Friday, November 12, 2010

Tribute! The rebel Kumar Ghandarva...

Namaskaar! Kumar Gandharva - master theoretician of Indian music and performer par excellence will sing no more. He passed away on January 12, 1992. Noted for his maverick vocal style, Kumar endeared himself to many with his bold innovations; he also alienated himself from the conventional music establishment. His detractors, however, never doubted his musical genius.

Gandharvas are spirits of nature, with extraordinary musical skills. One such belonged to the world of humans- the legendary Kumar Gandharva (born Shivaputra Siddharamaiyya Komkali). (

As a child, he was stricken with tuberculosis, and left with only one functioning lung. This greatly affected his singing – he was to be known for powerful short phrases and his very high voice. He may not have reached the same heights of popularity as contemporaries like Bhimsen Joshi, but Gandharva always enjoyed the love and support of dedicated and connoisseur enthusiasts. His singing was also true to the Indian Classical Music tradition of dialogue with the listeners, of impromptu creation and interactivity.

Kumarji also experimented with other forms of singing such as Bhajans (Devotional songs), folk songs, and with both ragas and presentation, often going from fast to slow compositions in the same raga, something rarely done by any other North Indian musician. One of the most inventive singers in recent years, he is remembered for his great legacy of innovation, questioning tradition without rejecting it wholesale, resulting in music in touch with the roots of Indian culture. 
Koi Sunta Hai: Journeys with Kumar & Kabir (Someone is Listening) : View this movie at
Director: Shabnam Virmani | Producer: Srishti
Genre: Documentary | Produced In: 2008 | Country: India
Synopsis: Interweaving the folk music traditions of the mystic poet Kabir with the life and music of the late Indian classical singer Kumar Gandharva, this film searches for that elusive sound, that "jhini si awaaz", that Kabir urges us to hear. Where does it resonate, that subtle sound? Journeying between folk and classical, oral and written, rural and urban expressions of this 15th century mystic poet of north India, the film finds moments of both continuity and rupture between these disparate worlds.

Kabir Bhajan "Ud Jayega".

He was never "easy" to listen to, in part because of his thin and occasionally harsh voice, a consequence of an illness in his youth which left him with only one lung. He overcame this setback by developing an original style of singing, which relied on short, sharp bursts of music rather than the deep, sonorous, slow and long phrases that characterize Hindustani vocal music. He was known to say that during his convalescence after the illness, he had been inspired by a sparrow which visited his room and which, despite its diminutive size, could produce an impressive volume of music. On another occasion, he said that while musicians who were steady, powerful and grave could be compared to the large fish in an aquarium, he thought of himself like one of the tiny fish that dart around, changing direction rapidly and moving in short bursts. (

Raga Kamod: "aisan kaisan barasat barakha" 1975.  
Kumar Gandharva, master singer with one lung! Also on the mat are Vasat Bapat (next to Kumar) and Kumar's son Mukul Shivputra (tanpura). Tabla: Nana Mulay.

Suddenly the voice would soar, the arms would create arcs in the air, a word would be energetically emphasized, and the music would stab you in the heart. With a distinctive voice, and a unique style of presentation, Kumar Gandharva caused some controversy, though even critics admired his musical genius. Compare his clips with those of Pandit Mallikarjun Mansur, or with those of the popular Pandit Jasraj or Pandit Bhimsen Joshi and his difference will jump out.
Kumar Gandharva spent a lot of time studying folk music, especially that of central India and this influenced his music greatly. He was also a composer-setting his own words to music. He was famous for his renditions of the poems of Kabir. (

The video below is a recording of Kumarji's own composition in the raga Malawati (also his own creation).
Raag Malawati - "Mangal Din Aaj"

Mangal din aaj, Banna ghar aayo
Such an Auspicious beautiful day it is, for He has come home
Aanand man-bharaa, baanwari bhayi mai to
Heart filled with happiness, I have lost my mind with Joy
Banna ra mukh dekhan sahelyo mil aayo
To see his face, I came with all my friends (women folk)
Gaavan lagi geet, baanwari bhai mai to
I started Singing this song..For my love has driven me mad
Mangal din aaj… Such an Auspicious beautiful day!
It is difficult to slot Kumar Gandharva into any one particular lineage. He was a rebel, and took from the different musical traditions to create his own unique sound!
"Pandit Kumar Gandharva: The ultimate rebel of Hindustani vocalism" - By Deepak Raja - Feb. 22 2011:

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