The few musical examples that we have included in our current series on Marathi natya geet/pada or theatre songs influenced by, adapted from, or sharing a resemblance with Hindustani compositions, are proof of the close connection between Marathi natya sangeet or theatre music and Hindustani music. This was possible only because of the rapport that was established between Marathi natak mandalis or theatre companies and practitioners of Hindustani music.
This association was once again demonstrated when Hindustani vocalist and music educationist Vishnu Digambar Paluskar presided over the seventh natyasammelan held at the Elphinstone Theatre in Bombay (now Mumbai) on May 22 and 23, 1911, under the auspices of Kolhapurkar Sangeet Natak Mandali. But the occasion also led to a souring of relations between Paluskar and theatre lovers, as Paluskar openly criticised some natya padas.
The Kirloskar Mandali countered his critique by establishing the Bharat Gayan Samaj in the same year at Poona (now Pune) to compete with the Gandharva Mahavidyalaya, the music school established by Paluskar. The Samaj conducted regular music classes with vocalist Bhaskarbuwa Bakhale heading the faculty.
Not only Paluskar, but later, others too criticised natya padas for a variety of reasons. For instance, some objected to their overbearing presence hampering the play’s narrative or for the excessive display of virtuosity through taans or swift melodic patterns at the cost of the lyrical content of the songs.
However, this has not stopped Hindustani vocalists from including natya padas in their concert repertoire. Naturally, since the songs are in Marathi, they are mainly included in concerts by Marathi-speaking vocalists. But there is the rare case of Kirana gharana exponent Abdul Karim Khan recording natya padas.
This natya pada recorded by the maestro is in the raag Bhimpalasi and set to Jhaptaal, a rhythmic cycle of ten matras or time-units. It was created for playwright KP Khadilkar’s Sangeet Manapman by harmonium exponent and composer Govindrao Tembe.
It must be mentioned that there are also those among Marathi-speaking vocalists who have decidedly steered clear from including these songs in their performances. But we also have the instance of the maverick vocalist Kumar Gandharva presenting an entire concert dedicated to his interpretation of the charismatic actor-singer Bal Gandharva’s vocal style as represented in the natya padas popularised by him. We end this series with a live concert recording of Kumar Gandharva’s interpretation of some of these songs.