The music festival at Savai Gandharva’s birthplace is not as well-known as the one in Pune, but it is special for being driven by the community.
Kundgol, a sleepy village in Dharwad, was the birthplace of Savai Gandharva or Rambhau Kundgolkar, as he was known after his birth in 1886. One of the foremost vocalists and gurus of his time, he died in September 1952. Since then his anniversary has been marked by an annual all-night music festival.
Dharwad’s finest musicians and their students as well as music lovers — who include farmers, teachers, local shopkeepers, retired government officials from the towns and villages of Gadag, Hubli, Dharwad and Sirsi — gather in Kundgol’s s Nadiger Wada and at open-air venues nearby for all-night music sessions.
These old-style celebrations have been driven by the community brought together by its shared heritage and memories of listening to some of the greatest names in Hindustani classical music over the last century.
Ustad Abdul Karim Khan, the Kirana Gharana maestro, trained Savai Gandharva. They met at the Nadiger Wada, the ancestral home of the Nadigers or the local landlords. Savai Gandharva went on to become the guru of such excellent musicians as Pt. Bhimsen Joshi, Gangubai Hangal, Pt. Firoz Dastur and Pt. Basavraj Rajguru, who trained with him at his modest home in the lane along the Nadiger Wada in Kundgol.
Next week the annual festival celebrates the 60th year of the passing of Savai Gandharva with a three-day event at the new Sangeet Samrat Savai Gandharava Smarak Bhavan in Kundgol. The last day also marks the centenary of much-loved vocalist Gangubai Hangal. Some of Dharwad’s best musicians including Pt. Balchandra Nakod, Kaivalya Kumar, Pt. Ganapati Bhat and Pt. M. Venkatesh Kumar will perform as will musicians from Pune, Nagpur, Goa, Delhi and Kolkata.
Vocalists Padma Deshpande from Pune and Kalyani Deshmukh from Nagpur, santoor player Ulhas Bapat from Mumbai, vocalist Dinkar Panshikar from Goa and Uma Garg from Delhi and Pt. Bhimsen Joshi’s tabla accompanist Nana Mule will present a serious and solid musical experience laced with memories of Savai Gandharva and his influence on generations of Dharwad musicians.
The Dharwad region is known for its relatively recent, but extremely rich and plural, traditions of listening, learning, performing and appreciating Hindustani classical music. Created outside the big city patronage structures, this is an example of how the arts, and music in particular, gain when a combination of grassroots participation, philanthropic gestures and great musicians come together as a force in the life of a community.
As a young student in Dharwad in the early 1970s, vocalist Pt. Ganpati Bhat was asked by his guru Pt. Basavraj Rajguru to attend the concert at Kundgol at the Wada. Later when he sang there for the first time in 1980-81, he was overwhelmed. “It was like a crowded baithak, full of very knowledgeable listeners. There is a very special relationship between the singer and the listener here where commercial matters don’t come into the picture. Each year the audience waits for and welcomes the musicians. Even today I am struck by the applause when they announce my name there”. He has sung there almost continuously for the last 30 years. The festival is also a fine platform for younger musicians from the region.
Savai Gandharva Festival
When: October 9, 10 & 11
Where: Sangeet Samrat Savai Gandharava Smarak Bhavan, Kundgol, Dharwad, Karnataka