The lack of uniformity in the style of plaques and signages for street names in Mumbai puzzles me. Does the stature of the person after whom the street is named play any role in determining the style, or is it the might of family, well-wishers and local politicians that guides such decisions?

Should it be a marble plaque or a granite one? Or should it be painted on a metal board? Should these be erected in addition to the one displayed by the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai?

This lack of uniformity is evident in the manner that signages have been placed at locations we visited over the past three weeks, namely, Pandit Gunidas Marg, Pandit Paluskar Chowk and Gayan Samrat Ustad Azmat Hussain Khan Marg. This week, we find yet another style as we visit the Professor Deodhar Chowk.

Located in South Mumbai close to Opera House, an area that was the hub of a lot of musical and theatre activity in the early part of the twentieth century, the Professor Deodhar Chowk is named after BR Deodhar (1901-1990), a well-known Hindustani music educationist, vocalist and a repository of traditional vocal compositions.

A previous edition of this column has briefly discussed Deodhar’s work as an educationist and author.

A disciple of Vishnu Digambar Paluskar, Deodhar continued in his guru’s footsteps to establish a music school in the locality. Paluskar had founded the Gandharva Mahavidyalaya at a time when the learning and performance of Hindustani music was primarily restricted to those belonging to hereditary musician and courtesan families. There had been earlier attempts in Bombay, Calcutta and a few other cities, to encourage those from outside these families to take to learning and performance. But the magnitude of Paluskar’s efforts was far greater than previous efforts.

By 1924, the Gandharva Mahavidyalaya closed in Bombay, although it was reopened a few years later albeit on a much smaller scale. According to Deodhar’s account provided in the Golden Jubilee Souvenir of the Deodhar’s School of Indian Music, Paluskar encouraged him to start a new school, and a “School of Indian Music” (later popularly known as “Prof Deodhar’s School of Indian Music”) started functioning on July 1, 1925.

The school was formally inaugurated by Paluskar at a function held at the Prarthana Samaj Hall on November 13, 1925. The name for the school was suggested by Sarojini Naidu, poet and senior political leader of the Indian National Congress. Within a month the school had more than 30 girls learning vocal music.

Classes for girls were held every evening from 5 pm to 6 pm, and men were taught from 6 pm to 7 pm and in a special class from 7 pm to 8 pm. Each student was taught thrice a week, with one group attending classes on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and another on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Three months later, Shankarrao Athavale, another disciple of Paluskar, offered to teach harmonium at the School of Indian Music, a proposition that Deodhar accepted readily, as there was an interest in learning the instrument.

Inspired by the Gandharva Mahavidyalaya’s special classes held on Sundays for those who could not afford the fees or for those who were not able to attend on other days, Deodhar conducted a free class from 4 pm to 5 pm every Sunday and publicised it in the press. The class drew 20-25 students, some of whom went on to enroll themselves as students in the regular school. Gradually, the number of students and classes increased. Vocal, harmonium and dilruba classes had been started.

Deodhar decided that it was time to procure an independent space for his music school, rather than conduct classes in the premises of other other institutions. In May 1941, Deodhar decided to rent a space on the first floor of the Modi Chambers. The number of students increased from 67 to 150 over in the span of two months. More teachers were also appointed. In June 1942, Deodhar rented the ground floor of the same building.

To further propagate music, Deodhar also organised regular concerts under the aegis of the School of Indian Music. The activities of the school during the World War II were hurt as Bombay was regarded as a prime target for bomb attacks and annual concerts had therefore to be stopped temporarily. But Paluskar’s death anniversary was always observed in a big way. Concerts were held for five days, and vocalists from all gharanas were featured here. Eminent vocalists like Vilayat Hussein Khan, Azmat Hussein Khan, Khadim Hussein Khan, Latafat Hussein Khan, and others would gladly perform on these occasions.

One year, the programme continued for six days and featured leading musicians like vocalists Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Bibbe Khan of Hyderabad in Sindh, dhrupad singer Tansen Pande, Agra gharana vocalists, and pakhawaj solo by Makkhan Khan. Tabla maestro Ahmed Jan Thirakwa gave solo recitals four or five times at the School of Indian Music and celebrated virtuoso Alla Rakha played tabla solo on ten to 12 occasions. The audience response to these concerts was tremendous and speakers had to be placed outside the building at times to accommodate listeners who were standing outside.

Prof Deodhar’s School of Indian Music continues to be an important school for Hindustani music in Mumbai, although larger schools have been established in other parts of the city over the years. The junction named after him has a tanpura, albeit without tuning pegs, erected at the location. Unfortunately, his surname and the descriptor are both spelt incorrectly in Roman script – Devdhar instead of Deodhar and Sangeetthnya instead of Sangeetagnya.

We end with two tracks featuring BR Deodhar. On the first track, he demonstrates a composition in the raag Ahir Bhairav.


Deodhar demonstrates different interpretations of the raag Vibhaas on the next track.


One of India’s leading tabla players, Aneesh Pradhan is a widely recognised performer, teacher, composer and scholar of Hindustani music. Visit his website here.