‘Men will be ustads & pandits. Bais will be bais.’


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

Gangubai Hanagal with Pandit Jasraj