Kumar Gandharva – The Innovative Genius

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" And to be in that state of creation is bliss " says J. Krishnamurti. Probably this is why a true artist is so passionate about being innovative. Kumar Gandharva was such an artiste who creative genius enthralled the music lovers for a period of more than six decades. His experiences and innovations not only enriched the Raga Sangeet but also revived Bhakti Sangeet and explored the fields of folk music.


Born on 8th April, 1924 in Sulebhavi near Belgaum in the state of Karnataka, Shivputra Siddramaiyya Komkali was gifted with an unusual talent at childhood. At the age of 7 he could reproduce the renderings of the masters of classical music like Ustad Abdul Karim Khan, Ustad Faiyaz Khan and Pt. Vazebua with incredible perfection. He was affectionately nicknamed as Kumar Gandharva (the celestial singer), the name which was to shine with the brilliance of the full moon in the sky of Hindustani classical music.

Although Kumar's debut album containing Ragas Durga (" Sakhi Mori Run Jhun ") and Bhairavi (" Shyam Sundar Man Mohan ") was released when he was only 9, yet the eleventh year of his life proved to be a great success. In 1935 first he performed in the All India Conference of Music at Allahabad in front of a large select audience of Pundits and musicians including Aftab-e-Mausiqui Ustad Faiyaz Khan and the famous playback singer Kundan Lal Sehgal. Highly impressed Sehgal invited him to Kolkata to perform in a music conference. In Kolkata the young lad sang a thumri " Piya Bin Nahin Avat Chain" in raga Jhinjhoti and almost held the audience spell-bound with his remarkable perfection and control. Later in 1936 he preformed in Jinnah Hall of Mumbai and the concert was again successful. Next day The Times of India and other newspapers were filled with his praise and acknowledged him as "a future genius".


Kumar Gandharva found his guru and mentor in Prof. BR Deodhar, a doyen of the Gwalior Gharana and a disciple of Pandit Vishnu Digambar Paluskar. Under his tutelage Kumar not only learnt various intricacies of Khayal gayaki and other genres of Hindustani music, but also became an independent thinker on music. At Prof. Deodhar's music school he enjoyed the privilege of meeting doyens of various Gharanas of classical music including Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Ustad Sinde Khan and Pt. Rajabhaiya Poonchhwale and listening to them.

On 24 April, 1947 he got married to a very beautiful girl Bhanumati Kans. A postgraduate from St. Louis Xavier College of Mumbai, Bhanumati herself was a classical vocalist and remained the inspiration behind Kumar's innovations. But she did not know that soon she would have to take the whole responsibility of the family on her young shoulders. Just after five months of their marriage her husband was diagnosed to have lung tuberculosis. The family shifted to Dewas in Madhya Pradesh for Kumar ji's treatment. Bhanumati started working as Headmistress in a school.

It was appearing that the skilled of Kumar Gandharva had come to an end. He had to go through a very complicated lung surgery. But he returned to the world of music in 1952 with a very distinct style of gayaki which was very much his own and a deep insight in music which had developed from his study of folk music of Malwa during his forced confinement to bed due to illness . He joined classical music back to its roots of folk music and enriched both.


Kumar Gandharva is regarded as a rebel of Hindustani classical music. But his rebellion spirit inspired him to experiment and explore the field of music. Instead of following the beat path he preferred to discover new paths in the field of performing music. Although he always came on the stage with a new set of bandishes, yet his presentations of old bandishes were equally refreshing and enchanting. Also he created many new rags including Malvati, Ahimohini, Gauri Basant, Lankeshree, Lagan Gandhar, Sanjari, Madhwa, Madhsurja, Saheli Todi, Chaiti Bhoop, Sohni Bhatiyar, Durga Kedar and Bhavmat Bhairav. In 1969 he paid his homage to Mahatma Gandhi with Gandhi Malhar when the Nation was celebrating the Birth Centenary of the latter.

In 1961 his beloved wife Bhanu passed away. It was a great shock to him. Later he married to Vasundhara Shrikhande. She was herself a classical vocalist and contributed selflessly in all innovations of her husband. In 1965 the first volume of the book 'Anoop Raag Vilas' containing 136 compositions in 107 old popular ragas, 17 his own and 12 complex ragas, was published. Kumar dedicated this to Bhanumati.

In 1966 he came out with a whole concert on the theme of the rainy season-Geet Varsha. It was an unprecened event in the realm of classical music of the period. He presented this program with as many 18 compositions including khayals , thumris , tappas and bhajans . Then followed Triveni (1967), Mala Umajlele Bal Gandharva (1968), Geet Hemant (1968), Tamri Tappa Tarana (1969), Malwa ki Lok Dhunen (1970) Ek Darshan (1973), Rituraj Mehfil (1976), Gaudmalhar Darshan (1976), Tukaram Ek Darshan (1976), Surdas Ek Darshan and Hori Darshan.

He presented special concerts, each one devoted to his exposure of a particular raga like Malkauns, Bageshree or Hameer. Usually he showed different facets of a single raga with as many as five or six bandishes-traditional as well as his own. For him a raga is as dynamic as a living being and has different incarnations at different times.

Perhaps Kumar ji was at his best when singing devotional songs, especially Nirguni Bhajans . He presented bhajans of great saints like Kabir, Meera, Surdas, Tulsidas, Gorakhnath and Shivguru with unmatched skill in bringing out their meaning and creating an exalted devotional environment. Nirguni Bhajans if it was " Sunta hai Guru Gyani " and " Ud jayega hans akela " of Kabir or " Bhola man jane amar meri kaya " of Gorakhnath will always remain all time favorite among his fans.

Kumar Gandhrva was conferred with many awards including Sangeet Natak Akdademi Award, Padma Bhushan and Padma Vibhushan. Perhaps he was the only musician in whom people from other fields of arts such as writers, poets, sculptors, photographers, painters and actors took so much interest. This great musician died on 12 January, 1992 leaving behind his wife, one son and one daughter. His son Mukul Shivputra and his daughter Kalapini Komkali are well known classical singers and his grand-son Bhuvnesh Komkali has started performing in concerts and is a promising classical vocalist who can lead the light of this undying tradition of creativity and innovation in music.


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