Veena Sahasrabuddhe (1948-2016) was one of the most authentic Gwalior gayaki exponents

The acclaimed vocalist had been ailing from a rare degenerative neurological condition.

With Veena Sahasrabuddhe’s demise, Hindustani classical music has lost one of the finest stalwarts of the Gwalior Gharana. She was ailing from a rare neurological condition.

Veena Sahasrabuddhe was born in Kanpur on September 14, 1948 as the last of three siblings. She had an older brother Kashinath Bodas and an older sister who died prematurely. Her parents hailed from Sangli in Maharashtra.

Steeped in tradition

Her father Shankar Shripad Bodas was a contemporary of Omkarnath Thakur and Vinayakrao Patwardhan, and one of the earliest students of Vishnu Digambar Paluskar who founded the famous Gandharva Mahavidyalaya. Bodas was specially deputed by Paluskar to move to Kanpur from Mumbai and spread music. Bodas and Shanta migrated to Kanpur in 1926, founded a Sangit Samaj and began teaching students, inviting other performers and propagating music. The Paluskar tradition was essentially in the Gwalior Gharana style and temperament of singing. Kanpur was an industrial town without any notable cultural life, particularly classical music. Until then, Uttar Pradesh had other places such as Banaras and Allahabad where music thrived.

Veena’s mother Shanta was also a singer and taught music in local schools in Kanpur. Veena grew up in this musical atmosphere at home. In addition to training from her father, she also trained with her brother Kashinath.

Image courtesy: Veejay Sai
Image courtesy: Veejay Sai

Veena’s father and brother sent her to train further with Balwant Rai Bhatt, a student of Omkarnath Thakur and later Vasant Thakar , the son and student of Anand Rao Thakar. Both Omkarnath and Anand Rao were students of Paluskar and in that sense Veena was training within the framework of the Paluskar school and style of vocalism. She was, one can say, pickled into that system and became an able inheritor of the Gwalior legacy. Veena began performing at a very early age in Kanpur.

Veena graduated in vocal music, Sanskrit and English literature in 1968 from the Kanpur University. The same year she was married to Hari Sahasrabuddhe. While Hari was not a performing musician, he was a great rasika. As a graduate of the Indian Institute of Technology, one of Hari’s first engineering projects was to create an amplifier. As Veena’s life partner, Hari had his own role to play, as a rasika with a critical ear.

Meanwhile, Veena was making waves as a performer. She also began teaching students who came to her. She taught at IIT in Kanpur and several other places. She also kept her regular education going. She got a Sangeet Alankar, equivalent to a Master’s degree in vocal music, from the Akhil Bharatiya Gandharva Maha Vidyalaya Mandal in 1969 and a master’s degree in Sanskrit from Kanpur University a decade later in 1979.

The soaring Gwalior vocalist

Veena and Hari Sahasrabuddhe decided to migrate to Pune in 1984. At the time of their leaving Kanpur, Veena had already trained almost 50 students in music. Her teaching methodology was to help her in her later years. Listen to this short clipping from later years, where she speaks of subtle differences between Ragas of the same scale. Her experience as a teacher comes through when you listen to how effortlessly she changes the Ragas Puriya, Sohini and Marwa that are from one scale.


The year Veena and Hari Sahasrabuddhe migrated, she was invited to sing in the prestigious Sawai Gandharva Music Festival organised by Pt Bhimsen Joshi, in the memory of his Guru. The festival in Pune was one of the landmark festivals on the Hindustani classical calendar and Pt Joshi maintained high standards of programming. Only those whose music thoroughly convinced him were presented to the discerning audiences of Pune, the heartland of Hindustani classical music. Veena’s concert in December 1984 revealed her musical virtuosity. She was hailed as one of the superstars on the scene. Her powerful voice projection and singing pronounced the salient features of the Gwalior gayaki like no other female vocalist of that time.

Listen to a clipping of her rendering Raag Chayanat.


Along with her performance career, she also continued her music education under another stalwart of the Gwalior tradition, Pt Gajananrao Joshi. A versatile musician who could also play the Hindustani violin with equal mastery, “Gajananbuva” as he was fondly addressed, was a strict Guru who trained some of the top class vocalists, such as Ullhas Kashalkar. Veena trained under his guidance for some time. Gajananbuva’s training enhanced her music further. The finer aspects of a bandish, the emotional quality of a raga and the strict adherence to classicism were some of her signatures.

Listen to her rendering of Raag Tilak Kamod.


In 1988, she was conferred the honorary doctorate of Sangeet Praveen by the Vidyalaya. Veena Sahasrabuddhe had a successful performing career. She and her brother Kashinath were also highly influenced by the music of Kumar Gandharva. Experimenting in composing Kashinath tuned the famous Kabir Bhajan Ghat Ghat Mein Panchi which became a regular in Veena’s concerts. Listen to it here.


While most classical vocal concerts of the Gwalior Gharana kept lighter semi-classical pieces like Tappa towards the end of their concerts, Veena would sing songs of Kabir. In this way, she was a trendsetter among the female vocalists of the 1980s.

Veena also tuned a lot of Khayal bandishes and bhajans. From 2002 to 2004, Veena served as the adjunct professor in the Humanities department at IIT-Mumbai and conducted a series of music appreciation courses on campus. Veena had two children, a son, Lakshman, and a daughter, Durga. Neither of them took to music. But she trained a number of students – Surashree Ullhas Joshi trained for 14 years under her, while Savani Shinde and Aparna Gurav have made a good name for themselves among young generation of concert musicians. Jayanti, who studied music for five years under Veena’s guidance, became her daughter-in-law.

Several other students, including Ranjani Ramachandran, who went ahead to pursue music at ITC Sangeet Research Academy in Kolkata, and Mowna Ramachandra of Bangalore continue to spread the music they learnt from Veena.

Veena gave her last concert on December 2, 2012. She was detected with Progressive Supranuclear Palsy, a rare degenerative neurological condition that affects one in a thousand people. This disease has no known cure. In 2013, Veena was awarded the Central Sangeet Natak Akademi award for her contribution to Hindustani vocal music.

Image courtesy: Veejay Sai
Image courtesy: Veejay Sai

The sight of her being taken on a wheelchair to the glittering ceremony in the Rashtrapati Bhavan to receive the award from President Pranab Mukherjee touched many hearts. A gentle giant of music was slowly fading in front of everyone and no one could do anything about it. As she shrank by the day, her husband and her students looked after her. The end came on June 29 at night.

With the demise of Veena Sahasrabuddhe, the Hindustani classical world has lost one of the most authentic exponents of the Gwalior gayaki.

Veejay Sai is a writer , editor and a culture critic

We welcome your comments at
Sponsored Content BY 

Relying on the power of habits to solve India’s mammoth sanitation problem

Adopting three simple habits can help maximise the benefits of existing sanitation infrastructure.

India’s sanitation problem is well documented – the country was recently declared as having the highest number of people living without basic sanitation facilities. Sanitation encompasses all conditions relating to public health - especially sewage disposal and access to clean drinking water. Due to associated losses in productivity caused by sickness, increased healthcare costs and increased mortality, India recorded a loss of 5.2% of its GDP to poor sanitation in 2015. As tremendous as the economic losses are, the on-ground, human consequences of poor sanitation are grim - about one in 10 deaths, according to the World Bank.

Poor sanitation contributes to about 10% of the world’s disease burden and is linked to even those diseases that may not present any correlation at first. For example, while lack of nutrition is a direct cause of anaemia, poor sanitation can contribute to the problem by causing intestinal diseases which prevent people from absorbing nutrition from their food. In fact, a study found a correlation between improved sanitation and reduced prevalence of anaemia in 14 Indian states. Diarrhoeal diseases, the most well-known consequence of poor sanitation, are the third largest cause of child mortality in India. They are also linked to undernutrition and stunting in children - 38% of Indian children exhibit stunted growth. Improved sanitation can also help reduce prevalence of neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). Though not a cause of high mortality rate, NTDs impair physical and cognitive development, contribute to mother and child illness and death and affect overall productivity. NTDs caused by parasitic worms - such as hookworms, whipworms etc. - infect millions every year and spread through open defecation. Improving toilet access and access to clean drinking water can significantly boost disease control programmes for diarrhoea, NTDs and other correlated conditions.

Unfortunately, with about 732 million people who have no access to toilets, India currently accounts for more than half of the world population that defecates in the open. India also accounts for the largest rural population living without access to clean water. Only 16% of India’s rural population is currently served by piped water.

However, there is cause for optimism. In the three years of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, the country’s sanitation coverage has risen from 39% to 65% and eight states and Union Territories have been declared open defecation free. But lasting change cannot be ensured by the proliferation of sanitation infrastructure alone. Ensuring the usage of toilets is as important as building them, more so due to the cultural preference for open defecation in rural India.

According to the World Bank, hygiene promotion is essential to realise the potential of infrastructure investments in sanitation. Behavioural intervention is most successful when it targets few behaviours with the most potential for impact. An area of public health where behavioural training has made an impact is WASH - water, sanitation and hygiene - a key issue of UN Sustainable Development Goal 6. Compliance to WASH practices has the potential to reduce illness and death, poverty and improve overall socio-economic development. The UN has even marked observance days for each - World Water Day for water (22 March), World Toilet Day for sanitation (19 November) and Global Handwashing Day for hygiene (15 October).

At its simplest, the benefits of WASH can be availed through three simple habits that safeguard against disease - washing hands before eating, drinking clean water and using a clean toilet. Handwashing and use of toilets are some of the most important behavioural interventions that keep diarrhoeal diseases from spreading, while clean drinking water is essential to prevent water-borne diseases and adverse health effects of toxic contaminants. In India, Hindustan Unilever Limited launched the Swachh Aadat Swachh Bharat initiative, a WASH behaviour change programme, to complement the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. Through its on-ground behaviour change model, SASB seeks to promote the three basic WASH habits to create long-lasting personal hygiene compliance among the populations it serves.

This touching film made as a part of SASB’s awareness campaign shows how lack of knowledge of basic hygiene practices means children miss out on developmental milestones due to preventable diseases.


SASB created the Swachhata curriculum, a textbook to encourage adoption of personal hygiene among school going children. It makes use of conceptual learning to teach primary school students about cleanliness, germs and clean habits in an engaging manner. Swachh Basti is an extensive urban outreach programme for sensitising urban slum residents about WASH habits through demos, skits and etc. in partnership with key local stakeholders such as doctors, anganwadi workers and support groups. In Ghatkopar, Mumbai, HUL built the first-of-its-kind Suvidha Centre - an urban water, hygiene and sanitation community centre. It provides toilets, handwashing and shower facilities, safe drinking water and state-of-the-art laundry operations at an affordable cost to about 1,500 residents of the area.

HUL’s factory workers also act as Swachhata Doots, or messengers of change who teach the three habits of WASH in their own villages. This mobile-led rural behaviour change communication model also provides a volunteering opportunity to those who are busy but wish to make a difference. A toolkit especially designed for this purpose helps volunteers approach, explain and teach people in their immediate vicinity - their drivers, cooks, domestic helps etc. - about the three simple habits for better hygiene. This helps cast the net of awareness wider as regular interaction is conducive to habit formation. To learn more about their volunteering programme, click here. To learn more about the Swachh Aadat Swachh Bharat initiative, click here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Hindustan Unilever and not by the Scroll editorial team.