Kishori Amonkar (1931-2017): Sought after as guru, Tai remained a devoted student of music

One of the longest-standing voices in Hindustani classical, Kishori Amonkar passed away in her sleep at 84 at her Mumbai home late on Monday night. From bhajans to Marathi music to even a short stint in Bollywood, Amonkar was one of the most distinctive voices in Indian music.

Trained by her mother Mogubai Kurdikar of the Jaipur Gharana, Amonkar became the strongest and most well-known proponent of the Jaipur Gharana, building on tradition even as she learned from a varied group of tutors. Amonkar said in an interview to NDTV in 2000, “My mother wanted me to learn all the aspects of music. Different colours of music. She wanted me to learn a little bit of Marathi songs, a little bit of bhajans. For that, she had appointed some masters.”

Kishori Amonkar passed away on 3 April 2017 at her home in Mumbai. Image courtesy YouTube

Kishori Amonkar passed away on 3 April 2017 at her home in Mumbai. Image courtesy YouTube

Where she first received training from Anjanibai Malpekar from the Bhendi Bazar Gharana, she crossed over for lessons from masters of the Agra Gharana and Gwalior Gharana as well. That fluid approach was what Amonkar personified throughout her career, innovating upon the timeless barriers of the Jaipur Gharana. Thumris, ghazals, or just raga-based performances, Amonkar’s concerts were all soul.

And when she was proving herself on stage, she was wooed by the ever-present Bollywood music industry, singing for Waheeda Rahman on Geet Gaya Patharon Ne in 1964 as well as much later in 1990, singing four songs – both traditional and modern renditions –  for Drishti. In a 2011 interview with IANS, she said that she would never sing in a Bollywood movie again. “I don’t think I’ll sing in films again because, for me, the language of notes speaks much more. It can take you to ultimate peace, it can give you a lot of knowledge of life. Adding that to words and rhythms lessens the power of a note.”

With that much insight, it’s no surprise that Amonkar considered herself as much of a permanent student even as she became a sought-after guru, training the likes of Manik Bhide, the mother of Jaipur-Atrauli Gharana proponent Ashwini Bhide-Deshpande. Music writer Vibha Purandare noted in a 1988 profile on Amonkar, “Like a sincere hard-working student, she still gets up early in the morning to study and interpret the texts and spends or invests some time with the textual notes. Then after an interval of some kitchen work, she turns to and becomes one with her musical notes. The journey from the world of words to the universe of 'sa-re-ga-ma' is as smooth as the sliding of the finger from one string to the other of her tanpura.”

Admittedly a contradicting personality at times, when she was the most sought-after singers right until yesterday for concerts, Amonkar did not sing for entertainment. “People have to understand that music isn't entertainment. It is not to be sung to attract the audience, which is why I never play to the gallery,” she told The Indian Express in 2016.

It was perhaps this intrepid attitude towards performing music that gained her fans in the likes of tabla maestro Zakir Hussain, who held her renditions of Bhoop raga in high regard. “These are landmark performances that take place over hundreds of years and you will talk about it for the rest of your life and for centuries to come,” Hussain said in the Government-commissioned documentary on Amonkar, Bhinna Shadja, in 2011, co-directed by Amol Palekar.

Even as the praises ran and continue to exalt Kishori Amonkar as a virtuoso, she was quick to tell one TV journalist what she thinks when people term her a genius. “I only know that I’m a devotee of music. I treat my music as a divine path.” She said in a 2011 TV interview. She told Purandare back in 1988, “When I sing, I want everything to be beautiful — my notes, my rhythm and myself too. My desire is so intense that on the stage you have beauty personified, not Kishori looking beautiful."


Published Date: Apr 04, 2017 11:26 am | Updated Date: Apr 05, 2017 11:47 am