North Karnataka is home to many Hindustani classical musicians of repute who have sung their way to
dizzying heights. Naushad Bijapur and Shyam Sundar Vattam trace the origin of this genre of music.
Although Karnataka has produced Hindustani vocalists of great stature, the advent of cable TV and electronic media seems to have begun diverting people's attention from this oldest musical tradition. While Hindustani classical songs arguably continue to be stronger on melody - even in this era of hip-hop music - many old music lovers seem to have gone off the boil.
Hindustani classical music is an Indian classical music tradition that took shape in northern India centuries ago. The birth of Hindustani classical music can be traced back to some of the oldest scriptures available. Hindustani classical music is primarily vocal-centric, in so far as the musical forms were designed primarily for vocal performance and many instruments were designed and evaluated as to how well they emulate the human voice.
Over the last several years, North Karnataka has given rise to classical musicians of repute who have sung their way to dizzying heights. The sheer musicianship of many such stalwarts has been breathtaking. Starting from the vocalists of 18th century who had driven large crowds crazy in this region through their mellifluous voice, the Hindustani music has had a very humble beginning in North Karnataka.
As sources reveal, the royal Wodeyars of Mysore were instrumental in popularising Hindustani classical music in North Karnataka. Due to their penchant for classical music, the Wodeyars often hosted music programmes involving some of the best Hindustani vocalists from Mumbai in the 1850s. Nathan Khan, a great Hindustani vocalist from Maharashtra, went on to become the first aasthan gayak of Wodeyar palace in Mysore. And thus the tradition of Hindustani music in Karnataka took off. Long journey In those times, for Hindustani vocalists, the hectic train journey from Mumbai to Mysore lasted at least four days. To get refreshed, vocalists would alight from trains in Dharwad, Hubli or Belgaum and stay there for a few days before continuing their journey. During their sojourn, they would present some programmes in these towns of North Karnataka.
Slowly, Hindustani music began gaining popularity in this region and saw some of the great vocalists in Kabir Das and Rehmat Khan somewhere in the 1890s.
North Karnataka saw the slow and steady growth of Hindustani music in the initial stage. Many vocalists took shape across North Karnataka with Hindustani music making its strong impact on people. This rich form of classical music gained more strength in North Karnataka at the time of Sawai Gandharva.
Hindustani music began getting popular through theatre as different forms of this music were being played in theatre, making a lasting impact on people.
A noted pandit, Bhaskarbua Bakhle of Maharashtra, who stayed in Dharwad for several years after 1990, had produced many a noted vocalist in his disciples (shishyas). Pandit Bakhle also worked as a music teacher at the Dharwad Training College from 1908 to 1916 while playing a pivotal role in fine tuning the voice and talents of his disciples.
The role of Gangubai Hangal's mother, Ambakka and vocalist Ustad Abdul Karim Khan had also been vital in taking Hindustani music to new heights in North Karnataka. NK's dazzling stars
The golden era of Hindustani music in North Karnataka came with the rise of five great vocalists - Mallikarjun Mansur, Gangubai Hangal, Kumar Gandharva, Bhimsen Joshi and Basavaraj Rajguru. These five `rich rivers of Hindustani music' not only contributed generously to Hindustani classical music but also left behind a large number of their disciples and promising vocalists.
The voices of Gangubai Hangal and Bhimsen Joshi still continue to inspire upcoming vocalists with determination.
North Karnataka also saw some other greats - contemporaries of the above said five stalwarts - who could not rise to fame. Some of them include Narayanrao Mujumdar, Ganpatrao Gurav and Mrityunjaya Puranikmath. Some other unsung heroes from Belgaum include Kagalkarbua, Utturkarbua, Uma Maheshwarbua, Pandit Rajwade, Sangmeshwar Gurav, Pandit R N Joshi and Pandit Rambhau Vijapure. These vocalists were immensely talented and contributed tremendously. ``Sur gaya tho sar gaya'' Even as North Karnataka still boasts of some promising vocalists, many experts rue the dearth of practice (riyaz) among present day vocalists. Earlier, vocalists scaled great heights for their devotion to practice for more than 10 to 16 hours a day. Hindustani music needs great dedication and resolve to practice.
To achieve perfection, long hours of practice is the only way out, they feel. A vocalist has to be perfect in `sur.' And that's why, it is said ``sur gaya tho sar gaya.''
A popular saying in North Karnataka goes like this - “If you throw a stone in Dharwad, it will either fall on the house of a litterateur or a Hindustani musician”. It’s very true. Dharwad is known as the cultural capital of North Karnataka.
The contribution of North Karnataka to the promotion of Hindustani music is unparalleled, as it has to its credit singers of national and international repute. Nobody knows for sure as to how or who brought this genre of music to this region.
According to Dr Gangubai Hangal, 95-year-old doyen of Hindustani music, Late Abdul Karim Khan visited Dharwad in 1900 and taught Sawai Gandharva, a guru who produced many great disciplines like Dr Hangal and Pandit Bhimsen Joshi. The Nadgir family of Kundgol is known for patronising Hindustani music.
Around that time, Mr Pitre Vakil, an advocate by profession, and Mr Nagappa Deshpande started teaching in Dharwad City. The presence of a number of Hindustani music teachers prompted the younger generation to develop interest in Hindustani music.
The undivided Dharwad district has the rare distinction of producing noted Hindustani musicians like Dr Gangubai Hangal, Pt Bhimsen Joshi, Dr Mallikarjun Mansur, Pt Basavaraj Rajguru, Pt Siddaramesha Jambaldinni, Sri Chandrashekar Puranik, Sri Panchakshari Gawai, Sri Puttaraj Gawai, Pt Arjunsa Nakod, Sri Sangamesha Gurava and Sripathi Padigar.
In fact, Dr Hangal learnt Carnatic music initially from her mother Ambabai for some years but later showed inclination towards Hindustani music, after hearing to gramophone records of the then great singers. Smt Ambabai stopped singing Carnatic music after seeing her daughter’s interest in Hindustani music. This ‘sacrifice’ made by that great lady is still remembered by Dr Hangal.
Singers from North India introduced a variety of gharanas to this land, helping buddding artists to pick up gharanas of their choice. Usually, they learnt the gharana their guru pursued. Accordingly, both Dr Hangal and Pt Bhimsen Joshi learnt Kirana Gharana, while Dr Mansur the Jaipur Atrauli.
The strong foundation laid by doyens like Late Abdul Karim Khan and Sawai Gandharva has helped North Karnataka churn out quality Hindustani musicians. A large number of youth are also now into learning Hindustani music.
The State Government’s plan to establish the National Centre for Hindustani Music in Hubli will definitely create interest in the younger generation to pursue Hindustani music.
Noted Hindustani singer Dr Gangubai Hangal has created a record of sorts by singing at the ripe age of 95. Although she has stopped giving concerts because of the age factor, the singer is always kind to entertain the audience by singing a raag for 5-10 minutes.
Last year, Dr Hangal celebrated her 94th birthday and also the platinum jubilee of her glorious singing career.