Many music lovers believe that Hindustani musicians did not perform anything other than art or classical music. In fact, they aver musicians always restricted themselves to one or the other form from Hindustani music. Indeed, there were those who only performed a particular form. But equally, there were many who extended their repertoire by learning from various gurus and incorporating different forms in their presentations.
In fact, the early 20th century saw musicians not only working as actor-singers and composers for theatrical productions, but also performing and composing for feature films. Indeed, many of these associations may have been prompted by a search for newer means of livelihood other than the conventional ones of performing and teaching to meet challenges presented by a changing environment.
On the other hand, they could well have been the result of a creative impulse felt by musicians to engage with other avenues of music-making.
One of the many musicians who stepped out of the world of Hindustani music during this period was well-known vocalist Saraswati Rane, the daughter of Abdul Karim Khan, regarded as the founder of the Kirana gharana. In the 20th episode of our series on public spaces named after Hindustani musicians, we listen to Rane’s music as we take a walk down the Gaansaraswati Saraswatibai Rane Chowk in Pune.
Saraswati Rane learnt from her brother Sureshbabu Mane and her sister Hirabai Barodekar. She also trained under Natthan Khan of the Jaipur-Atrauli gharana and BR Deodhar of the Gwalior gharana. She acted and sang in Marathi sangeet natak or music dramas produced by her mother’s theatre company Nutan Sangeet Natak Mandali.
According to record collector and researcher Suresh Chandvankar, she recorded several discs with the Odeon label, which were later reissued on the Columbia label. She also recorded for the Young India label and His Master’s Voice. She also acted in a Marathi film, did playback singing for Marathi and Hindi films and sang Marathi non-film popular songs.
Today, we begin with a track featuring Saraswati Rane’s rendition of Bilaskhani Todi, a raag prescribed for the morning. She sings two compositions, the first set to vilambit or slow Ektaal, a rhythmic cycle of 12 matras, and the second set to a drut or fast 16-matra Teentaal. Tabla accompaniment is provided by Shyamal Bose and Mahesh Prasad Mishra is on the harmonium.
Long before jugalbandi or duet presentations were a common feature, Hirabai Barodekar and Saraswati Rane sang together in concerts. We end with a recording featuring their jugalbandi. They sing two compositions in the raag Chandrakauns, the first set to Ektaal and the second to Teentaal.
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.