WHAT is the objective of holding a festival in memory of an artiste? Is it remembrance? Reverence and devotion? Is it an effort to whip up local pride—to establish a collective oneness of shared geographical space and spoken language with the artiste? A warm sense of ownership? Walking into the sprawling campus of Kala Academy, Goa, a grand piece of architecture by the Mandovi river, these questions crossed my mind. The occasion was the first death anniversary of Kishori Amonkar, the unparalleled diva of Hindustani music and one among the greatest musicians India has produced. I was attending the Ganasaraswati Kishori Amonkar Sangeet Mahotsav (April 28-29). Was Goa saying she was from the land, speaking its tongue? Or was the world of music paying obeisance to the sterling talent that she was?
When the questions quietened down, the answers revealed themselves somewhat. They however, did not merely emerge from the tangible—the stunning photo exhibition, the documentary film, the lecture demonstration, or the concerts. Facilitated as they were by these, they seemed to emerge from something beyond, which is the power of human endeavour. Kishori Amonkar belonged to that class of musicians who, through their conviction, elevated the idea of music itself. She also belonged to a grand line-up of musicians of the Jaipur-Atrauli school who, with their rigour and austerity, rendered into music a spiritual experience. Founder of the Jaipur-Atrauli gharana Ustad Alladiya Khan, Surashree Kesarbai Kerkar, Ganatapaswini Mogubai Kurdikar, Pandit Mallikarjun Mansur, Pt. Govindrao Tembe, Pt. Nivruttibuwa Sarnaik and Pt. Wamanrao Sadolikar are the illustrious musicians who occupied the musical landscape of those times.
In fact, Ustad Alladiya Khan writes in his memoir that his art was shaped under the most unsparing circumstances. His uncle Jehangir Khan taught him all through the night, perfecting every composition. In three years, he had learnt about 12,000 compositions! Kishori Amonkar had her training under her mother’s exacting guidance, but she processed it through her own creative energies. She perfected it in an uncompromising struggle for excellence. Kishori Amonkar became the torch-bearer of the Jaipur-Atrauli tradition, but, who sits alone on the pinnacle of success? With her, and in her music, were all these great masters, who inhabited and enriched the inner recesses of her music. The festival then, though in memory of Kishori Amonkar, feted a lineage. It celebrated the human spirit that rendered a tradition robust and divinely imaginative, not through orthodoxy but through its relentless seeking.
“The world thinks that Kishori Amonkar throws tantrums,” she says to the interviewer in the documentary film that was screened. “It is not so. Every time I have to sing, my legs begin to shiver. I am anxious if the raga will reveal itself to me, and if I can bring it into my fold. I pray to my spiritual master; there are times that I have implored to him to take over.” Creative excellence, as one understands it through this narration, is not a given. It is ephemeral and one must be lucky to get hold of that moment. However, she does not undermine the contribution of riyaz to a creative persona. “Everything that comes to me transforms into gold,” she says with conviction. “That is God-ordained.” It was indeed true; in her, prathibha (talent) and parishram (hard work) coalesced into something mercurial. Kishori Amonkar never settled to an obedient rendering of ragas. She strove to evolve an aesthetics that brought to focus the mood of the raga. Her music, in which the process was privileged over the product, was a journey, and hence, before every concert Kishori Amonkar felt tentative and restless. It is precisely for this reason that her music was a picture of grandeur each time she sang.
When Tejashree Amonkar came onto the stage to sing on the first day of the festival, it was evident that she was carrying a huge mantle. Being the granddaughter of Kishori Amonkar is no easy task. Tejashree Amonkar was self-conscious, a bit anxious as well. Her felicitous voice explored Jait Kalyan, but wouldn’t touch the heart. When she rendered the second item in the raga Suha, she came into her own. But the sooner Tejashree Amonkar sheds the overarching persona of Kishori Amonkar, the better for her. Didn’t Kishori Amonkar do it herself? She was surrounded by a galaxy of stars, and Kishori Amonkar shed each of them with courage. Disparagement by critics and connoisseurs did not weaken her spirit. It is time Tejashree Amonkar develops an endurance that remains unshaken by outward pressures. The solidity of spirit, and to follow the inner workings of one’s heart, is what Tejashree Amonkar must emulate.
No frivolous ornamentation, no fuss. Shruti Sadolikar, one of the finest musicians of our times, sang an exquisite Behag—sturdy and meditative. A picture of grace and perfection, this thinking musician sang two wonderful bandishes in Mudriki Kanada (“Dhan dhan mangal gao”) and Shahana (“Kaun daam base murari”). The energy and passion she infused into her singing was rather remarkable. Her lucid articulation of her complex thoughts is an indication of her training and emotional investment in her art. The wonderful Hori in raga Bhairavi (“Dhaaro dhaaro na”) was soulful and intense. In Shruti Sadolikar’s music there is an artistic transparency, and it sparkles. Nandini Bedekar, a long-time disciple of Kishori Amonkar, has a deep, sonorous voice. That morning, her Miyan Ki Todi was reflective and elaborate. She dwelled upon the mandra sapthak notes in detail, building the character of the raga. However, for a good length of time, it sounded like Gujari Todi. The tonal material for both the ragas is the same, but the articulation of the pancham (pa) note makes for the difference. Nandini Bedekar held the performance together with her involvement, but it lacked ideas.
In Manjari Asnari Kelkar, one can see the complexities of the Jaipur-Atrauli gayaki . Manjari is a competent musician with a flexible voice, and her singing was chaste and richly imaginative. Her approach was methodical and the structure of her presentation was thorough. Her rendition of Nat Kamod was lovely: it evoked the mood of the raga, her articulation of the bandish was eloquent, and the manner in which she combined laya and bhava in her taan s was skilful. The graceful cadences of Manjari’s music bear evidence to her meticulous and disciplined riyaz .
Speak of artistic proportion and Pt. Ulhas Kashalkar personifies it. A colossal musician of the Jaipur-Atrauli and Gwalior traditions, Ulhasji’s music is complete and immaculate. He is an authentic practitioner of the gharana, without being rigid or dogmatic, and his music is sublime to say the least. In his music, techniques merge into his philosophy of music in an inseparable way. He sang the most beautiful Kedar (ably supported by his disciple Shashank Maktidar)—ingenious, sonorous and majestic. It was an electrifying experience. Ulhasji is a living legend and his performance was the crowning glory of the two-day festival.
The festival also had performances by Pt. Satish Vyas, Arati Ankalikar Tikekar, Rupesh Gawas, Prachala Amonkar, Sachin Teli and Samradni Aeer.
Kishori Amonkar was difficult as a person. She carried in her the residues of social injustice and bore the pain of rivalry in the world of music. As an artiste she was uncompromising. She abhorred rules, unless she tested and tried them through her own intellect. Her music was marked by “pain and melancholy”, but that was not merely personal, it was artistic too. No one knew better than her that srujanasheelata was a fragile being. It had to be guarded with the soul. Kishori Amonkar put her life on this job: she, like her eminent contemporaries and predecessors, enriched the tradition through a personal pursuit. The festival paid a tribute to all of them.