Gangubai Hangal died few days ago. With her death a chapter in Hindustani Classical music came to an end. I feel compelled to write about her and her music. Classical music of this country has evolved over the last two thousand years. Though there are structural similarities, the music that evolved was different in south and the north of this country. Strangely some of the giants of Hindustani [north Indian classic] originated form a small region in the north of Karnataka which is in South India. Gangubai came from this part of the country. Classical music has derived from many sources such as tribal folk singing and devotional music. Spontaneity of the tribal and the devout singer has been channelized into a format which grew into an art form over many centuries. Many schools of music which are called Gharanas took up some aspect of the music and specialized without deviating from the original structure of the raga [melody] and tala [rhythm]. Kirana Gharana is one of them and Gangubai was the outstanding exponent of this Gharana’s music.
What is it about her music that makes her so special? It is very difficult to define the character of classical music. It has to be felt and in her music one could experience the power of Indian classical music. She did not have a great voice unlike her much loved daughter Krishna who died young due to cancer. In fact, her voice sounded neither male nor female and can even be termed harsh. It is not the voice that held you but the special quality of rendering which though well inside the structure of the Raag, transcended the limits and went beyond, which lovers of classical music came to appreciate. She also was one of those who refused to compromise. For her concerts of limited time was an anathema. To elaborate one raga one often needs more than an hour and she would not accept any invitation which were time bound. She therefore gave fewer performances than others and it became even less after the death of beloved daughter Krishna Hangal.
Honours came to her aplenty. There were no less than five hon. doctorates conferred on this simple woman from a small town. But Gangubai remained a simple woman at heart but allowed her music to rise to great heights.
She will be missed.