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Pandit Madhav Gudi (Photo: M Sreedhara Murthy) Exclusive interview

'God may be false,
my guru is true'

Pandit Madhav Gudi is a rich fund of knowledge about Pandit Bhimsen Joshi and the Kirana gharana. He talks about the joys and agonies of living with a genius, and his need to move out of the master's shadow

"He is a genius," says Pandit Madhav Gudi of his guru Pandit Bhimsen Joshi. "He would have excelled in anything... if he had taken up mathematics he would have been a genius in that subject."

Gudi hails from Dharwad. He was 14 when he first heard Joshi in a play. He memorised Joshi's songs, and and sang them in his presence. Joshi accepted him as a student in 1963. Gudi lived in Pune as part of Joshi's family for 26 years. That makes him Joshi's most trusted disciple, and the richest source of knowledge about the life and times of one of the greatest musicians of this century.

Many music lovers believe Gudi's art has suffered because of his adoration of his guru. "He blindly imitates Joshi," is a common complaint. Gudi admits it is difficult to move out of Joshi's shadow. He says he mistakenly believed that he should not only sing but also "sit, stand, walk and talk" like his guru. "I must now do my own independent work," he says, simply.

When I met him at his disciple's house in Bangalore, he spoke for more than an hour and answered my questions with warmth. He spoke about his guru, and his long, eventful years with him. He described in awe the greatness of his gharana. Not once did he sound bitter about getting a raw deal from his guru, the government, or anyone. That other quality he is famous for -- a cheerful, childlike simplicity -- shone through.

Musicians generally feel Kirana has been more influential than other gharanas in the last 50 years or so.

This is true. My guru's practice was so perfect, especially with his guru Sawai Gandharva... He studied his guru's gayaki comprehensively. He completely absorbed what his guru's guru, Ustad Abdul Karim Khan, sang. Then he worked independently on what he had learnt. He had heard the Agra, Jaipur and Gwalior gharanas. Patiala also, Bade Ghulam Ali Khan... And Kesarbai Kerkar, Amir Khan... My guruji studied them, and took their best elements and made them his own. That is why wherever he goes in India he becomes instantly popular; he is accepted everywhere. In him you find a fine idea of beauty. Beauty in emotion, beauty in sound. And it is all set to laya. I have spent 26 years with him. He is great. That is why everyone likes the Kirana style. Wherever you go today, whoever sings in whatever gharana, you'll find something borrowed from my guru. As children, they are influenced, often unconsciously.

You mean Kirana became so popular because a great musician was born into it?

Yes. In the other gharanas, Mansur and Kumar Gandharva were great.

Would you say that Kirana gave up the raw vigour of other gharanas and changed traditional music to appeal to the modern mind? Or did the modern mind come to like this style because it was sung by a great musician?

My guru studied the Agra and Jaipur gharanas ... and created a style of his own. In those styles, layakari is important. He has taught me ... what is the layakari of Faiyaz Khan Sab, and the beauty of his layakari. The other gharanas did not change what they received. They sang what their gurus sang, ditto.

But then certain vigorous varieties of taans are not heard in Kirana.

My guru has said in his speeches that he was influenced by the Jaipur taan style. He also takes bandishes from other gharanas. If there's something good in you I should take it with an open mind. This much I can say. Kirana artistes choose the best bandishes.

What first attracted you to Joshi's music?

When I was very little, my guru used to act in Kannada plays like Bhagya Nidhiand Parivartana. A theatre man called Lakshman Rao Bendre used to write plays specially for my guru. My guru and his wife Vatsala acted together... they got married later. There is something great about the way my guru expresses feeling, the way he pronounces words. He used to sing Purandaradasa compositions like Mooruthiyanu niliso and Dayamaado Ranga. There is feeling in each note, and then feeling in each word.

Do you remember his drama songs?

Yes. (Sings snatches from Murali dhwaniya, Yaadava nee baa and Elemana Muraariyane kondado). When I was 14, my guru came to Dharwad. He was with his uncle G B Joshi, who ran the famous publishing house Manohar Granthmala, and the scholar Keerthinath Kurthakoti. He had had come for a programme. I played the tamboori for him. G B Joshi told him, "This boy sings, why don't you hear him?" He heard me, and blessed me. I asked him to teach me. He said I should do my matric so that I know a bit of English. I remember the other songs he sang. Haribhajane maado, Enna paaliso, and Jaladhara neeniru doora, naliva nabhadi tumbide sudha dhara

The first two are again Haridasa compositions. Is the last one a theatre song?


What happened then? How did he teach you?

I went to him when I was 18. He sat before me and taught me. For five years he taught me only three ragas. Todi in the morning, Multani in the afternoon, and Puriya at night. Everything, from how I should hold a swara and what volume of sound I should produce... If I didn't learn something as he taught me, there was no going forward. I had to learn it the following day. Whatever I sing is fixed in that idea of proportion, that idea of beauty. He taught me to culture my voice.

Lots of admirers must have come to him to learn. But you are the only one to have spent such long years with him.

Learning and teaching are both like lifting a huge mountain. They take many long years. For a year or a year and a half, he didn't teach me much. I had to earn his and his wife's affection, and once he was convinced that I was deserving, he started teaching me. He put me through many tests ... it'll take two or three days if I start talking about them! I had to do domestic chores. Fetch water from the ground floor and fill all the tanks. Bring things from the shop, go to the flour mill. Through whatever I did, I felt he was greater than god. God could be false, but he was true. That's the way I thought about him. I may not see him every day now, but my love for him only increases each day. I got married when I was 30. Gave him a gurudakshina. My wife and children lived in Dharwad. I used to give a couple of programmes, then go back to him. He would give me some money when we went abroad. I sent it home. I've been all over the world with him.

You have composed some very popular tunes for Purandaradasa songs. I particularly like Neene anatha bandhu, which you have set to the Karnatak raga Simhendramadhyam.

My guru gave me a vision as a classical musician, and also a vision of how to sing dasa compositions. You feel the bhakti in his music. He is also a great devotee of Raghavendra Swami. I like Karnatak music. My grandfather Seshachar used to sing Karnatak music. That's how I took that song and set it to Simhendramadhyam. Whatever the raga, you can bring the Kirana smapradaya into it.

Besides your guru, which singers do you like?

I like Amir Khan, and Kumar Gandharva for his free thinking.

Did you know him?

Very closely. When he sang at the Sawai Gandharva festival, he told me, "You've learnt for 25-26 years from our Bhimanna. You must sing on your own." And he blessed me.

Does a very faithful adherence to the guru's style affect independent thinking?

No, I don't agree with that. My guru sings his guru's music. He uses his intelligence and so it gets a new form. My guru is proof enough. In my case, I sing what my guru sings. I used to imitate even the way he sat and got up... everything. I later thought these gestures should come from my body. My voice was cultured by him. If you go to Mansur and sing like Joshi, it is absurd.

Were people envious of your proximity to your guru?

That's only natural. For 18 to 20 years I was with him all 24 hours. Observing him closely -- how he talks, how he gets up and walks. I was very fortunate. But now I can't do that. I must bring out my own independent thoughts. I can't spend time with him any more. But I love him more than before.

Some vocalists like C R Vyas have been composing new bandishes. Why is it that Bhimsen Joshi hasn't attempted anything like that? He doesn't feel it's necessary. The existing bandishes give you the raga's gist. What else can you squeeze out of a new bandish? There's maximum beauty in traditional compositions... they have come down to us over many years. Musicians spend something like 40 years with a composition. They still sing it, and it still sounds new.

Why have you chosen to settle in Mumbai?

My work in Dharwad is over. I've sung all over Karnataka, Maharashtra, all over India. It's the same. I have faith in god, my guru. I haven't gone there out of any ill feeling, or because I feel our government hasn't done enough for me. In Bangalore I can give tuitions and make money. That's no use. When people all over India, even in the villages, like one's music, that is certificate enough. I've trained students like Nagarajrao Havaldar and Ramesh Kulkarni.

S R Ramakrishna

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Pandit Madhav Gudi, 399, Near Akshaya Hospital, Sai Section, Ambarnath (E), District Thane, Maharashtra 421 501

Phone: (0251) 60 6890

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