Ignored and yet inspired, the Hindustani ladies of the South

There are many women in South who have been serving the cause of Hindustani music, but they do so in spite of being ignored by many State bodies.
Ignored and yet inspired, the Hindustani ladies of the South
Ignored and yet inspired, the Hindustani ladies of the South
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A few weeks ago in my column I had written about the Dharwad Gharana. I had an over-whelming response from readers from across the world. However, some of them expressed dissatisfaction saying I had not written much about women performers, except Gangubai Hangal. I thought these ladies deserved a different column altogether.

It is an assumption that Hindustani classical music hasn’t had too many lady performers from South India. While they might not number as many as there are from Maharashtra and Bengal area, the South has been a home to several leading exponents of Hindustani vocal and instrumental music over the last half a century. While some of these are natives of South, some others have made a home in the various cities like Hyderabad and Bangalore. There aren’t too many Hindustani musicians in Kerala and Tamil Nadu, however.

In Hyderabad, we have one of our country’s senior most exponents of the Gwalior Gharana style of singing, Malini Rajurkar. Born to a middle class conservative family of music loving parents, Malini had to face initial hurdles before she began taking up classical music. A three-year scholarship to the Ajmer College of Music pushed her talent for singing further. She eventually married her mentor Govindrao Rajurkar’s musician nephew Vasantrao Rajurkar who also became her guru. The couple migrated and settled down in Hyderabad over half a century ago and made it her home. Prior to her full time musical career, Malini also taught mathematics at a high school for three years. It might be due to this that her ability for calculations and Taal remains matchless in her Gayaki.  Today she is easily one of the finest and most underrated voices in Hindustani vocal music, especially from the Gwalior style of singing.

Karnataka has more women musicians than any other state in the South. Bangalore, in particular became a home to many musicians over the decades.  The first time Hindustani music established itself in Bangalore was around 1930, when Pt Govind Vithal Bhave, a student of Vishnu Digamber Palusker decided to settle down. He was the grandson of Acharya Vishnudass Bhave, who is known as ‘Adya Natakkaar’ or the founding father of Marathi drama. Govind Vithal Bhave migrated to Bangalore from Maharashtra and established the ‘Saraswati Sangeet Vidyalaya’ and trained many students. His daughter Shyamala Bhave continues her father’s legacy.

Malini Rajurkar and Shyamala Bhave

The soft-spoken Konkani Saraswat Brahmins have produced some of the finest vocalists of all times. One of the first names that come to mind is Lalita Shivram Ubhayekar. The Ubhayakers have been old Bangaloreans unlike no other musical family has ever been. Known for their patronage of arts and philanthropy, they established themselves into the city’s history very successfully. Lalita took her early training under the stalwarts like Pt. Chidanand Nagarkar and Pt Rama Rao Naik. She also trained in Dhrupad under the senior Dagar brothers, Nasir Moinuddin and Nasir Ameenuddin. Her training in the Agra Gharana Gayaki honed her further. She was a successful performer who toured the world with her music through the 1950’s to the 1980’s. She established the Smriti Nandan Cultural Center and held regular annual music festivals since 1987, in the memory of her son Devnandan Ubhayaker. Lalita passed away in 2012 at the age of eighty-four. Her friends and cultural organization continue the good work she began.

Vidushi Lalit J Rao, another exponent of the Agra Gharana also hails from the Konkani Saraswath community. As a kid she was exposed to great performances by the likes of Ustad Faiyyaz Khan of the Agra Gharana. Having trained under the Gharana stalwarts like Ustad Khadim Hussain Khan, and Pt Rama Rao Naik of the Agra-Atrauli tradition, Lalit grew to great heights as a vocalist of high merit. She also holds a Masters degree in electrical communication engineering. In addition to an excellent performer, Lalit is also a knowledgeable Guru who has trained numerous students.  Tara Kini and Susheela Mehta are some of her illustrious students.

Lalita Ubhayekar, Lalit J Rao and Aditi Kaikini Upadhyay

Aditi Kaikini Upadhya, the daughter of Pt Dinker Kaikini is yet another wonderful performer and Guru from the Agra Gharana tradition. Her mother Sushila Kaikini served as the principal of the Bharatiya VidyaBhavan in Mumbai for many years. Aditi also received training from Vidushi Shobha Gurtu in lighter genres like Thumri and Dadra. In today’s times, when everyone in the classical music circles is complaining how Agra Gharana has a severe lack of any good quality vocalists, Aditi is easily one of the finest vocalists in the country. It is a pity that we get to see and hear very less of her on the national scene. Her brother Yogesh Samsi has established himself as an ace Tabla artiste.

India’s only, and probably the world’s only lady Rudra Veena artiste Jyoti Hegde lives in Dharwad. Keeping an ultra-low profile of herself, Jyotiwas unknown even among her contemporaries until recent times. Born in Sirsi, Jyoti fought against all odds and began training in the Khandar Baani of the Dhrupad Parampara. It was rumoured that the Rudra Veena wasn’t an instrument meant for women performers. Jyoti broke through that and emerged as one of the most successful pioneering women artistes. First under Pt Bindu Madhav Pathak and later from Ustad Asad Ali Khan, Jyoti blossomed into one of the finest exponents of the Rudra Veena today.

Jyoti Hegde and Anupama Bhagwat

Anupama Bhagwat hails from a traditional Bhagawatula family from Andhra Pradesh. But cut off from the main Andhra land, her family migrated to Bhilai where she was born and grew up. She began taking lessons in music from the age of thirteen and trained in Sitar from Pt Bimalendu Mukherjee, one of the stalwarts of the Imdadkhani Gharana. Today, she is easily one of the top five finest exponents of her Gharana in Sitar. She migrated to Bangalore and made it her home for the last many years. Keeping an ultra low profile, Anupama continues to enthrall audiences across the world with her fine music.

There are many more women in South who have been serving the cause of Hindustani music.  What is common between all of them? They continue to spread music in spite of being royally ignored by many State bodies. Almost no national honour or recognition has come their way for their immense contribution to music. No Padma awards have come their way.  It is a matter of great shame and pity that these leading musicians have been sidelined. One wishes the State bodies like the Central Sangeet Natak Akademi and others recognize their efforts. So much talk of feminism, women empowerment and women’s rights haven’t managed to do a thing to promote these talented women. Despite all that, they continue to silently do their work. They continue to inspire scores of students and music lovers. In the recent years, there has been a great amount of debate and discussion about the dwindling numbers of female classical music performers. We hope those festival organizers, individuals and institutions who keep cribbing about the lack of women artistes, take a note of these names for future reference.

(Veejay Sai is an award-winning writer, editor and a culture critic. He writes extensively on Indian performing arts, cultural history, food and philosophy. He lives in New Delhi and can be reached at vs.veejaysai@gmail.com)

Images courtesy : Krishnamurthy, Subhash Kamat

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