Famous world over, anchored in Hubli

Bageshree S. and Girish Pattanashetti

Bangalore: Gangubai Hangal’s musical genius gained fame beyond the borders of Karnataka and the Indian shores. But she remained down-to-earth in every sense. She stayed put in the town where she grew up, Hubli, and everything about her personality was humble and retained the typical North Karnataka flavour, say writers who hail from the same region.

Jnanpith Award-winning playwright Girish Karnad says: “She is by far the most humorous musician I have ever met. She simply loved cracking jokes,” says Karnad. He can vividly remember her narration of an episode from a play in which her guru, Sawai Gandharva, played the role of Draupadi.

It was the “Vastraapaharana” scene, and Draupadi was to sing in praise of Krishna. But to everyone’s consternation, Sawai Gandharva got carried away by his own music. “She told me how her guru sat down and rendered the raga for 40 minutes, while “Dushasana” waited patiently holding the garment that had to be unravelled!” laughs Karnad. The drama continued only after Sawai Gandharva was done. Yes, there was a great deal of pain in her life and the initial years were a great struggle given the stigmatised social background from which she hailed. “But she spoke of everything in life with great candour, never wishing to hide anything, even when people around her wanted her not to reveal all,” says Karnad. Writer and former chairperson of the Kannada Development Authority Chandrashekhar Patil also fondly remembers Gangubai’s unaffected nature. “She always spoke in chaste Dharwad Kannada without any pretence and was willing to jump into the fray when issues of language and culture were involved,” he says, recalling her association with the Gogak agitation. Says veteran journalist Patil Puttappa: “Gangubai was the empress of the music world, but accepted life with great humility. She had a great love for Hubli and the people here.” Poet Channaveera Kanavi adds: “Her manly voice made her renditions distinct. Contrary to the tenor of her voice, she was humility personified.”

Scholar M.M. Kalburgi describes Gangubai as the “pole star in the field of Indian classical music, who brought fame to Dharwad at the national and international levels.” Critic Giraddi Govindraj remembers her as a person who “loved the place where she was brought up and brought fame to it through her music.” Sadanand Kanavalli, a music scholar, says that Gangubai was, apart from Bhimsen Joshi, the only surviving link of Kirana Gharana and was one of those few “mardana’ vocalists.

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