Remembering Puttaraj Gawai: A Seer Who Couldn’t See But Became The Leading Light For Many Musicians
‘Sangeeta Samrat’ Puttaraj Gawaiji embodied scholarship, spirituality and social transformation. Blinded at childhood (at birth, say some sources), his effortless pursuit of music, his vision and social service transformed the lives of thousands, socially, musically and spiritually.
If one were to witness the way he tied his saffron turban on or the way he seamlessly played the violin, the tabla or any of the multiple instruments that seemed to lend themselves to his hands voluntarily, one couldn’t imagine that he couldn’t see what he was doing.
He was hailed as Sangeeta Samrat, Gaanayogi, ‘Nadedaduva devaru (Walking god) and Tribhasha Kaviratna among others. For Padma Bhushan Pandit Puttaraj Gawai ji was a seer, who despite being blind, not just mastered both Carnatic and Hindustani music but also ensured thousands of visually challenged and disabled children had access to the same.
His penchant for words and his scholarship in Kannada, Hindi and Sanskrit, his ability to play the Sarangi, Violin, Veena, Mandolin, Sarod, Tabla, Harmonium, Santoor and Sitaar with equal ease have given the creative world over 80 books (literary, musical, spiritual), numerous plays, thousands of visually challenged children and orphans shelter and music education apart from carrying the baton of the Gwalior gharana ahead.
On his birth anniversary, it is only befitting that one remembers his contribution to the creative universe. Born on 3 March to Revanayya and Siddhamma in Dharwad in Karnataka, he lost his vision as an infant. The tale goes that improper treatment of an infection led to the child losing his vision.
His father’s death saw his mother move to his maternal uncle Chandrashekarayya’s house who also then became his first music guru.
But sensing the boy’s potential, he took the young Puttaraju to Veereshwara Punyashrama, the ashram of Ganayogi Panchakshari Gawai, which was providing refuge to many such visually challenged children and orphans.
Under the tutelage of senior Gawai, he grew up to be not just a Carnatic and Hindustani musician par excellence, but also a polyglot, a playwright and author, and succeeded his guru as the pontiff of the ashram.
He also instituted the Panchakshari Gawai Sangeet Mahotsava in Gadag in memory of his Guru. The ashram in Gadag is today a pilgrim destination for music lovers.
An interesting lesson in the effective utilisation of soft power and cultural capital to fund Dharmic activities and social reform is the way he channelised the talent available to start a drama company.
As the ashram was providing food, shelter and education to hundreds of disabled children and had to rely purely on donations to sustain, Gawai set up a theatre company.
This would stage plays and the revenue generated would be then used to fund the activities of the ashram.
The first play they staged 'Sri Sivayogi Sidharama' that Gawai penned won both acclaim and audience.
The company not only went on to produce numerous successful plays but also gave the state many wonderful artists and actors, apart from ensuring the coffers of the ashram never ran dry.
Apart from decades of contribution to music, he himself wrote 35 plays, has rendered the Bhagavad Gita and two other works in braille. He left his mortal coil 10 years ago at the ripe age of 96, but the legacy he has left behind is plain music to the ears.
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