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Updated: February 11, 2011 16:32 IST

Just so pure and soft

Gautam Chatterjee
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CONSERVING A CULTURE: Hindustani vocalist Prabha Atre. Photo: V. Sreenivasa Murthy
The Hindu CONSERVING A CULTURE: Hindustani vocalist Prabha Atre. Photo: V. Sreenivasa Murthy

From creating a new raga to preserving old compositions, Prabha Atre, the doyenne of the Kirana gharana, continues to enrich classical music.

Prabha Atre is entering the ripe old eighties but the Kirana stalwart is immersed in oceans of creativity. She is completing her new book and revising her previous ones. Recently, she presented her newly created raga, Madhur Kauns, at a concert in Dharwad, where she was felicitated. “It is actually Malkauns in which I have added one more Gandhar. Now it has both the Gandhars, Shuddha and Komal,” she says.

In another way it is a somewhat melancholic time for her. She says, “The demise of Pandit Bhimsen Joshi is not just a loss for the Kirana gharana but for the whole music world. From connoisseur to layman, everyone felt that Panditji was singing just for them. He explored a completely new path. Very few classical musicians have an over-packed audience, and for Panditji's concert, people stayed on till the last minute.”

Five decades ago, the chhota khayal composition in raga Maru Bihag, “Jagu main saari raina”, sung by Prabha, was just about becoming popular. Now, her admirers are celebrating five decades of a superb career during which this artiste has become synonymous with Maru Bihag. “I never thought I would be known for this particular raga. I still cannot forget the evening when the long-playing record of my Maru Bihag recording was first released. By and by it became popular and I became a familiar name to classical music lovers. They still request me to sing that raga,” she recollects.

The veteran is also a known writer now. She has five books to her credit, including “Enlightening the Listeners”, “Swarangini” and “Swaranjini”. The last two, voluminous collections of her own bandishes, are a treasure for any serious student of Indian classical music. At a time when nobody bothers to preserve old compositions for the future, this doyenne is a refreshing exception. Like the late Kumar Prasad Mukhopadhyay of the Agra gharana, she too is trying to collect and archive rare bandishes for the young generation. “It is my duty,” she says with humility.

The celebrated vocalist is indebted to her gurus Hirabai Barodekar and Sureshbabu Mane — her maternal uncle. She says it was her uncle who strengthened her musical foundations. “The essential task of a sadhaka is to make the raga impeccable with pure notes. My guruji gave emphasis to the purity of notes,” she says.

The late Sureshbabu Mane and his famous sister Hirabai Barodekar — both stalwarts of the Kirana gharana — trained her in the traditional guru-shishya parampara. She drew much inspiration from the styles of renowned maestros like Amir Khan and Bade Ghulam Ali Khan. This is where the invigorating abstract effect must have taken root in her riyaaz. Eventually it manifested when the record in which she sang Maru Bihag was first released nationwide in the 1970s. “I too was amazed,” she remembers.

Prabha sets the komal swaras within the the paradigm offered by her gharana, where the abstract form persists. She says, “Music is considered to be the purest form of art. Its abstract nature detaches it from all the ‘known' in this world. This abstract quality of music is best represented in the concept of raga in Indian music. Therefore, it is difficult to approach a raga in its bare form, both for an artiste and a lay listener.”

Raga Shuddha Kalyan is more suited to be sung in a slow tempo in which the technique of meend can be used to great advantage. And for this Prabha has a gifted voice. Is it impulsive? She says, “To sing is a natural human impulse. When music springs spontaneously from the mind and passes through a deliberate aesthetic shaping process, music evolves as an art form. Then there is no need to be impulsive. Raga-time theory is yet another attempt to provide some ‘concreteness' to the ‘abstraction' in raga. As a professional classical singer, I am directly and continuously involved with the creative aspect of music. I have often mused over certain things that have been termed ‘modern' in North Indian classical vocal music, especially in Khayal.”

Recently an award has been introduced in her name, the Dr. Prabha Atre Shastreeya Sangeet Puraskar. Raghunandan Panshikar received this award in January this year in Pune. “I am still trying my best to serve classical music selflessly,” she concludes.

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