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Ragas from the vault
An evening was dedicated to turning back the pages of time to rediscover Kishori Amonkar’s magic in classical music. By Siddharth Choudhary
It is said that music is the food for soul. Music is derived from passion and it is only few among the crowd who manage to pull the right strings. It is hardly in one’s lifetime that one gets to witness such an epiphany. A parallel world where imagination takes flight, a world created by the classical music with its raags and rasas, is seen as a road to divinity.
Kishori Amonkar, an Indian classical vocalist, was trained by her mother, Mogubai Kurdikar of the Jaipur gharana, who was an equally talented singer. Known for experimenting with the various tunes and raags, Amonkar took her Jaipur traditional music to another level and included features of other gharanas. The technique at her constant disposal for bringing out the best in her was improvisation. She believed in improvising and not following the rules laid out for a trained singer. She believed that rules curbed the creativity of the artist, leaving no room for the natural flow of music through one’s being. She used to invoke various emotions in her singing and believed that it gave her spirituality a different meaning which proved to be an asset in making her singing legendary.
It was in honour of this exceptionally talented lady that a memorial was held where notable personalities with varied musical backgrounds came together to share their thoughts and experiences. The event, titled Tribute to Kishori Amonkar, celebrated the extraordinary life of a musician who was widely regarded as one of the last great vocalists of Hindustani classical music. An inspiration to many, her death was regarded as the end of an era.
This sense of loss brought together her admirers in the same field to mourn and celebrate her greatness. “Kishori ji’s music has reason, debate and a story. To that end, she brought all her faculties to focus on the raga she sang at a particular moment. We should be indebted to her for the way she established the dignity of the svara or the note,” said noted journalist, author and television personality Mrinal Pande. Kishori Amonkar always prioritised the emotional aspect of the music as opposed to the tradition and she was both praised and criticised for it. But she did not depart from her individual style of singing. Her music involved the intense pain of separation and loneliness, always centering on a sense of loss. According to award-winning architect Vikram Lall, Amonkar’s music goes well beyond her performance, pedagogy and personality. “It reveals a sharp and intelligent mind. Her music has not only inherited the best of our traditions but has also found ways to expand upon it with her brilliant imagination. As rendered by Kishori ji, notes had personalities and emotional textures,” Lall said.
The memorial saw music experts and critics expound on various facets of her vision, style and personality. “Kishori ji used to enter the stage in a meditative trance. Her process was to establish the raga to be sung that day in her soul, offer her prayers to it and embellish it with her deep understanding,” said music critic Manjari Sinha. She never decided her ragas. Instead she chose them right before her performances which provided the spontaneity to her music. Sucheta Banerji, of the Society for the Promotion of Indian Classical Music and Culture, recalled that young people would turn out in droves for her concerts. “Kishori ji saw music as a path to mukti or salvation. Young people, she would say, needed to be filled with satisfaction, which was getting harder to come by these days where everything is practical and readymade,” Banerji said.
The event was a huge success with throngs of people paying tribute to Amonkar. Her demeanor and persona were exceptionally disciplined. She had an affinity for diversity. In addition to her career as a classical vocalist, Amonkar was known for her performances of lighter classical pieces, with a wide repertoire of thumri ghazals, and bhajans, as well as some performances for film soundtracks. For author Sunita Budhiraja, “Amonkar’s music was a space where all opinions ceased to exist. What remained was just a deep realisation.” According to her, Kishori Amonkar had a way of calming the mind with no thoughts but the thought of the ragas that she sung on the stage. Having dedicated her life to music, she left behind a legacy of extremely pure and intense music unmatched by any.
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