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Kumar Gandharva – The Innovative Genius
“Being in this state of creation is bliss” said J. Krishnamurthy. That’s why a true artist has a passion for innovation. Kumar Gandharva was one such artist who won over music lovers with his creative talent for more than 60 years. His experimentation and innovation were not only enriching the art of creation but also created the Raga Sangeet also revived the Bhakti Sangeet and explored the field of folk music.
Born on April 8, 1924 in Sulebhavi, near Belgaum, Karnataka, Shivputra Siddramaiah Komkali was extraordinarily gifted at an early age. At the age of 7, he studied under Ustad Abdul Karim Khan, Ustad Fayyaz Khan, Pt. Vazebois of great perfection. He was affectionately nicknamed Kumar Gandharva (singer of the sky) who was supposed to shine like a full moon in the sky of Hindustani classical music.
Although Kumar’s debut album Ragas Durga (“Sahi Mori Run Jung“) and Bhairavi(“Shyam Sundar Man Mohan“) was released when he was only 9 years old, but he was very successful in his 11th year. In 1935, he performed for the first time at the All India Music Conference in Allahabad before a select audience of researchers and musicologists. Aftab-e-Mausiki Ustad Fayyaz Khan and famous musician Kundan Lal Sehgal. Impressed, Sehgal invited him to a music conference in Kolkata. A young boy sang khumri in Kolkata.Piya Bin Nahin Avat Chain” was in raga Jhinjhoti and almost mesmerized the audience with its amazing perfection and control. Then in 1936 he performed at the Jinnah Hall in Mumbai and the concert was again a success. The next day, The Times of India and other newspapers hailed him as a “future genius”.
PROTECTION OF GENIUS:
Kumar Gandharva found his guru and mentor in Gwalior Gharana idol and disciple of Pandit Vishnu Digambar Paluskar, Professor BR Deodhar. Under his tutelage, Kumar Khayal not only acquired an intimate knowledge of gayaki and other genres of Hindustani music, but also became an independent thinker about music. At Professor Deodhar’s School of Music, he studied with Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Ustad Sinde Khan, Pt. Rajabhaiya Punchhwale, listening to them.
On April 24, 1947, he married a very beautiful woman, Bhanumathi Kans. An alumnus of St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai, Bhanumathi, a classical vocalist himself, remains Kumar’s innovator. But he did not know that soon he will bear all the responsibilities of the family on his young shoulders. Five months after their marriage, her husband was diagnosed with pulmonary tuberculosis. The family moved to Dewas in Madhya Pradesh for Kumar Ji’s treatment. Bhanumathi started working as a school principal.
Kumar Gandharva’s career seems to be over. He had to undergo very detailed lung surgery. But he returned to the music world in 1952 with a very unique style of gayaki and a deep understanding of music developed from the study of Malwa folk songs during his bedridden illness. . He joined classical music back to the roots of folk music and enriched both.
Kumar Gandharva is considered a rebel of Hindustani classical music. But his rebellious spirit pushed him to experiment and explore the field of music. Instead of following a path, he preferred to open new paths in the music industry. He always appeared on stage with a new group of singers, but his performances with his old group were refreshing and captivating. He also composed many new ragas like Malvati, Ahimohini, Gauri Basant, Lankeshri, Lagan Gandhar, Sanjari, Madhwa, Madhsurja, Saheli Todi, Chaiti Bhoop, Sohni Bhatiyar, Durga Kedar and Bhavmat Bhairav. In 1969, he along with Gandhi Malhar paid tribute to Mahatma Gandhi during his birth centenary celebrations.
In 1961, his beloved wife Bhanu passed away. It was a big shock for him. Later he married Vasundhara Srihande. She was a classical soloist herself and generously contributed to all her husband’s innovations. In 1965, the first volume of Anoop Raag Vilas was published, containing 136 compositions including 107 classical ragas, 17 of his own and 12 composite ragas. Kumar dedicates it to Bhanumathi.
In 1966, he gave an entire concert on the theme of Rainy Season-Geet Varsha. This was an unprecedented event in the field of classical art at that time. He presented this program with more than 18 compositions throw away, thumris, Tapas and the bhajans. Followed by Triveni (1967), Mala Umailele Bal Gandharva (1968), Geet Hemant (1968), Tumri Tappa Tarana (1969), Malwa ki Lok Dunen (1970), Geet Basant (1971), Tambe Geet Rajani (1973), Tulsi Ek Darshan (1973), Rituraj Mehfil (1976), Gaudmalhar Darshan (1976), Tukaram Ek Darshan (1976), Surdas Ek Darshan, Hori Darshan.
Each of them presented special concerts dedicated to the exhibition of a particular raga such as Malkauns, Bageshri or Hamir. Generally, he presented different versions of one raga with five or six bandis – traditional and his own. For him, a raga is as vibrant as a living entity and takes on different incarnations at different times.
Perhaps Kumar Ji was at his best when he sang the dedication song Nirguni Bhajans. He introduced the bhajans Unmatched skill in bringing out the meaning of great saints like Kabir, Meera, Surdas, Tulsidas, Gorakhnath and Shivguru and creating an environment of supreme devotion. Was it Nirguni Bhajans?Sunta hai Guru Giani“and”Ud jayega hans akela“Kabir or”Bhola man jane amar meri kaya“Gorakhnath will always remain a fan favourite.
Kumar has received many awards including the Gandhrva Sangeet Natak Akdademi Award, Padma Bhushan and Padma Vibhushan. He was probably the only musician who was very interested in other fields of art such as writers, poets, sculptors, photographers, painters and actors. This great musician died on January 12, 1992 leaving behind his wife, one son and one daughter. His son Mukul Shivputra and his daughter Kalapini Komkali are renowned classical singers and his grandson Bhuvnesh Komkali, who started performing in concerts, is a promising classical vocalist who can lead the light of this timeless art and innovative musical tradition.
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