Kabiri Bhairav- Dhondutai Kulkarni

It is unusual for me to write so early in the morning, that too on my blog. I think from last evening or perhaps last few days a lot of ideas were tossing in my mind and I had to put them down on paper lest I lose them before long. So I opened another blog of mine on wordpress to write and then my email to check for new mail. Someone I know, had sent a beautiful email (which he sends to a whole lot of people everyday, with a different artist's music) about Dhondutai Kulkarni.

I mostly do not listen to anyone's music in the morning due to my own riyaaz, but I just turned this one, because I was inquisitive about this doyenne, who I had read long years ago about, in a book by C.S.Lakshmi; and her austere spirit had struck a chord in me then. It did again just now, when I heard her voice for the first time. As I write this I can feel goosebumps, on me. The singing is so clear and powerful, like what I have not heard in an extraordinarily long time (also partially because I do not listen to a whole lot of people, thanks to my own immersion in whatever it is). I felt that her singing is so strong, clean and uncontaminated, with no desire to show anything off- hermetic is the most befitting word actually, that one can actually learn this raga with her, just by listening. After the music started playing and I had not then seen the name of raga, because I was busy writing the other blogpost, I could hear the strains of Ahir Bhairav, though not exactly...and viola, I also discovered the new raga Kabiri Bhairav, that naturally enough I would have liked to learn, and I had encountered recently in my attempt to learn Nat Bhairav.

This is a strange coincidence today, because after a span of eight-nine years I am hoping to start learning with my guru once again, over skype! This is to remain in touch with newer compositions, add new ragas to the repertoire, as well as brush the ones from the past and further churn into the ocean of knowledge. Funny how all this came together today. Also my Golden Retriever- Ginger's birthday. On the whole a nice convergence of musical threads from various directions.

I am sharing here what the email shared with me about Dhondutai, as well as the music that is playing as I write this post. Thanks GKrishna, for this email.

"Namita Devidayal writes about her teacher, Dhondutai Kulkarni :
Dhondutai Kulkarni, a Hindustani classical singer of the Jaipur-Atrauli gharana, who died at 87 in Mumbai on Sunday morning, closed the chapter on a world in which music was not about performance or fame, but was as unconditional as breathing.
Dhondutai was born in Kolhapur in 1927 to a school master who defied the strict social norms that dictated the lives of Brahmin girls and pushed his daughter to learn music from Bhurji Khan, the son of Alladiya Khan, then the court singer in Kolhapur. She became well regarded as a child artiste and performed regularly on the radio. She later learned from Laxmibai Jadhav, also from the same gharana.
When the formidable Kesarbai Kerkar announced that she was finally willing to teach someone, she chose Dhondutai to be the lucky one who would inherit her rare ragas and inimitable style. Dhondutai’s father sold his house in Kolhapur and moved to Mumbai so that she could learn from Kesarbai and pursue a career in music.
Dhondutai was known for being a purist and for her repository of rare ragas. She was especially fluent in the Jaipur gharana’s compound ragas such as Lalita-Gauri, Basanti-Kedar, Bhoop-Nat and many others which, she said, had to be braided together so that you couldn’t tell where one raga began and the other ended. She was awarded the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1990.
Fiercely independent, Dhondutai insisted on staying alone in flat in Borivli, in Mumbai, with only her gleaming tanpuras as companions. She continued to teach until the very end, for she was committed to ensuring that the gharana’s legacy be passed on. When she taught, she offered much more than musical nuggets. Along with voice culture, her students were recipients of her nuggets of wisdom. “These days you all teach your children how to win, but you should also be teaching your children how to lose, else their training is incomplete”. She was not blindly enamoured of modernity, saying, “the flickering flame of a diya will always give you more joy than a thousand powerful electrical lights”. She lived for two things – music and spirituality and the two were inextricably linked.
There was an other-worldly quality about her. She believed in, and saw things, that most others did not see, introducing her students to a dimension of life that was invisible to most people, like blessings and moondust, like those unseen notes that can never be written, which only a guru can teach her student, person to person. That is why, she firmly believed that the guru-shishya tradition can never really be replaced or modernized, or sentenced to the alleged efficiency of technology. She was very suspicious of the instant coffee fame that dictates the performance world today and never compromised her musical integrity in pursuit of worldly success. Fame, she believed, was more to do with luck than with an artiste’s true worth.
I first went to her, some 35 years ago, and she gradually transformed a reluctant student into one completely mesmerised by the magic of Hindustani classical music. I remember how, many years later, someone asked me whether I knew the Jaipur-Atrauli gharana’s secret two-note taan. I immediately challenged Dhondutai. Why hadn’t she taught this to me? Was I not worthy of the gharana’s most priceless gems? She just laughed and said,“But it’s one of the first things you learned. Think about it.” She then left the music room to make tea, leaving me strumming the tanpura, baffled. I scrolled through the entire musical database in my head to try and retrieve the two-note taan. Finally, she came back and said, “Come on, sing it!” I couldn’t. Then she revealed it and I realized that I had been singing it all my life, but without the hubris of knowing that I was.

Dhondutai is survived by a brother and his family in Delhi and a sister’s family in Jabalpur. Her musical family was far larger and includes many devoted students, fans and people like the late Azizuddin Khan, grandson of Alladiya Khan, her close friend and teacher, whom she would call if she forgot the second verse of a composition. She never got married because she believed you could never have more than one master. Hers was music.
Audio Track: Rag Kabiri Bhairav: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UEv_NDkOpog
Dhondutai Kulkarni with her sister Shakuntala- Back row. Front row, Baba, Baba Bhurji Khan (her Guru)and his father Ustad Alladiya Khan


Ahir Bhairav- bahut dinan thaen main preetam paaye

A few days back I was trying out a new raga- Nat Bhairav. It seems this happened after a really long time. The whole of 2013, perhaps I did not work on any new raga because there was no scope to learn it, either by meeting a guru, or my own spirit did not feel so elated to try new scales.

I only tried it for a few days, by going over the paltae...not having any khayal to sing or there in my repertoire yet. So I opened this favourite Kabir book of mine, Sant Kabir, by Radha Soami Satsang, Beas, and I tried to go through many dohas and saakhis. Often they are not something that can be set to musical interpretations, because they are so exactly metered, having no loose ends. Could not find anything suitable for setting into a vilambit tempo yet. But I think I did find something that would make a bhajan in the raga.

However, another doha jumped into Ahir Bhairav and said to me, sing me thus!!. However much I tried to see whether it sounded good in Nat Bhairav, it did not accept that scale. Finally I surrendered to the notes of Ahir Bhairav only. Here is the doha or saakhi, whatever it is-

Bahot dinan thaen main preetam paaye
Bhaag bade ghari baithe aaye

Mangalchaar maahi mann raakho
Ram rasaain rasna chakho

हिंदी में -
बहुत दिनन थे मैँ प्रीतम पायेँ
भाग बड़े घरि बैठें आये

मंगलचार माहिं मन राखौ
राम रसायन रसना चाखो

The funny thing about Kabir is that somehow or another, I manage to find something new in his poetry, which expresses my own inner affairs. I love the whole thing so much that I just pick up and sometimes, take a line which I then add another of my own to, and create a full khayal- the manner I did in Mian ki Todi. That was another great experience.


Todi and Kabir

9th March 2014

In my first classical music concert in Delhi I sang Kabir as khayal. Since it was a morning concert and fortunately for me I had a composition in Mian ki Todi I sang my own vilambit khayal, a Kabir doha. It is another matter that the timing was not exact- though i am not among those who are sticklers for the time based classification of ragas. I did take the liberty to stretch the timing of Todi to a little beyond 10 am, the real time when it is supposed to be stopped!

So mere ram, kabai ghari aawae
Jaa dekhe mera jiya sukh paave
सो मेरे राम कबै घरि आवैं
जा देखे मेरा जीया सुख पावै

the antra is not taken from kabir, but is my own addition-
ghari ghari jeevan beetat jaaye
pal beetae na bin raam dhiyaaye
घरि घरी जीवन बीतत जाये
पल बीते न बिन राम ध्याये

We are tuning together

After this khyal in vilambit laya, I also sang another drut bandish, though it was not Kabir's words but my own. I did not feel the need to say that to anyone.

Hae mann, jab paave raam- I am so fond of this khayal, my earliest or perhaps the very first composition in which I created the music in continuation of   Kabir's spirit of calling to the nirgun.

I followed this up with many Kabir bhajans because my whole theme was Kabir. Funnily enough though the organizers had given the name of EMOTIONS OF WOMEN THROUGH MUSIC, this aspect was only left for their banner perhaps because they never made a mention of it anywhere! So i wondered what was the reason of giving such a fanciful title to the whole program anyways! They did not ask artists what bhava was the dominant aspect of their music- for may be it did not seem necessary to them at all.

Mine is and always remains bhakti.:)  Even when I sing ghazal!


Making Song, Making Sanity- Canadian Journal of Music Therapy

This is the citation of my soon to be published article in the CJMT.

Sharma, P.  Making song, making sanity- Recovery from bipolar disorder. Canadian Journal of Music Therapy, 20(1), 2014

This article has reference to about seven Kabir bhajans and two ragas, one of whose vilambit and drut khayals are Kabir saakhis. So I decided to go and record all this music in a professional way and put it out as additional resources that go with the article.

The two ragas are Madhmad Sarang and Multani. To read the article please click the academia page, and when it will be uploaded there, it can also be downloaded. The music will be added from other sources soon, viz. soundcloud/youtube

Satguru mohae bhaavae

From my four CD Kabir album, called Kahe Kabir, this is one bhajan that I am now in a position to share. It was recorded when I was i...