Goans in Hindustani Music
By MOHAN NADKARNI
The Illustrated Weekly of India April 6, 1980
The Goans, a versatile people, have shown a passion for music, drama and dance. Although, as a result of centuries of Portuguese rule, one finds the Latin influence in their contemporary artistic expression, it is significant that, despite all the vicissitudes of history, they did not lag behind in their efforts to keep alive India’s tradition of music and theatre art.
Even during foreign rule, the numerous Hindu shrines in the territory continued to provide shelter and succour to performing artistes. Inevitably, these places of worship became the centres of Hindu cultural activity. The institution of devadasis – despite the social stigma once attached to it – also came to play a crucial role in the preservation and enrichment of our artistic heritage.
The village Parvat, atop the 2,000-feet high Chandranath hill near Margao, stands as a monument to Goa’s dedication to Hindustani music, both vocal and instrumental. Some of the most distinguished exponents of this hoary North Indian tradition have come from this village. The late maestro, Khapruji Parvatkar, whose supreme command over the tabla earned for him recognition as “Laya Bhaskar”, is the doyen of this distinguished band of Goa’s traditional musicians.
Sadly, however, the continued lack of state patronage, coupled with general public apathy, eventually compelled some of the more enterprising musicians to leave their homes and seek a living outside the territory.
Thus, veterans like Khapruji and Kamurao Mangeshkar earned recognition as tabla soloists and accompanists in Central and North India. The rising generation of artistes like Anjanibai Malpekar, Kesarbai Kerkar and Moghubai Kurdikar, who left their villages to explore new avenues of self-expression in the early years of this century, sought and obtained the benefit of studentship with several great masters of contemporary khayal gharanas who had settled in the princely States in the former Bombay Presidence. Alladiya Khan, Ramkrishnabuva Vaze, Bhaskarbuva Bakhale and Abdul Karim Khan were the maestros in the galaxy of lumaries who loomed large on India’s musical horizon.
Meanwhile, on a wider plane the missionary movement initiated in the early nineteen twenties by the two great savants, Vishnu Digambar Paluskar and Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande, brought about a socialisation of music: music concerts became an integral part of social life.
When one speaks of Goan musicians who have fostered and enriched khayal and light classical forms of North Indian music, an impressive array of names, both old and young, comes naturally to my mind; Anjanibai Malpekar, Kesarbai Kerkar, Moghubai Kurdikar, Vatsalabai Parvatkar, Shrimatibai Narvekar, Dinanath Mangeshkar, Jyostna Bhole, Anjanibai Lolekar, Dattaram Parvatkar, Baburao Kumthekar, Shridhar Parsekar and several others, in the older category; while Kishori Amonkar, Shobha Gurtu and Jitendra Abhisheki are among today’s leading lights.
Anjanibai Malpekar, who died at 90 in 1974, was a leading exponent of the Bhendi Bazar gharana known for immaculate voice production and ornate unfoldment of vilambit. Though khayal was her forte, she also made a mark in the lighter classical and popular forms of singing.
Kesarbai Kerkar and Moghubai Kurdikar, both outstanding disciples of Alladiya Khan (who pioneered, (who pioneered the Atrauli-Jaipur gayaki), have in a sense, their own passionate following.
Kesarbai, who died at 87, three years ago, was undoubtedly Goa’s most precious bequest to Hindustani music. Here was, without exaggeration, one of the monumental voices of the century in the North Indian tradition. With no hint of diminution, her broad yet luminuous, sonorous voice could swoop from a splendorous, high taar saptak to a deep, resonant low mandra-saptak with an incredibly uniform volume and loud enough to be heard without a mike!
A focal point for elegance and queenly dignity on the stage, Kesarbai shunned publicity and was curiously allergic to the radio, press and camera alike. Many prized laurels, awards and accolades from the princely darbars of old and honours from the post freedom era came her way. Seldom did she care to use them with her name. The only disciple she condescended to groom and that too, in the last years of her life, is Dhondutai Kulkarni.
But Moghubai Kurdikar has nurtured two generations of disciples. They include her gifted daughter, Kishori Amonkar, Kamal Tambe, Kousalya Manjeshwar, Padma Talwalkar, and several others. Although now past 75, her voice still retains that delightfully familiar feel of the old-world velvet. The music she creates is truly glorious in content and structure and one is struck as much by her rare sense of exploration as by her subtle insight into the melodic and rhythmic beauties of the khayal form in which every note, every phrase, every pattern comes a vivid pledge – the fruit of diligent and ardent sadhana for well overhalf a century. Like Kesarbai, she has won national recognition but shuns the limelight.
The Agra tradition of khayal singing has also many adherents from among the Goan artistes. Unfortunately, very few vocalists of this gharana rose to time despite their great musical gifts, while quite a few, like Saraswatibai Phatarpekar and Vatsalabai Parvatkar, died prematurely. Septuagenarian Shrimati Narvekar and the popular stage artiste, Jyotsna Bhole, are among the noted Goan exponents of the style today. Govindrao Agni teaches at the University Music Centre in Bombay and Ratnakant Ramnathkar, after retirement from AIR, is in the Goa Music Academy in Panaji. Sitarambuva Phatarpekar, Durgabai Shirodkar, Indirabai Wadkar, Vimal Narvekar, Shalini Narvekar and Anjanibai Lolekar are other representatives of the Agra tradition.
Tarabai Shirodkar was a talented disciple of Bhaskarbuva Bakhale but she too died prematurely. Dinanath Mangeshkar forsook the concert platform for a brilliant career on the stage. A disciple of Vaze Buva, Dinanath was a classicist in his own right.
In the younger set, 48-year-old Kishori Amonkar, a graduate, easily stands out as the leading light of the avant garde generation of classical vocalists and, for that reason, she predictably evokes diverse reactions from today’s mixed audiences.
The expressive quality of her music, coupled with her novel technique and her hauntingly plaintive tone, make for a mesmeric impact on most. All this has brought for her as many critics as votaries. While some call her a prodigy, others dub her a rebel. In fact she is both, which is precisely why she compels attention and enjoys phenomenal popularity.
Jitendra Abhisheki is also a unique artiste in many ways. He hails from a priestly family and is a graduate. At 46, his achievements as a classical vocalist, composer, conductor and also as a pioneering exponent of Marathi stage music are truly spectacular. He is one of our few vocalists today with the right instinct and plenty of natural talent and the imagination to communicate them.
Shobha Gurtu’s distinction lies in her being one of the two versatile exponents of the difficult musical tradition of eastern Uttar Pradesh (Purb gayaki). The late Begum Akhtar, Rasoolanbai and Siddheshwari Devi were its greatest exponents of yesteryear. The charm of this gayaki is in its rural vigour, refined lyricism and eloquent phrasing and Shobha has not only assimilated the tradition but has enriched it with the character of her own individual vocalism.
Goa’s contribution in the instrumental field seems, by comparison, ratherless significant. This is certainly not to deny their achievements. The fact is that most of them chose to remain content as mere accompanists. Ace violinist Shridhar Parsekar would have achieved greater heights as a solo virtuoso had he not died in tragic, circumstances in 1964 when he was only 45.
*This article appeared in the April 6, 1980 issue of The Illustrated Weekly of India as part of the series on contributions to Indian music by artistes from India’s many states. Editor M V Kamath, who passed away yesterday in Manipal at the age of 93, commissioned the series.
Photo courtesy: Mohan Nadkarni Archive. Moghubai Kurdikar by Dev Nadkarni.