Pre-eminence of Dharwad in Hindustani Classical Music

by Binoy Shanker Prasad, PhD

Hubli-Dharwad, a twin-city in Karnataka, occupies a unique spot in the narrative of the Hindustani Classical Music (HCM). Music lovers have called the place a Line of Actual Control between Hindustani and Carnatic music. It’s regarded as the southern outpost of the Hindustani classical music tradition and from there southward the Carnatic music tradition has its sway. Hubli-Dharwad is home to the musical tradition which has still not compromised on its exclusive and defiant purity. The market forces haven’t diluted its dedication to perfection. The city has at least three centers of music, one of them set up by two Canadian HCM enthusiasts.

In addition to the cultural disposition of the people, geography and history are also responsible for Dharwad to become a prominent place in the HCM. Situated on the border of Karnataka and Maharashtra, Dharwad is semi-circled by Bangalore in the south, Goa in the west and Pune in the north.

From the 12th century Chalukya’s rule, Dharwad was rummaged by a series of conquerors including Shivaji, Mu Azam (Auranzeb’s son), Peshwa Balaji Rao, Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan. Once a part of the Vijaynagar Empire, Dharwad was under the rulers from both Maharashtra and Karnataka. After the fall of the Mughal Empire, the Marathas had their sway over Dharwad until defeated by the British in 1818. Dharwad’s indigenous Carnatic culture got mixed with the Maratha and the Muslim cultures.

Musical geniuses belonging to the two schools also criss-crossed Dharwad and the region. The Vijayanagar Empire, as is well known, had great contribution to the evolution of Carnatic music. The famous Carnatic music composer Purandara Dasa was born in Shivamoga district and his last years were spent at Hampi, close to the region. The legend has it that Swami Haridas, the teacher of Tansen, was a disciple of Purandara Dasa whose compositions are sung by Hindustani classical vocalists as well.

With the decline of the Mughal Empire in the north, the court’s culture of singing was adapted by the imitating northern princely states. When the British influence gained ascendancy in those states, the drift of the HCM to the south began. Abdul Karim Khan, a famous Kirana Gharana court singer in Baroda state, was a frequent visitor to the court of the Mysore kings. On his way, he regularly stayed with his brother in Dharwad and taught HCM to students. His most famous disciple, Sawai Gandharva later became the guru to Gangubai Hangal, Bhimsen Joshi and Basavaraj Rajaguru. With the addition of Mallikarjun Mansoor and Kumar Gandharv, Dharwad’s ascent in Hindustani classical music consolidated.

Dharwad is often mistaken as a Gharana. We will have to be clear about this. Gharana usually refers to a group of musicians who share the same “lineal linkages” and, therefore, the same (particular) musical style. The Guru-Shishya Parampara (the master-disciple relationship) is central to this larger socio-musical structure. Generally, the knowledge of music is passed on to the off springs in the musicians’ family or to dedicated disciples. They become the torch-bearers of the gharana. Gharana are mostly named after the places of origin of the musical style. The Agra, Gwalior, Atrauli, Patiala, and Kirana are the leading gharana in vocal Hindustani music whereas Imdadkhan and Maihar are the instrumental gharana. Gharana usually enjoyed a king’s patronage.

In Hubli-Dharwad other styles like the Jaipur gharana and the Gwalior gharana can also be found. However, the place is mostly identified with the Kirana gharana, a style with origins in Uttar Pradesh. This is also because from Abdul Karim Khan(1872-1937) to Bhimsen Joshi (1922-2011), Kirana gharana  incorporated many features of the Carnatic tradition.

Most Hindustani musicians from Karnataka are exponents of Kirana gharana. Kirana gharana was reputed to have revolutionized khyal singing in the late 19th century by introducing the slow-tempo method to delineate the raga note by note (vilambit). Performers from Kirana gharana are believed to have marked their print on certain ragas. Ragas like Todi, Lalit, Multani, Patdeep, Puriya, Marwa, Shuddha Kalyan, Darbari Kanhara, Komal-Rishabh Asavari, etc. have acquired new dimensions under the Kirana school of singing. While Bande Ali Khan, Pt Sawai Gandharva, Pt Sureshbabu Mane, Hirabai Badodekar, Ustad Amir Khan, Gangubai Hangal, Prabha Atre, Manik Varma, Raskilal Andharia and Shripati Padigar were the pioneers of the Kirana gharana, the generation after them included Niaz Ahmad Khan-Faiyaz Ahmad Khan duo, Shakoor Khan (sarangee player), Mani Prasad, Pt Channulal Mishra, Mashkoor Ali Khan, Arshad Ali Khan, Sanhita Nandi and others.

Jayateerth Mevundi, Kaivalyakumar Gurav, M Venkatesh Kumar, Vinayak Torvi, Sulabha Neeralagi and Gayatri Deshpande – all from Dharwad district – constitute a new constellation to which Kumar Mardur also belongs.