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Thursday, April 15, 2021

Notes from DHARWAD

In the land that nurtured Gangubai Hangal and Pandit Bhimsen Joshi,they still tune in to the masters’ voice

Written by Sunanda Mehta |
August 2, 2009 1:06:14 pm

In the land that nurtured Gangubai Hangal and Pandit Bhimsen Joshi,they still tune in to the masters’ voice
Every morning,at 6,the first sounds that Maxim Cadieux hears as he wakes up to another day are the strains of Raag Bhairav,dissolving sweetness into the crisp air. The notes travel to his ears from a small mud hut perched atop a nearby hill,where 12-year-old Sharda Lamani,a daily labourer’s daughter from Kolhapur,sits cross-legged on a coarse blanket,soaking her first lessons in Hindustani classical music. Her guru is Somnath Mardur,senior disciple of Pandit Bhimsen Joshi and a renowned vocalist. Her voice rises in tandem with the sun and as the sounds of sitar and tabla from other huts blend in,it completes the acoustic experience at the Karkeli Music School,Dharwad. Here 150 underprivileged children learn music from the finest in the field.

About 30 km away,a state-of-the-art gurukul dedicated to Gangubai Hangal is under construction,a Rs 10 crore project initiated by the Karnataka government. Spread over 10 acres,with hi-tech studios,riyaz cubicles,an auditorium and an archives centre,the gurukul will,in about a year’s time,seek and train the best in musical talent from all over the country on a generous scholarship programme.

Between them,the two schools tell the story of Dharwad district,the official residence of Hindustani classical music,the land that has borne and nurtured legends like Pandit Bhimsen Joshi,Gangubai Hangal,Mallikarjun Mansur,Kumar Gandharva and Basavaraj Rajguru. “How will you find out in two days what makes Dharwad the seat of Hindustani classical music? Or how it honed the skills of great masters? I have been trying to find the answer for the past six years,” says Manoj Hangal,grandson of Gangubai,the doyen of the Kirana gharana who passed away on July 21.

Manoj takes you around Gangubai’s house in Hubli,20 km from her birthplace in Dharwad town,where every brick seems to hold memories of the legend,who lived here for 50 years. Three rooms in the modest house have been converted into a museum. On display are her 48 national and state awards,1,000 mementoes,300 photographs of legendary artists of India and 120 Indian musical instruments.
Six years of research into the roots of Dharwad’s musical legacy has led Manoj to a conclusion that is no different from that held by any other resident of Dharwad. “I guess you just have to accept what everyone has been telling me,” says the 43-year-old advocate. “It’s in the soil.”

And,may we add,in the soul. Here,every morning,the young and the old sip their brew at the local tea shop,as ragas flit gently out from the radio playing in the background. The guru-shishya bond has not become a quaint fossil in Dharwad. Youngsters know how to tell their Hansadhwani from their Durbari and learn music with single-minded rigour. At every corner,history binds Dharwad to melody. Officials at the All India Radio station here,for instance,recall how in 1950,when AIR opened a station,the inaugural song,Vande Mataram,was sung by Pandit Bhimsen,Gangubai,Mallikarjun Mansur and Basavaraj Rajguru. Even today,the station broadcasts Hindustani classical music three times a day.

History also helps explain the dominance of Hindustani classical music over Carnatic in this region of Karnataka. Royal musicians from the Mughal court at Agra and the seat of the Scindias at Gwalior were regularly invited by the Maharajas of Mysore to perform in their court. On their way,they would halt at Dharwad and perform at impromptu concerts. Ustad Abdul Karim Khan was one such frequent visitor,who would stay with his brother in Dharwad. There he taught his most famous disciple,Sawai Gandharva,the legend who was guru to Gangubai Hangal,Bhimsen Joshi and Basavaraj Rajguru.

In the 19th century,Dharwad became a part of the erstwhile Bombay Presidency,ruled by the Marathas,who also tended to extend their patronage to Hindustani classical music. “In 1956,the southern,Kannada-speaking districts of Bombay State,including Dharwad,were added to Mysore. In 1972,they were renamed Karnataka. But by then,Hindustani classical music as practiced by Pandit Bhimsen Joshi,Gangubai Hangal and Mallikarjun Mansur had become deeply entrenched in the region,” says Hamid Khan,principal of the Karnataka Music College at Dharwad and a renowned sitar player.

Patronage led many artists to settle down in the region. “My uncle Rehmat Khan relocated to Dharwad from Indore in 1912. There was a famous music-lover here,a lawyer,Pitre. He would call all artists to stay with him for as long as a month and encourage them to do riyaz and hold mehfils for the people in the city,” says Khan.
The rich cultural environment was what prompted Pandit Bhimsen to gravitate to Dharwad from nearby Gadag. Here his uncle G.B. Joshi’s house became a hub of artistic activity. “Bhimsen began his tryst with the stage here,” says 76-year-old Ramakant Joshi,cousin of the maestro. “My father would stage plays and Bhimsen would act in and direct them. His earliest plays like Nala Damyanti,Bhagyashree and Parivartana,staged in 1943-44,were big draws,” he says.

Over the years,some of the greats who had spent their formative years in the region moved out. Kumar Gandharva went to Madhya Pradesh,Pandit Bhimsen shifted base to Pune. But if that did little to erode the town’s connection to music,it was in large measure due to the towering persona of Gangubai Hangal,who remained in Dharwad,her name becoming synonymous with the land.

“Much of it had to do with the fact that Aji was a people’s person. Her home was open to everyone and she welcomed masters and students with equal joy,” says Manoj,who displays her citations of Padma Bhushan and Padma Vibhushan three times a year for school students. “I want them to be inspired to carry forward Aji’s message of preserving and promoting Indian music,art and culture,” he says.

The efforts do not seem to have been in vain. Dharwad’s biggest treasure is its crop of new accomplished musicians—names like the highly-acclaimed Kaivalya Kumar,46,and Venkatesh Kumar. “Many of them are highly accomplished artistes who perform in concerts all over the country,but come back home to Dharwad to teach,’’ says Khan.

Kumar,56,disciple of Dr Puttaraj Gawai and an exponent of both the Kirana and Gwalior gharanas,admits that he did think of shifting to bigger cities like Mumbai,Pune or Kolkata. “But then I thought: I have been blessed with a place like Dharwad,where the tranquility and beauty of the surroundings are so conducive to good riyaz and where the people understand classical music so well. Why should I move out? I am happiest here,” he says.
His sentiments are echoed by Madhav Gudi,66,senior disciple of Pandit Bhimsen Joshi. Sitting on the chatai in his small home tucked away in a bylane in Dharwad,he dwells on his rich hoard of memories. “I first heard my guru in Kundgol at Sawai Gandharva’s house where he sang from 10 pm to 4 am. I was nine then. Mesmerised,I followed Panditji to Pune where finally he consented to take me on as his disciple,provided I finished my matriculation. I did that and stayed at his house for six years and learnt from him,” says Gudi. He fondly remembers the times Pandit Bhimsen would drive down from Pune to his house at Dharwad at midnight,ask him to open a spare room on top and tell him to sing from night to morning,long after the shishya had emerged as an artist of calibre himself.

The guru-shishya relationship is,in fact,almost a way of life at Dharwad. “People here feel their child should know music. Music tuitions are taken almost as seriously as other school subjects,” says Vasant Karnad,violinist,music critic and actor Girish Karnad’s brother,who along with his wife Sunanda,now lives in Dharwad after spending 40-odd years of his working life in Mumbai. “People here have a music sense. Concerts go house full. In Kannada we call it manninaguna—that is it’s in the soil. Now the tree cover is not even 25 per cent of what existed at one time. In fact if you went at a height you could only see trees,no Dharwad. Maybe that oxygen level was good for vocal chords development. Who knows?” says Karnad.

The musicologist also highlights another almost equally significant aspect of Dharwad,its academic excellence. “The region has five universities. Its intellectual capital is huge. Three of the seven Jnanpith awardees of Karnataka are from Dharwad: educationist VK Gokak,poet D.R. Bendre and dramatist Girish Karnad as was G. A. Kulkarni,one of the greatest Marathi writers,” he says. It follows perhaps that both Sudha Murthy and Nandan Nilekani also hail from Dharwad. Nilekani’s parental home,where he spent an early part of his childhood,is a stone’s throw from Karnad’s house.

The sweetest memory you take back from this land of musicians are the rapt faces of the children in Karkeli Music School. The incredible institution came into being about six years ago. It was set up by Mathieu Fortier,a Canadian who learnt music at Benaras and Santiniketan and then came to Dharwad to learn music from Basavraj Rajguru. “This is a residential school and the children are the poorest of the poor. From 6 am to 12 pm,they are taught music. In the afternoon,they are imparted normal education according to the state board syllabus. The school looks after their lodging,boarding and food. If anyone wants to study further,his or her higher education is also taken care of,” says Mardur,who along with a dozen other top artistes from Dharwar,has been teaching here for the past five years.

“Many people run institutes for children but here they are exposed to classical music which fills their lives with a whole lot of possibilities,” says Cadieux,a 21-year-old volunteer from Canada who has come here to work for four months. Like him there are 10 other young foreigners volunteering at Karkeli. “You wake up to about 150 children singing. It’s just another way of life,” says 27-year-old Deborah Hankey from France,who is on her second visit.
As you walk away from the mountain punctuated with huts that serve as classrooms,dorms and offices,a thin drizzle breaking through the clouds and you find your steps match the beats of the tabla. Three children scamper across,the eldest caring a harmonium,the other two clutching flutes,their laughter mingling with the music. And you know that you have seen and been touched by Dharwad’s magic.

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