music

Why Rabindranath Tagore bestowed the title Surashri on Kesarbai Kerkar

The Nobel laureate described Kerkar’s music as ‘an artistic phenomenon of exquisite perfection’.

The story of Kesarbai Kerkar’s musical career goes back to the closing years of the 19th century. It begins in Goa, in that small patch of green on the Western coast of our country, which has provided so much of the musical talent of the land.

Kerkar was born in Keri, a village in Goa, on July 13, 1892, in a family of moderate means. The family’s only source of livelihood was musical performances. This circumstance compelled the child to begin her studies of music at an early age. Her family soon recognised her inborn talent. Four or five miles away from her village, there was the hamlet of Lamgaon, quite close to Dicholi, and the family learnt that Ramkrishna Bua Vaze had taken up residence in this village. Kerkar took her first lessons in classical music from this teacher, and the training continued with system and regularity for nearly two years. But her teacher’s musical assignments entailed frequent travel and her training began to be interrupted.

A little later, Vaze left the village to take up another teaching assignment and Kerkar’s training came to an abrupt end. She was perplexed and sorely disappointed. The family decided to take a trip to Bombay and, in 1908, they arrived to consult friends and relatives and arrange for a teacher in classical music for her. Thus began her period of training with Barkatullah Khan (Sitariya). It lasted five years, but once again history repeated itself, and Khan was invited to Patiala to take up a permanent post there.

Play

An interrupted training

Kerkar wasted a year waiting for Khan to return. Finally she decided to turn to another teacher. Bhaskarbuwa Bakhale agreed to train her. But there were long spells when he had to be away in Poona, and her training was often interrupted by his frequent absence. This training, too, ended in a year’s time. Kerkar then decided to do her utmost to persuade Alladiya Khan to accept her as a pupil. It was a difficult task to accomplish. He was then at the durbar of Kolhapur. Kerkar sought the help of Shahu Maharaj: she begged him to intervene on her behalf and convince Alladiya Khan to teach her. Shahu Maharaj was sceptical. “You are asking for too much. It is like being tied to an elephant. How will you manage to cope with the burden?” But Kerkar was adamant and Maharaj granted Khan permission to instruct her in music. But the battle was still far from won. Khan himself was unenthusiastic, and it was the plea of one of his most intimate friends that persuaded him to accept Kerkar as a pupil. That day was a great event in her life. It was the harbinger of her future success.

Play

Khan was an exacting teacher, a stern disciplinarian. Kerkar had to practise for eight hours every day in his presence, four hours in the morning and four in the evening. This schedule of work continued unremittingly for 11 years. When he was engrossed in instructing her, he lost track of time, and the practice sessions continued long beyond the appointed hours. Later on, owing to his failing heath, they reduced the load of their working hours but his interest in the quality of her work, in the perfection of accomplishment, was unflagging. He continued to teach her for a full 27 years, right till his death in 1946.

Play

The praise of poets

Of the many important performances Kerkar has given, she most treasured the memory of a recital she gave at the residence of Rabindranath Tagore in Calcutta in 1938. The poet was so moved by her music that he conveyed to her in a letter written in his own hand the effect her beautiful music had on him. He described her music as “an artistic phenomenon of exquisite perfection”. He said, “The magic of her voice with the mystery of its varied modulations has repeatedly proved its true significance – not in any pedantic display of technical subtleties that are mechanically accurate, but in the revelation of music only possible for a born genius. Let me offer my thanks and my blessings to Kesarbai for allowing me this evening a precious opportunity of experience.”

This miracle of music was not a mere play of chance. Kerkar laid no great store by luck or coincidence. She attributed her success to the sympathy and support she received from a wealthy music lover of Bombay, to the infinite pains that Khan took to impart musical knowledge to her, and finally to her own devotion to him, her ceaseless efforts to be a worthy pupil of the great master. Kerkar’s single-minded devotion to music was remarkable. She steadfastly fought to keep her art free from every type of contamination, every temptation which would bring down standards. She preferred aloofness like that of a yogini who desires an unattainable goal. The severity of her penance was sometimes misunderstood. Her exactitude was a personal sacrifice which was necessary to preserve the beauty of her art with all its majesty and grandeur. She tried to go beyond the normal range of perfection. And she was able to touch the mystic chord.

Play

In January 1969, the president of India honoured her with the title of Padma Bhushan as recognition of her significant contribution to classical music. In 1953, the Sangeet Natak Akademi had honoured her with the President’s Award. But the tribute she cherished most was the title of “Surashri” that Tagore bestowed on her in 1938. It was a fitting reward for the arduous toil that went into the making of her music. Lovers of music all over India referred to Kerkar as “the yogini of music”, and it is thus that she will be remembered forever.

This article first appeared in ON Stage, the official monthly magazine of the National Centre for the Performing Arts, Mumbai.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

It’s the new year and it’s already time to plan your next holiday

Here are some great destinations for you to consider.

Vacation planning can get serious and strategic. Some people swear by the save and splurge approach that allows for one mini getaway and one dream holiday in a year. Others use the solo to family tactic and distribute their budget across solo trips, couple getaways and family holidays. Regardless of what strategy you implement to plan your trip, the holiday list is a handy tool for eager travellers. After having extensively studied the 2018 holiday list, here’s what we recommend:

March: 10 days of literature, art and culture in Toronto

For those you have pledged to read more or have more artistic experiences in 2018, Toronto offers the Biblio-Mat, the world’s first randomising vending machine for old books. You can find the Biblio-Mat, paper artefacts, rare books and more at The Monkey’s Paw, an antiquarian bookseller. If you can tear yourself away from this eclectic bookstore, head over to The Public Library in Toronto for the Merril Collection of over 72000 items of science fiction, fantasy magic realism and graphic novels. With your bag full of books, grab a coffee at Room 2046 – a café cum store cum studio that celebrates all things whimsical and creative. Next, experience art while cycling across the 80km Pan Am Path. Built for walking, running, cycling and wheeling, the Pan Am Path is a recreational pathway that offers a green, scenic and river views along with art projects sprinkled throughout the route. You can opt for a guided tour of the path or wander aimlessly for serendipitous discoveries.

Nothing beats camping to ruminate over all those new ideas collected over the past few days. Make way to Killarney Provincial Park for 2-3 days for some quiet time amongst lakes and hills. You can grab a canoe, go hiking or get back to nature, but don’t forget to bring a tent.

If you use the long-weekend of 2nd March to extend your trip, you get to experience the Toronto Light Festival as a dazzling bonus.

June: 10 days of culinary treats, happy feet and a million laughs in Chicago

Famous for creating the deep-dish pizza and improv comedy, Chicago promises to banish that mid-year lull. Get tickets for The Second City’s Legendary Laughs at The UP-Comedy Club - the company that gave us the legendary Tina Fey, Stephen Colbert and Key & Peele. All that laughter can sure work up an appetite, one that can be satiated with Lou Malnati’s classic deep-dish pizza. For dessert, head over to the Ferrara Original Bakery for mouth-watering treats.

Chicago in June is pleasant and warm enough to explore the outdoors and what better way to soak in the sunshine, than by having a picnic at the Maggie Daley Park. Picnic groves, wall climbing, mini golf, roller blading – the park offers a plethora of activities for individuals as well as families.

If you use the long weekend of 15th June, you can extend your trip to go for Country LakeShake – Chicago’s country music festival featuring Blake Shelton and Dierks Bentley.

August: 7 days in London for Europe’s biggest street festival

Since 1964, the Notting Hill Carnival has been celebrating London’s Caribbean communities with dancing, masquerade and music ranging from reggae to salsa. Watch London burst into colours and sparkle at the Notting Hill Carnival. Home to Sherlock Holmes and Charles Dickens Museum, London is best experienced by wandering through its tiny streets. Chance encounters with bookstores such as Foyles and Housemans, soaking in historic sights while enjoying breakfast at Arthur’s Café or Blackbird Bakery, rummaging the stalls at Broadway market or Camden Market – you can do so much in London while doing nothing at all.

The Museum of Brand, Packaging and Advertising can send you reminiscing about those old ads, while the Clowns Gallery Museum can give you an insight in clown-culture. If you’d rather not roam aimlessly, book a street-art tour run by Alternative London or a Jack the Ripper Tour.

October: 10 days of an out-of-body experience in Vegas

About 16 km south of the intersection of Las Vegas Boulevard and St. Rose Parkway in Henderson, lies a visual spectacle. Seven Magic Mountains, an art installation by Ugo Rondinone, stands far away from the wild vibe that people expect in Las Vegas and instead offers a sense of wonder. Imagine seven pillars of huge, neon boulders, stacked up against one another stretched towards the sky. There’s a lot more where that came from, in Las Vegas. Captivating colour at the permanent James Turrell exhibit in Louis Vuitton, outdoor adventures at the Bootleg Canyon and vintage shopping at Patina Décor offer experiences that are not usually associated with Vegas. For that quintessential Vegas show, go for Shannon McBeath: Absinthe for some circus-style entertainment. If you put the holiday list to use, you can make it for the risefestival – think thousands of lanterns floating in the sky, right above you.

It’s time to get on with the vacation planning for the new year. So, pin up the holiday list, look up deals on hotels and flights and start booking. Save money by taking advantage of the British Airways Holiday Sale. With up to 25% off on flight, the offer is available to book until 31st January 2018 for travel up to 31st December in economy and premium economy and up to 31st August for business class. For great fares to great destinations, see here.

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