Thursday, August 11, 2005

Sawai Gandharva and Sureshbabu Mane, torchbearers of Kirana gharana

Dr. K. Rohiniprasad

Sureshbabu Mane

Sawai Gandharva

Kirana gharana, the renowned style of singing established by Ustad Abdul Karim Khan, was popularised by two eminent disciples of his, namely Sawai Gandharva and Sureshbabu Mane. Of the two, Sawai Gandharva (1886-1952), born Rambhau Kundgolkar, is supposed to be the first direct disciple of the maestro, while Sureshbabu (1902-1953) was the Ustad’s son. These two singers carried forward the tradition that lays stress on the purity of the notes and raga bhava.

Rambhau belonged to Kundgol, a town near Dharwar in North Karnataka. Though he did not belong to a family with musical background, Rambhau was always interested in music from childhood. In his early years, he learnt dhrupad-dhamar from a local kirtankar. During his travels, Abdul Karim Khan visited their house when Rambhau was a teenager and listened to his singing. The youngster sang Bhairavi in Khansahib’s style after listening to him just once. This impressed the Ustad very much and he agreed to teach the boy. He taught with patience helping the youngster cope with problems with his voice that was cracking as he grew up. This long and arduous training in voice culture helped Rambhau regain his confidence and control as a vocalist. The training mainly consisted of listening to the Ustad as he practised and performed. Later, he learnt from other renowned teachers like Bhaskarbuva Bakhale and Nasir Hussain Khan of Gwalior gharana. All this further polished his voice and his music.

After this training, Rambhau returned to Kundgol to get married. He initially joined a drama company and became a popular singer like the great Bal Gandharva and thus earned the title Sawai Gandharva. Later he became a well-known classical vocalist and was called the “King of Mehfils”. However, he never blindly followed the footsteps of his mentor. Even as he continued with his performances, Sawai Gandharva trained several students who turned out to be luminaries of Kirana Gharana. They include famous singers like Bhimsen Joshi, Basavaraj Rajguru, Feroze Dastur and Gangubai Hangal. Sawai Gandharva passed away following a paralytic stroke in 1952. Before his demise, he entrusted the training of some of his disciples to Sureshbabu Mane. The Arya Sangeet Prasarak went on to institute the Sawai Gandharva Festival in Pune. Led by Bhimsen Joshi, this three-day festival pays homage to Sawai Gandharva and several prominent musicians participate regularly.

Sureshbabu Mane was born Abdul Rehman, the son of Tarabai Mane and Abdul Karim Khan. Tarabai Mane was the daughter of Sardar Maruti Rao Mane, who was the brother of Rajmata of Baroda state where Abdul Karim Khan was the court musician who taught Tarabai. They got married and were forced to migrate to Bombay where Tarabai Mane settled down. The couple had three daughters: Hirabai Barodekar (Champakali), Kamalabai Barodekar (Gulab) and Sarswati Rane (Sakina or Chotutai) and two sons: Sureshbabu Mane (Abdul Rehman) and Papa (Abdual Hamid or Krishna Rao Mane). Sureshbabu had his initial training from his father and later from his uncle Abdul Wahid Khan as well as Sawai Gandharva. Thus he imbibed the essential elements of kirana style directly from the originators themselves.

Sureshbabu became an expert in khayal, thumri, Marathi natyageet and bhajan. He had a successful career as a singer and also sang for several Marathi plays and films. He scored music for films like Savitri, Savkari pash, Nandkumar, Bhagawa zenda and Devyani Before he passed away at the age of 51 he trained his sister Hirabai Barodekar and Prabha Atre. Like Sawai Gandharva he passed on the tradition to the next generation so that kirana gayaki remains very popular even today.

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