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

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