, this was the first time perhaps that my guru was ‘shining on me’. Purnima after all means the full moon. In general our learning is steady and progressive.

The next day she taught me a traditional bandish in the same and today an Jaipur gharana bandish. I hope to cover the one that Amir Khan saheb immortalized – for that is the final frontier for me. But even if I do not, for it is not important to sing the exact bandish, but the style is what matters ultimately, and fortunately I have learnt the pathway of that- rest is my honing, if I can.

Tarana and Amir Khan Saheb- timeless art

A few days back (April 23rd, 2014) I posted this link

http://www.podsnack.com/AC76CCBA9F7/a7k8gm3j

to- my facebook page

just to save it for my own reference for later on. Now am doing with same by putting it down on my blog, for perhaps at that time this idea did not occur or the blog itself was not in place.

Amir Khan Saheb was among the greatest of musicians of the Indian subcontinent. To the extent that though it is decades that he passed away, his music is still as fresh, as deep, as mesmerizing and standing equally as tall as it may have during his time, or is it that in the passage of this time, he has become bigger? Not sure about it.

The interview that I am sharing here was recorded by the BBC Radio. He talks about the tarana as a form of song in particular and what got me saying ‘wow’ was that till I heard the interview I did not know that the words used in the tarana had any meaning, for according to what I had heard and been handed down to me, it was some meaningless phraseology utilized by musicians. Yes, in the Gandharva Mahavidyalaya, where I was once a student (in 1997-8 perhaps in the MA class then) I was told that the original phrase had been ‘om anant hari narayan’ and that was turned around to meaningless words- nom, tananana, dere, tom, etc etc etc…and I believed it! This interview clarifies the meaning of the tarana and where it germinates from. Of course we all know about Amir Khusro as the father of the form.

That brings me to the fact that I was just discussing with my own guru, Madhuriji about tarana and I wanted to learn something in Hamsadhwani…and guess what she said? “No there are no taranas going around in Hamsadhwani!…except for the Indore gharana one!!”

I could not believe it. Wow! I thought Amir Khan was the only one who created a tarana in Hamsadhwani…and wonder of wonders, I heard Kishori (ji) Amonkar singing it. That is one musical great saluting another. When I discussed this with someone, they said that she does that, she sings whatever bandishes she likes. That is I think another sign of greatness, and something we all younger lot can take a leaf from as well. (then why the hell should I also not sing the same?!)

Anyhow, I did not learn the tarana in Haunsadhwani/Hamsadhwani, but in Puriya Dhanashri, this morning at 11am 🙂

Music pedagogy- the pathway that isn’t

I recently got an email with this content-

On a Mian Ki Todi

“ Salamat Ali Khan was initiated into classical music together with his elder brother Nazakat Ali Khan under the able guidance of their father Ustad Vilayat Ali Khan at the tender ages of five and seven respectively. They were initially taught the basis of dhrupad but later concentrated on learning khayal due to its increasing popularity. It was only after two years of training that they made their debut at the prestigious Harballabh Mela in 1941. They performed raag Mian ki Todi and were highly appreciated by both the audience and musicians present, these included Ustad Abdul Aziz Khan, Pandit Krishanrao Shankar, Pandit Omkarnath Thakur, Ustad Umeed Ali Khan, Ustad Tawakkal Hussain Khan, Ustad MalangKhan and Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan. Ustad Salamat Ali Khan recalled the performance in his autobiography; “we were so small that we had to be lifted onto the stage” ( courtesy : Sadarang Archives) 

Mian Ki Todi by Salamat and Nazakat Ali Khans: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IIwiWUSGqIM

As music pedagogy has been one of the foremost areas of my concern, and should I say brooding, this story is another testimony about how there are NO PATHWAYS for learning music in the Indian subcontinent, neither for achieving any level of learning or proficiency. People become great not necessarily because they are truly great or gifted, but by virtue of birth, family connections and the push their families, environments and connections create for them. In this anecdote the person cited says how within two years of learning they were pushed on the stage by an over-enthusiastic parent and perhaps thereafter lapped up due to sheer novelty of a child/children singing.

Contrast this with my own learning, years of practice and hard work, and innumerable meditations and khyals of my own (http://merakabir.blogspot.in/2014/05/todi-and-kabir.html)   and the fact that despite this much effort since there is nobody there to push someone like me to the stage, I would perhaps never really get there, for in these many years of whatever I have been doing, the punch and the verve it requires to get out and get there, has simply vanished from my system and neither am I afflicted by the modern disease of fame. I only want to be heard, which is the due of every artist who has worked for years on their music, but anyhow that is not for me to determine. But then this is how destiny works in a poor, backward country like India- you gotta have connections, or languish with your music in solitude!

In other words, and this brings me to the subject of this blog- there is no fixed path that a musician can take which would lead them to either learning or creating a vocation in music. You can start at seven and become a celebrity by 13, start at 39 and become great by 45…who knows, or die unheard by anyone. In this kind of uncertainty music naturally suffers, for it is dependent on the chance of all these factors coming together, and they are not likely to come together very frequently for a lot of people, except for those whose parents are already in the field and they would create un-natural advantages for their own progeny over their disciples.

Put it differently, the field of classical music teaching is nearly bereft of a proper method, which can be propagated across a whole subcontinent- wow! what a huge loss. No doubt there are many teaching institutions and shops proliferating- but a place where research, teaching, training and interdisciplinary inquiry is happening is just not there. And that is where my heart lies.

Nat Bhairav and deeper waters

DSC00947

Today I began my new innings in learning music once again, after a break of nearly a decade, in the course of which much musical work was done- including writing, research, performances, albums, lecture-demonstrations, dialogues on music, workshops, advocacy about music pedagogy and music therapy.

But this, my own new beginning is like the start of a new chapter all over again, and I began it with Nat Bhairav (nat means acrobat in Hindi actually). This is a befitting raga to begin with for it is new for me, I have grown over the years as a student and as a learner, and something new is the best place to begin and then re-visit the old friends of the past.

In this span of time, from the time where I stopped learning with aunty in 2002-03, I learnt till about 2005 with Amarjeet didi, the rudiments of the Indore gharana gayaki of Ustad Amir Khan, which was codified by her own guru, Pt. Amarnath. But Khan saheb’s style is so beautiful and serene that the grip it has on the consciousness of millions even decades after his demise is something quite remarkable and unsurprising. Who can decode it apart from the ones who train in his style?

The pity is, and I learnt it with my communication with Sudip, which was a confirmation of my earlier communication with Bindu didi also, that not all the students of Pt. Amarnath or even  Amarnath-ji himself  taught identically. So every student would have something different in his/her repertoire in the name of ‘gayaki’.  Indeed when I had shared with Bindu what didi had taught me, she immediately pointed out that there was a missing link, which she provided.

Wow! That is quite sad indeed and funnily enough most musicians in our times say that they are inspired by Ustad Amir Khan, which implies they are either singing his compositions or trying to copy his style of singing, which nobody can. Reminds me how a few months back (certainly over 12) I heard Gokulotsav-ji Maharaj, who said he was inspired by Ustad Amir Khan also! But his gayaki was such a far- cry from Khan sa’ab, that I could not sit through to hear him even for the first raga, though he is such a great scholar of music, with nearly 5000 compositions of his own!

I have been toying in my inquiry for years what is it about Khan saheb’s gayaki that makes it so unique and why nobody else could produce its replica, even though people can copy the style. The feeling I have is that there is a philosophical difference in the manner in which Khan saab approached his music and how those who followed him did. Perhaps this needs a longer discussion than a blogpost…and may be in one of my future writing on music, this would be a subject to work on, within the larger framework of bhakti music.

So anyhow, coming back to Nat Bhairav, I would be learning with Madhuri aunty over the skype and hopefully intersperse this with going and spending some time with her, in her home in the future, the manner I did in 2008 and 2011, a few days at a time. That intense learning is a great experience. But learning at home also has its own advantages, which is saved time and effort. So back again to being a student- feel good about it, because hopefully this time around, the learning would be goal oriented, unlike the past where it was almost recreational or maybe an escape to get out of home, and from my illness, which would choke me constantly. I have written about it in the paper Making Song, Making Sanity (coming soon, in the Canadian Journal of Music Therapy)

So here we go again, another life, another chapter, another level of musical training, after the first three decades of engaging with music at numerous levels- another nosedive into deeper waters. Insha’allah.

Kabiri Bhairav – encountering a new raga and a great musician

This is a blogpost copied from my Kabir Blog- http://merakabir.blogspot.in/

It is unusual for me to write so early in the morning, that too on my blog. I think from last evening or perhaps last few days a lot of ideas were tossing in my mind and I had to put them down on paper lest I lose them before long. So I opened another blog of mine on wordpress to write and then my email to check for new mail. Someone I know, had sent a beautiful email (which he sends to a whole lot of people everyday, with a different artist’s music) about Dhondutai Kulkarni.

I mostly do not listen to anyone’s music in the morning due to my own riyaaz, but I just turned this one, because I was inquisitive about this doyenne, who I had read long years ago about, in a book by C.S.Lakshmi; and her austere spirit had struck a chord in me then. It did again just now, when I heard her voice for the first time. As I write this I can feel goosebumps, on me. The singing is so clear and powerful, like what I have not heard in an extraordinarily long time (also partially because I do not listen to a whole lot of people, thanks to my own immersion in whatever it is). I felt that her singing is so strong, clean and uncontaminated, with no desire to show anything off- hermetic is the most befitting word actually, that one can actually learn this raga with her, just by listening. After the music started playing and I had not then seen the name of raga, because I was busy writing the other blogpost, I could hear the strains of Ahir Bhairav, though not exactly…and viola, I also discovered the new raga Kabiri Bhairav, that naturally enough I would have liked to learn, and I had encountered recently in my attempt to learn Nat Bhairav.

This is a strange coincidence today, because after a span of eight-nine years I am hoping to start learning with my guru once again, over skype! This is to remain in touch with newer compositions, add new ragas to the repertoire, as well as brush the ones from the past and further churn into the ocean of knowledge. Funny how all this came together today. Also my Golden Retriever- Ginger’s birthday. On the whole a nice convergence of musical threads from various directions.

I am sharing here what the email shared with me about Dhondutai, as well as the music that is playing as I write this post. Thanks GKrishna, for this email.

“Namita Devidayal writes about her teacher, Dhondutai Kulkarni :

Dhondutai Kulkarni, a Hindustani classical singer of the Jaipur-Atrauli gharana, who died at 87 in Mumbai on Sunday morning, closed the chapter on a world in which music was not about performance or fame, but was as unconditional as breathing.
 
Dhondutai was born in Kolhapur in 1927 to a school master who defied the strict social norms that dictated the lives of Brahmin girls and pushed his daughter to learn music from Bhurji Khan, the son of Alladiya Khan, then the court singer in Kolhapur. She became well regarded as a child artiste and performed regularly on the radio. She later learned from Laxmibai Jadhav, also from the same gharana.
 
When the formidable Kesarbai Kerkar announced that she was finally willing to teach someone, she chose Dhondutai to be the lucky one who would inherit her rare ragas and inimitable style. Dhondutai’s father sold his house in Kolhapur and moved to Mumbai so that she could learn from Kesarbai and pursue a career in music.
 
Dhondutai was known for being a purist and for her repository of rare ragas. She was especially fluent in the Jaipur gharana’s compound ragas such as Lalita-Gauri, Basanti-Kedar, Bhoop-Nat and many others which, she said, had to be braided together so that you couldn’t tell where one raga began and the other ended. She was awarded the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1990.
 
Fiercely independent, Dhondutai insisted on staying alone in flat in Borivli, in Mumbai, with only her gleaming tanpuras as companions. She continued to teach until the very end, for she was committed to ensuring that the gharana’s legacy be passed on. When she taught, she offered much more than musical nuggets. Along with voice culture, her students were recipients of her nuggets of wisdom. “These days you all teach your children how to win, but you should also be teaching your children how to lose, else their training is incomplete”. She was not blindly enamoured of modernity, saying, “the flickering flame of a diya will always give you more joy than a thousand powerful electrical lights”. She lived for two things – music and spirituality and the two were inextricably linked.
 
There was an other-worldly quality about her. She believed in, and saw things, that most others did not see, introducing her students to a dimension of life that was invisible to most people, like blessings and moondust, like those unseen notes that can never be written, which only a guru can teach her student, person to person. That is why, she firmly believed that the guru-shishya tradition can never really be replaced or modernized, or sentenced to the alleged efficiency of technology. She was very suspicious of the instant coffee fame that dictates the performance world today and never compromised her musical integrity in pursuit of worldly success. Fame, she believed, was more to do with luck than with an artiste’s true worth.
 
I first went to her, some 35 years ago, and she gradually transformed a reluctant student into one completely mesmerised by the magic of Hindustani classical music. I remember how, many years later, someone asked me whether I knew the Jaipur-Atrauli gharana’s secret two-note taan. I immediately challenged Dhondutai. Why hadn’t she taught this to me? Was I not worthy of the gharana’s most priceless gems? She just laughed and said,“But it’s one of the first things you learned. Think about it.” She then left the music room to make tea, leaving me strumming the tanpura, baffled. I scrolled through the entire musical database in my head to try and retrieve the two-note taan. Finally, she came back and said, “Come on, sing it!” I couldn’t. Then she revealed it and I realized that I had been singing it all my life, but without the hubris of knowing that I was.
 
Dhondutai is survived by a brother and his family in Delhi and a sister’s family in Jabalpur. Her musical family was far larger and includes many devoted students, fans and people like the late Azizuddin Khan, grandson of Alladiya Khan, her close friend and teacher, whom she would call if she forgot the second verse of a composition. She never got married because she believed you could never have more than one master. Hers was music.
Audio Track: Rag Kabiri Bhairav: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UEv_NDkOpog
 

Dhondutai Kulkarni with her sister Shakuntala- Back row. Front row, Baba, Baba Bhurji Khan (her Guru)and his father Ustad Alladiya Khan