The pride of the Kirana gharana of Hindustani music tradition and world, renowned vocalist hailing from Karnataka, Gangubai Hangal was born on this day. Today is her 108th birth anniversary.
The Ministry of Culture paid its homage to Gangubai Hangal, who is known and revered as one of the powerful women musicians of India.
Gangubai Hangal, who, like Pandit Bhimsen Joshi is known for having enriched the gayaki of Kirana gharana, had great affection for him. She is known to have addressed him, in affection, as "Bhima". Kirana gharana and its gayaki were not just two different strings connecting them.
If one explores a bandish in the same raga sung (performed) by Pandit Bhimsen Joshi and Gangubai Hangal, one would be compelled to conclude that their minds perhaps worked with the same intensity and tenacity when it came to exploring the raga, and its vistaar (opening, exploring, sprawling and expanding it in singing).
Their intellect pierced the taan-singing, not merely their unique voices, or their fiercely-sculpted throats, alone, and in this aspect they appeared like walking on the same path and destination that began and ended at Kirana, soaking much from other destinations -- if gharanas can be called destinations (alongside being journeys).
There is a sibling-like proximity to their act of choices in singing.
It could be a mere coincidence that both Pandit Bhimsen Joshi and Gangubai Hangal, the nourishers of the khayal, the explorers of seasons, nature and human emotion in khayal gayaki, were born during Basant.
The celebration of Basant and the movement of the calendar towards Bahaar (in the mood and raga) and Phagun (the season that carries over the musical moods and colours from Basant), coincides with their birth anniversaries.
It is that time of the year when these two stalwarts would mark an important beginning to their own cycle of singing, performing, living and learning, continuously.
For this author, the Purvi thhat (and the ragas residing in this sub-family of ragas) -- and Basant -- the raga itself -- become forever tangible reminders of Pandita Gangubai Hangal and Pandit Bhimsen Joshi.
Here is a short listicle to celebrate her day.
Basant. Bhimpalasi. Bahar.
A bandish in Basant that celebrates Holi.
When Gangubai Hangal takes the short alaap, you are ready to be transported to Braj (as would be the guess and mood). She does, in a way, connect you to Krishna.
The unique twist in this bandish is that it celebrates Holi. The nayika is playing or wants to play Holi with the beloved. The worldly and the spiritual unite. Then, you are left to think and to draw your interpretation of the play with colours and the "piya".
Is this the nayika's eternal wish -- of playing Holi with her beloved? Is it a description of the play, as it happens, in continuous tense, or the simple present of the act of meeting the beloved, each year, via raga Basant to a festival that finds itself placed in Phagun? It could be one. It could be all.
It tells us how well our artistes and the thinkers of bandish in the Hindustani tradition viewed emotions and seasons, and the related timing in ragas and often merged the clock and calendar in heart and mind.
This is what makes this bandish vibrantly painful, playful, even as it remains melancholic and adorned in shringar rasa. Gangubai Hangal presents and concludes her mood pretty early in the bandish.
There is a point in the recording where it has not even proceeded to the antara, and she shoots off, to uttarang, circling over to the characteristic and huddling arrangement of madhyam, gandhar, rishabh and shadaj keeping dhaivat as an unseen and rounded base for her thought.
"Piya sangg kheloon Hori". A dream in a distance far away, even as in proximity it plays.
There is an unsaid trend among younger generations vocalists: of shrugging off Bhimpalasi. Time of performance during the day (late afternoon) could be one reason (there are barely concerts held during this time of the day and that's the most popular excuse), but Covid-kaal offered ample opportunity to go for this raga.
Yet, nothing Bhimpalasi-centric really came up during 2020 -- even at the beginning of the lockdown.
Singing and performing a raga is just not about taking it up. The more it is heard and taken, the more the season starts speaking to it. That generation of maestros was a world different. It was defined by quests. Not by needs.
When Basant, the season fades over to Phagun, Kaafi thhat, naturally sprawls on the colours of this month.
This rendition in paints the early afternoon picture, just perfectly. The longing, the spaces and distances reflect so well in the taans. Notice how patient and relaxed the maestro is in her advance towards the uttarang and in her interactions with the gandhar. It's as if rishabh (re) is her mirror to view gandhar in the reflection every time.
More playfulness. More season. More description. More delving. More fragrance. The budding and flowering of the season.
This is Indian miniature art in classical music. Each bud, each sound made by the bird and each bird's presence, can be seen and felt distinctly.
The first line describes the beloved, in all seasonal probability, Krishna, playing with the fragrant buds of flowers. He could be indulging in the play in Bahar's diverse flora all by himself. But going by the flora and fauna descriptions invested in the bandish, would be completely appropriate to settle for imagining the rest.
My favourite part in the bandish is when Gangubai Hangal ji takes up the description and singing of where the "bhavara" steps in. The honey from her throat buzzes over the "gunjaar" of the bhavara and his self-involved movement. Most marvellously, the raga vistaar takes itself on the description of the sound and music in his arrival.
This lays over, by itself, a layer of fragrance of the buds, the flowers, that Bahar the raga and season bring. Singing this is Pandita Gangubai Hangal.
There is no surprise, hence, that she performs instrumentation in singing, in her prolific vocal explorations in this bandish.
I wonder if Ustad Bismillah Khan and Pandit Bhimsen Joshi heard her singing this one bandish. The powerful maestro pours, generously, the feminine in feminism. This feminism is powerful, aesthetic, Indic.
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