Navigation Menu+

A Great Exponent of Khayal – Sawai Gandharva

Posted | 3 comments

A Great Exponent of Khayal – Sawai Gandharva

He inherits legacy of old masters

Bharat Jyoti – November 14, 1948

The article as it appeared in Bharat Jyoti in 1948.

The article as it appeared in Bharat Jyoti in 1948.

A MUSICAL CONCERT was being held in Hubli on the occasion of the death anniversary of the late Khan Saheb Abdul Karim Khan some years ago. One of the Khan saheb’s most outstanding disciples was to sing that night. The hall was packed to capacity. There was pin-drop silence as Sawai Gandharva appeared on the dias with joined hands. The eyes of the audience were riveted on him.

A feeling of great expectancy was abroad. Soon the Tamboras were tuned to the Nishada note, and, in the quiet hours of the star-lit autumnal night, the solemn strains of puriya steadily flowed from his divine voice.

“He Piya gunawanta sab hi batan men”

His gentle cadences on the ‘mandra Nishada’ and ‘madhya Gandharva’ flushed our souls. Verily Sawai Gandharva was in perfect communion with his Ethereal counter-parts – the Gandharvas and the Kinnaras. How vividly did the great artist bring out the solemn mystical mood of ‘Puriya’. We were being transported as it were from this mundane sub-lunary life to a new world of fancies—of musical fantasies, The worthy disciple was rendering Ragas after Ragas in his Master’s voice, Hours were fleeting away like minutes. Our souls were lost in his melody. Many of us shed silent, idle tears when he plaintively sang.

“Piya bin nahin awat chain.” His song “Jamuna ke teer” in Bhairavi was the grand ‘finale’ of this unique “Mehfil” in the small hours of the morning. Such was the power of his music.

Carried On The Tradition

'Verily Sawai Gandharva was in perfect communion with his Ethereal counter-parts – the Gandharvas and the Kinnaras.'

‘Verily Sawai Gandharva was in perfect communion with his Ethereal counter-parts – the Gandharvas and the Kinnaras.’

SAWAI GANDHARAVA undoubtedly occupies a place of honour in the long line of musical prodigies of Maharashtra. He is one of those eminent musicians of modern times who have proudly inherited the rich, priceless legacy left to them by old masters like Abdul Karim Khan, Ramkrishnabuwa Vaze, Pt. Vishnu Digambar Paluskar and Bhaskarbuwa Bakhle.

Born at Kundgol in the Dharwar District, Sawai Gandharva (Rambhau Kundgolkar) had an inborn liking. For music. His discerning father saw that his son had in him many good qualities that usually go to make an accomplished synergy, he therefore encouraged him in his juvenile pursuits.

It was in his early teens that Sawai Gandharva was once captivated by the heavenly music of Abdul Karim Khan during the latter’s sojourn in Hubli. The Khan Saheb too, by a happy chance , took a fancy for the smart lad, and made him his pupil. Originally the boy had a good voice, Butas ill-luck would have it, his voice grew hoarse: He was attaining maturity, Sawai Gandharva soon found that his association with the master-musician would be incompatible in many ways. The Khan Saheb had a sweet, sonorous voice; he sang his songs with fluidity and clarity. His pupil’s voice was anything but sonorous. It was flat and blunt and void of pitch. How then, for all his vocal incompatibilities did this pupil sing in his master’s voice in later years.

Vocal Culture

IT WILL not at this stage be amiss to pause for a while to assess the fundamental importance of what is known as the system of vocal culture as the basis on which the magnificent super structure of Indian music is built. Vocal culture was the watch word of the older musician. Every pupil wishing to learn music was required to undergo intensive vocal training under the vigilant guidance of his master and unless the pupil was found well-grounded in it the teacher, quiet justifiably enough, did not think it fit to initiate him into the marvel and mysteries of his art.

Abdul Karim Khan was one of the pioneer of this system of vocal culture. He was alive to his pupil’s vocal failings, but he also appreciated the pupil’s burning passion for music. So it was that Sawai Gandharva had thorough training under the sympathetic but systematic guidance of his Ustad. The pupil would get up very early in the morning, tune his voice to the Tambora and practice the ‘Kharaz’ for hours together with utmost concentration, unflagging determination and faith in the ultimate success. And therein lies the secret of his success as an eminent vocalist. His more recent recorded songs in Asawari (Preet na kariye) Nat-Malhar (Banara byahanaye) Gujri todi (Samajh man gorakh) Puriya (Piya guna – wanta) Puriya Dhanashri (Par kar araj suno) and Bhairavi (Bin dekhe pare nahin cham). Deserve special attention in this respect. One marvels at the rich, pliable, flexible and sonorous voice of the renowned singer.

Exponent of Khayal

SAWAI GANDHARVA had acquired great proficiency in the Khayal style of Hindustani music. He faithfully interpreted the art and mind of his master. His Khayals thus clearly reflected the ornet style of Abdul Karim Khan, both in content and quality. His Vilambit Khayals had the same practice and devotional appeal.

With his characteristic gentleness, Sawai Gandharva rendered and developed his raga according to its dominant mood. He enriched the ‘aroha’ and ‘avaroha’ of hisn raga by kaleidoscopic alaps, which were replete with subtle modulations and subtler harmonies. The elegance ofv his Khayal was gravity enhanced by occasional flourishes. The whirling and resonant ‘gamaks’ beautifully interplayed with rhythmic and diverse ‘taans’ and gave a perfect finish to his superb song. It is in the rendering of jalad khayal, that the distinctive individuality of Sawai Gandharva’s style asserts itself unconsciously. After all………………. .

Adept In Light Music

LIKE HIS Ustad Sawai Gandharva was an adept in light music as well. He charmed his audience by singing the Khan Saheb’s wellknown Thumries and Bhajans with that typically emotional fervour. His diversion to the Marathi stage was a unique phase in the life of this musicion. His light stage-songs, which had a distinetly classical flavor about them, were all the rage. Hardly did he sing a song without a once-more or two. Sawai Gandharva had thus popularized the “Highbrow” music through his stage-songs and cajoled his “lesser” audience into cultivating better tastes with regard to music. This is itself was no small achievement, inasmuch as many of his contemporaries, who had also turned to the stage, had done so only at the cost of their precious heritage of Hindustani Music. It was on account of this double achievement that this actor-musician became known as Sawai Gandharva which honorific title was conferred on him by the late Dadasaheb Khaparde, the famed political leader of Berar.

Distinguished Disciples

SAWAI GANDHARVA figured prominently in the Music Conferences held in various big cities of India from time to time. While his distinguished predecessors propagated the Gospel of Hindustani Music in Maharashtra, it was for Sawai Gandharva, one of their worthy successors, to spread it further in Karnatak. This he has done by Drawing most of his pupil’s from this southern part of country. His talented and diligent disciples like Gangubai Hangal and Bhimsen Joshi have already made their mark in the music world of today. Another promising pupil is his young son-in-law, V. S. Deshpande who is medical man by profession and musician by inclination. Krishnabai Ramdurgkar , Firoz Dastur and Venkatrao Ramdurgkar are other disciples of Sawai Gandharva. Among many musician who are not his direct disciples but who profess to follow his ‘Gayaki’ may be included Basavraj Rajguru, Rambhau Joshi (Belgaum) and S. S. Javali.

SAWAI GANDHARVE is now in his sixties. He has been resting quietly at his native place since his recovery from an attack of paralysis five years ago. Paralysic infirmities have compelled him to suspend his life’s profession.

His output as a renowned musician has indeed been very great. It was in the fitness of things that 60th birthday anniversary of Sawai Gandharva was recently celebrated with great éclat by his friend and admires, Who only fervent hope is that the great artist would come round before young and impede their painting hearts by the nectar of his Melody !



  1. Thank you for taking us to the sawai Gandharva era. I feit to be in the concert hall myself in Hubli. Very nice writing sir. Regards..Pramod

  2. provide more information about gharanas

  3. great page about mastrs

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published.