If 2019 saw the birth centenary of three veterans of the Marathi film and theatre industry – Ga Di Madgulkar, Sudhir Phadke and P L Desphande, 1924 will see the centenary of three veteran Indian classical singers – Kumar Gandharva, Ram Marathe and CR Vyas.
There is a definitive common thread in the three. All three trained initially in Gwalior gharana and then evolved individualistically. Ram Marathe and CR Vyas trained with Jagannath Buva Purohit in Agra gayaki post their Gwalior training around the same time, though Marathe was with Jagannathbuva for more years than Vyas. Kumar Gandharva evolved on his own after his training at Deodhar school with Deodhar Master.
All three questioned the guru and tradition. They had heated discussions not just with their peers, but also with gurus and seniors. They believed that music is seamless, and one needs to worship the art without any barriers or boundaries.
Kumar Gandharva, the senior of these three, born on April 8, 1924, was a child prodigy who first performed on stage at the age of 10. He was lucky to be taken under the wings by the maestro and revered teacher of that time — BR Deodhar. Gandharva, a pupil with high aptitude, was a quick learner and soon scaled heights unachieved at the Deodhar School of Music. He was still a student at the school when he started teaching students at the school with the blessings of his guru.
He survived a serious case of tuberculosis with the help of doctors and his first wife Bhanumati. However, it would be wrong to credit just them. It was the unflinching willpower and grit of Gandharva himself that defeated the illness and helped him rise above it. He used his downtime — months of resting period in Dewas — as research and study time. Though he could not sing for those months, he listened. And he listened fervently. He listened to all sounds around him — birds, animals, humans, all. He listened to the folk music of the area. He made notes lying down. Sometimes he wrote notations for new classical creations which his wife sang in the evening for him after coming back from work. He always admitted that folk music of Malva inspired him to create many bandishes and ragas. He called those ragas Dhun Ugam Ragas. That every minute thing in nature inspired him and made an impact on him was obvious in the bandish of Raag Madhusuraja, “Bachale mori maa…” The raga is sung in the afternoon. The bandish is the plea of a calf who is on its way to be butchered as sacrifice. It is calling out to his mother.
CR Vyas and Kumar Gandharva, unwittingly, have lived a similar path. Both have battled near fatal illnesses and emerged winners. Both saw a hike in their career after illness.
CR Vyas, born on November 9, 1924, suffered from a brain stroke that left him speechless for a few days. He was, therefore, operated upon to remove a clot near his speech centre so that he could sing soon. Doctors gave him six months for complete recovery after which they said he could sing for a couple of hours. However, it was within three months that Vyas sang at a concert for nearly four hours. Not only that, but he also went out of the hospital with special permission, his head still bandaged after surgery, within a month to witness Mallikarjun Mansur sing at the Gunidas Sangeet Sammelan. His dedication and passion surpassed most of his peers.
Vyas too was inspired by day-to-day happenings and nature. When he first saw the colossal Niagara Falls, he was mesmerised. He composed a bandish to express his feeling that Nature’s mammoth creation had humbled him: “Kahe dhare birath abhimaan, samajh man soch niko bichaar…” He also composed bandishes to express concern for his son or welcome his first daughter-in-law. Music was the only way he knew to express himself. Quite a shy person, he rarely spoke about anything but music — be it Indian classical, Hindi films or even Michael Jackson, it always intrigued him.
Ram Marathe, born on October, 23, 1924, was different from these two. He was not only a Hindustani classical singer, but also an actor in theatre and films. He started acting in Marathi films at a very young age as a child, largely out of necessity and to keep home fires burning. He studied music with Mirashi Buva of Gwalior gharana and then Jagannathbuva Purohit of Agra. He also picked up nuances of Jaipur gharana from Mogubai Kurdikar (mother of Ganasaraswati Kishori Amonkar). However, he developed his own style that differed from all his gurus. While he kept the base that he learnt from all intact, he added nuances from all gharanas, as per his understanding, to his singing.
Marathe learnt the subtleties of classical music and natya sangeet from Master Krishnarao. His performances in super-hit musicals like Saubhadra, Ekach Pyala, Manapman, Sanshay Kallol, Swayamwar etc are still remembered by many senior citizens who saw them in their young age. He was also associated with the Prabhat film company since its conceptualisation. However, within a few years he left the company to come to Mumbai and concentrate on his classical singing and acting in theatre. Marathe was fortunate to have acted with masters like Bal Gandharva, whom he always revered.
CR Vyas was a friend of Kumar Gandharva and Ram Marathe. The common bond? All three were given the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award.
Shruti Pandit is Consulting Editor, Features, The Free Press Journal