Saturday, 25 August, 2007

The Young God of Music

That is the literal translation of the name Kumar Gandharva - a title given to this great singer when he was discovered as a child prodigy. I'll leave it to you to look him up on Wiki and elsewhere on the Net in detail for facts and stuff. But it can be said that he is one of the iconic singers in the history of Hindustani classical vocal music.

Some anecdotal info - At the tender age of 8-9 years, Kumar-ji could listen to the records of the old masters and mimic them to great accuracy (it is said he could listen to a 3 minute segment once, and sing it back exactly). As a singing boy wonder, he traveled and performed extensively. In one of his sessions, one of the audience was Prof B R Deodhar, who spotted the boy's talents, and took him under his tutelage. Kumar-ji later got married and moved to Madhya Pradesh. In his 20's, he was struck by a debilitating tuberculosis affliction, which rendered him unable to sing for the next five years or so. But during his recovery, while still being bed-ridden, he had his wife attend gatherings where local folk songs were sung, memorize the dhun's and sing it back to him at home. He built a number of ragas and compositions based on what she brought back. After he recovered, he took up singing again, but it is said that the disease left him with only one functioning lung! It is despite this constraint that he went on to become one of the greatest singers of all time. He passed away in 1992.

Kumar-ji's music is probably not for everyone. He can best be described as a maverick genius, who took classical gayaki to a different level. It is said that one must first master the existing rules, traditions and frameworks of an art form - and then question the very same. It is then that true creativity emerges. Kumar-ji is proof of this statement. His way of singing polarized the world of music into those who thought he was the greatest ever, to those who are dismissive of his approach - a debate that continues to rage even today. But none can question his very unique and inventive style - of innovative interpretations of ragas, of bringing out strong and often surprising emotional colors of the verses, or of electrifying super-fast taan's sung with brilliant accuracy. He was a strong proponent of exactness of the notes - saying that music is when the exact center points of the frequencies of the notes are sung; anything which is close or near-about these madhya-bindu's but not quite there, does not constitute real music! Another very clear difference in his style of singing as compared to others is his use of shorter phrases, and silences in between. His diminished lung power probably forced him to make do with shorter breaths, but that only led him to invent his own use of phrasing, with the silences in between that serve to keep the phrases separate from one another, giving you time to appreciate and savor each one in its individual brilliance, and actually give you time to think!

Below is a sample I found on YouTube. Check it out.

Here is the bandish he is singing, and it's meaning -

aisan kaisan barasat barakha

ghiri ghiri aai chhay dis chahuNwa

bahu din te chhip gayo soorajawa
oob re gayi barasan te manawa


How come it's raining like this
It's raining in all directions
The sun has been hidden for many days
My heart is fed up with all this rain

Dwell on the lyrics, line by line, as you listen to the master interpret it in Raag Kamod.

Credits - Wikipedia for Kumar-ji's photograph above, YouTube for the video as well as the bandish and its meaning, and Pt Vyasamurthy Katti for a lot of the anecdotal info he shared with a bunch of us in a session about Kumar-ji and his music held at Mowna-ji's place. Thanks everyone!

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