Tribute

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.

Play

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.

Play

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.

Play

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.

Play

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 letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

Like the long-settled German expats in India, the German airline, Lufthansa, too has incorporated some quintessential aspects of Indian culture in its service. Recognising the centuries-old cultural affinity between the two countries, Lufthansa now provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its flights to and from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they are More Indian Than You Think. To experience Lufthansa’s hospitality on your next trip abroad, click here.

Play

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.