End of an era: Krishnarao Shankar Pandit
By MOHAN NADKARNI
The Economic Times, August 27, 1989
With the death of the maestro, Krishnarao Shankar Pandit, 96, at Gwalior on August 22, an era of giants in Hindustani music has come to an end. He lived full of years and honours and loomed large on the concert scene for an incredible period of seven decades, as few else could.
Raga and tala truly coursed through Panditji’s veins. Son of the eminent maestro, Shankarrao Pandit, who himself had his tutelage under Ustad Nissar Hussain Khan one of the pioneers of what is known as the Gwalior gharana, Krishnaraoji made his first concert appearance with his father at the early age of 11. At 14, he established himself as a top soloist in his own right and went on capturing musical citadels after citadels wherever he was called to perform.
Those were the times when patronage to music and dance came to eminent artistes in profusion. Not surprisingly therefore, Krishnaraoji became one of the youngest musicians of the Gwalior Darbar and remained one till the state’s reorganisation soon after India’s Independence.
But so tremendous was Krishnaraoji’s popularity that other princely states also vied with one another in having the maestro in their princely fold. With the gracious consent of the Gwalior darbar, Panditji accepted patronage from several other leading states of the time.
I had the privilege of being known to Panditji quite closely since the early fifties. His visits to Bombay were also few and far between. But whenever I met him, I found him his usual ebullient self. Any conservation with him was an enlightened experience. Although he looked every inch an aristocratic Brahmin his manner was courtly, which reflected the environment in which he was born and bred.
Panditji was justly proud of his gharana. He always asserted that the khayal gayaki of Gwalior was the forerunner of the several gharanas that came into prominence during the last 150 years. While he conceded that each had its own characteristics he would emphatically point out that none of them had the ashtanga-pradhan character of the khayal style of Gwalior.
What according to the maestro is meant by ashtanga-pradhan? These were alap, bol-alap, bol-taan, varieties of taan and layakari, meand, gamak and murki. With the gusto and confidence so typical of him he would proceed to demonstrate the intricacies and complexities of the style, all of which looked simple because it naturally pleased the ear. But it also baffled the mind of even a well groomed veteran of other gharanas. This is what he told me, with a grin during one of our early meetings.
Those of us who had the opportunity to listen to Panditji’s concerts were convinced of the validity of his stand point. To the present generation of music lovers Panditji’s style and approach did not sound appealing because of its intellectual approach with emphasis on deeper realities of presentation. He believed in old methods of voice culture and he himself had cultivated a voice amazing in its volume, depth and range. He could be heard in an audience of hundreds of music lovers without the aid of the microphone during the time when the gadget could not even have been dreamt of.
Krishnaraoji was not only the unquestioned master of the old style of khayal singing but he was adept at rendering tappa, tarana, chaturang and thumri as well. His was a truly personality-bound gayaki, equaled by a few and surpassed by fewer still.
As said earlier, accolades, titles and awards came his way before and after Independence. After freedom he was honoured with the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award, followed by a Padma Bhushan and a fellowship as National Musician.
In a tradition of a true teacher, Krishnaraoji established a music school, named after his distinguished father, at Gwalior when he was just 18. Till now hundreds of students have passed out of the institution and many of them have chosen teaching as a vocation. Among the disciples who have also been concert artistes are the veteran Sharadchandra Arolkar, who, at 77, happens to be his oldest and most distinguished shagird. Krishnaraoji’s sons, Lakshmanrao and Chandrakant, have also made their mark in the field as musician teachers.
Krishnaraoji lived long enough to witness the fast-changing musical scene. In a brief but accurate survey of the prospect, he often used to say, with a tone of sadness: “The world is moving rather fast. As a result there is no time for art lovers to savour the true beauties and refinements of an abstract art like music. Their degree of understanding and appreciation of classical music is getting less and less with each succeeding generation, that, perhaps, is inevitable.”