A shudra born in a family of boatmen where women were considered as angavastra, mere drapes around men. Nicknamed gaanewali and ostracised by Brahmins, although both her father and husband were of that community. Gangubai Hanagal‘s was not just a rags-to-riches story, but a transition from degradation to respectability.
In her own words:
# “The difficulties of my life were like orchestra to my music.”
# “There are many artistes who claim that once they hold the tanpura all happiness and sorrow is forgotten. This has not been my experience. When I sit for riyaaz emotions well up. I can vividly remember the hardships I’ve been through … the worry of what the next day will bring in its wake.”
# “I used to sit down to practise and felt besieged by the problems. My voice would choke and I could sing no further. Everybody has problems. And so did I. But I had the strength to sail through them.”
# “I’ve learnt that life has both good and bad to offer. Our status as a family of hereditary courtesans did not stop the urchins who throw cow dung at me when I passed them from helping when my mother was unwell but they would begin banging tin-pots to drown my music making every time I sat for riyaaz.”
# “For my first recording when HMV invited me to Bombay I went because they were taking care of the journey and sight-seeing. Later they gave me Rs 400 for my third recording but my family was annoyed as my name read Gandhari Hubali on the record.”
# “If a male musician is a Muslim, he becomes an Ustad. If he is a Hindu, he becomes a Pandit. But women like Kesarbai and Mogubai just remain Bais.”
# “I remember stealing fruit from our neighbour’s mango trees. More than the act of stealing, I remember the neighbours being horrified that a singer’s daughter should step into their compound. I would be thrown out. Incidentally, the same people invite me over to their house today and call me ‘Gangubai’ with great respect.”
# “Peace of mind is very essential in anything that you do—particularly in music. But in my case, it was just the opposite. What new things could I learn when I was constantly disturbed and unhappy? This whole concept of getting lost in music and forgetting the world around you, is a myth.”
Photograph: courtesy rediff.com
Also read: Gangubai Hangal with Balamurali Krishna
Strange that an innocent lament by Pandita Gangubai should be turned into an anti-Brahmin tirade, all in the name of expressing sorrow at her passing. Were the urchins who threw dung and drowned her music, Brahmins? Or Brahmin tutored?
Worse the Pandita is made hand-maiden to such persistent and resolute anti-Brahmin agenda.
But then again, to speak against such perversion becomes perversion itself in this “Alice’s wonderland”.
I have personally never had a liking towards Hindustani Classical music, but the name just rings bells – she was famous!
Her humility touched me when her “classmate” and younger brother (as she fondly called him) Bheemsen Joshi was awarded the Bharath Ratna – She never lamented that she was not considered though she was senior to him in Gurukul or age (at this at the age of 97 years!). Compare that with our Film Stars or Stars of Sports – who lament that they have not been recognised for one reason or the other.
I think the younger generation needs to learn the art of humility from this great lady – who seemed to never give up inspite of all the odds she faced in her life.
May her soul rest in peace!
May be this post is ill-timed but no one can deny the horrible practice of keeping concubines and especially talented concubines that existed.
Read this http://srramakrishna.googlepages.com/keremanystory
This was practised even by most orthodox of brahmaNas, not just brahmaNas, all of upper castes(perhaps even the lower castes down the hierarchy).
Isn’t “Bai”hood getting extinct? Mogubai’s daughter is just Kishori Amonkar, Shobha Gurtu, Shubha Mudgal …
As far I remember, female carnatic musicians have been addressed as Vidushis, don’t know what was the practice before.
NAWN, I don’t think the article is suggesting Pandita Gangubai was “kept”.
Are you suggesting the ire against singers arose out of some such suspicion about their charachter? That could be the case.
The tradition of keeping mistresses was probably a fall out from polygamy losing societal acceptance. A via media seems to have come about so to speak.
(I wonder why our “consensual sex” activists do not make a case for rights of mistresses)
But yes, this is not the place to discuss it. My irritation still lies with blind Brahmin bashing.
I don’t give a tinker’s curse if she was a Brahmin or not; to me she was a great singer though I prefer Bhimsen Joshi. I am more used to him. I bow to her.
@ watching ….none of the articles will be free from the slant of a caste …so better get used to it
You need a long lesson in Sociology and Anthropology.
Vinay, Why should anybody get used to unjustified slights?
NAWN,take your time. I’m listening. I mean this sincerely.
funny how things turn out. Both M S Subbulakshmi and Gangubai Hangal share similar experiences. Both coming from ‘castes’ that had a bad reputation. Both their mothers were a huge influence. Both married Brahmins. And were regarded with utmost respect among the classical music fraternity/lovers which incidentally is made up lots of Brahmins.
thankfully, most Tamils don’t know or don’t care about M S Subbulakshmi’s caste. Its shameful Churumuri has chosen to rake this up. But then what else do you expect here?
Why anyone should get used to slant of anything, I dont understand? Why should such slant exist in the first place. Anyways, all this article shows is how the Hindu society has changed for the better. Today, no one cares if a singer or a cricketer is a brahmin or a shudra. If you have talent, you have avenues to bring it to the fore.
Yella OK, ignorance is not always bliss.
See: KAMBLI: Experiments with Caste, Willow and Gloves
Why I don’t want to puke Gandhi and Marx any more?
Hi-caste lo-caste we no want all..!.
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@Watching, i first read your reply and then went on to read the excerpts. Aren’t you reading between the lines? Where is the mention of Brahmin Bashing except for that one line in the beginning. Her lines tell you the sad state of affairs being born a female performer, that too from the lower stratum of the society.