Posted on RMIM by Rajan Parrikar as part of Great Masters Series
Part XVI of Great Masters, the first one this year, features
Kishori Amonkar, L'Enfant Terrible de Hindustani Music:-).
Born in 1932, this music genius from Goa has attained such
mastery over her art that she can justifiably claim to be
the sole heir to the exacting standards set by her predecessors-
her illustrious mother, Mogubai Kurdikar, and the formidable
Surashree Kesarbai Kerkar.
The following article is taken from a commemorative issue of
Sangeet Kalavihar (Akhil Bharatiya Gandharva Mahavidhyalaya
Prakashan) April-May 1988. Thanks are due Shri Arun Parvatkar,
Head Librarian - Kala Academy, Panjim, Goa, for making available
Smt. KISHORI AMONKAR - Perfectionist and a Dreamer
by Vibha Purandare
To know Smt. Kishori Amonkar is to know
genius. She has in her a concentrated essence of tbe
good, the bad and the beautiful that any genius could
I have known Kishoritai now for many a year, yet
I find that the passage of time does not help me to bind
in words her elusive and many dimensional personality.
It is one thing to know her and another to write
about her. Like a great poet, she can say "Yes. I
contradict myself. I contain many." And look at the
variety within her - a concrete love for the abstract,
a sharp analytical power to dissect systematically an
intellectual problem and also an ability to synthesise
beautifully the diverse shades of thought, a unique
intensity to fathom the mystery of music, a scientific
approach towards the ancient and modern theories of
Art and Art Creation, a child-like faith in Guru
Raghavendra Swami, a sense of wonder of being lost
in the fantastic, illogical world of fairy tales and a
strong belief in superstitions. All these colourful bits
of a jigsaw puzzle refuse to form a very sedate straight
picture. At the most one can say, she is a superstitious
rationalist and an adult who continues to be
" I love to be a child. I know that I am foolish and
obstinate as a child. But this state is very precious for
me." Kishoritai said to me one evening, with her tanpuras
standing in front as mute witnesses, " But at the
same time, let me tell you I will not be a child in my
Art, " she added vehemently. Her witnesses must have
silently consented. For when her fingers play on their
strings, thc musical instruments are thrilled with the
touch of a master. Kishoritai tunes her tanpura with
the precision of a scientist. It has to be the exact shade
of 'nishad', the correct 'shadja.'
She believes that playing the tanpura well is of
utmost importance - even more important than tuning
it. " Then how does one do it ? " I asked. Pausing
only for thc well anticipated question to end, she
replied, " Well, it is an art. You see, though the
frequencies of the notes vary, their sound level should
be the same. One should strike the next string in such
a manner that the sound of the second is blended into
the first and so on and thus thereby there is being
established sacred serious, musical cyclic pattern. Of
course it inspires me to sing, but at times I am afraid
even to mingle my own vocal notes into that divine
sound. However, one thing I must state that the
scientific rendering of a tanpura is different from its
aesthetical rendering; in thc case of the latter, the stress
And when she is tuning the tanpura - to the admiration
of some, whilst tesing the patience of many - she
is a picture of concentration. Her eyes gently shut, one
hand adjusting thc beads below, the other stretching
out towards the knobs at the other end, she becomes
an object of beauty for any photographer, a portrait
painter or even all ordinary viewer.
And when the tanpuras are tuned to perfection, we
have beautifully spanned for our ears a musical rainbow.
And the colour is the colour of love. For, this
artiste, has a profound love for notes, musical instruments,
musicians and music; in fact, anything and
everything that is musical. Her love, more than her
scholarship, makes her ask, "I wonder from where these
these notes come? "
A musicologist, a musician or a commoner could
as well give an appropriate answer. But that will never
satisfy her. She has in her a uniqne combination of a
child, mystic and artist. The seen world she does love
but the pull and the insight into the unseen world is
more fascinating. Her imagination then knows no
bounds "How must be the home of these notes ?
How do they behave with each other ? I wish I could
see them, then I would be able to talk to them."
Actually, the notes are as familiar to her as her
face, in fact definitely more so, for she has spent much
more time with her tanpura than with a mirror.
She is an ideal student of her subject. She has
thonght consistently and deeply on the various problems
that face a creative artist. Thc hard core of her
philosophy of Music is her faith in its power to transcend
the material world and touch the spiritual. Her
notes are divine and their singing is sacred. With her
singing, a concert hall is transformed into a temple and
the listeners become her Guru Raghavendra. Therefore,
after a concert, whenever and wherever, she
humbly bows down her head at the people in front this
gesture has an added dimension.
There are two different beings that harmoniously
dwell in her - one a romanticist and the other a classicist.
She herself does not very much like this classification.
She feels that an artist is an artist. All other
nomenclatures are secondary. Her approach toward
Art is spiritual. She believes that realism is depicted
in art to take you to the ideal, and the ideal is self-realisation -
for the singer as well as for the listener. Like a
true romanticist, she has an undying urge to reach out
to Beauty. Her singing has its birth in the beautiful
and it merges too in thc beautiful.
She said to me some years ago, "People say that
I look beautiful when I sing. Today I seem to have
got an answer. When I sing, I want everything to be
beautiful - my notes, ny rhythm and myself too. My
desire is so intense that on the stage you have beauty
personified, not Kishori looking beautiful." And how
true it is !
Her search for beauty does not turn her into an
escapist. She is aware of the ugliness of life, its sordidness,
its darkness and drabness. Yet she is convinced
that when Art touches it, it does not wipe it out, but
the innate strength of an art-medium makes it different.
There is sorrow and joy inexplicably experienced
together. Wheras, in life most often than not, they
are mutually exclusive. In her heaven of art, a rose
does have a thorn, and a thorn does prick, but its
pain leads to peace. That is the uniqueness of art.
Music may thrive on and be enriched by the depth and
expanse of a 'Karuna Rasa' or 'Shringar Rasa', but
it ultimately culminates in 'Shanti Rasa' that is
If Kishoritai adores Beauty, she worships Truth
anf therefore respects knowledge. Knowledge for her
is not trapped wholly in books or fettered only in laboratories.
She believes that knowledge is free. It can be
found anytime, anywhere. You meet it like friend
in a marketplace, or like a "bhakta" you are blessed
by its "darshan" in the " santum sanctorum" of
a temple. Yet, I must tell you, that Kishoritai is a
treasurer of books, and as a student of science in Jai
Hind College, had done some of the best dissection
work in the Botany laboratory. Her love for books is
natural and has grown with time. At times she intuitively
buys a very good book. Some of the rarest titles
in English Literature have been presented to me by
Kishoritai, having bought the books in a bookshop, at
various airports or on the pavement. She herself
possesses one of the best libraries on aesthetics. Like
gems, her books are well taken care of. They are
neatly covered and bound. She will go to any extent to
get a book she intently wants. Once she had wanted
a book on " Indian Aesthetics" by Dr. Pandey. She
searched for it high and low, She leafed through all
the shops in Bombay, Delhi, Allahabad nd other
smaller cities in India as well. The search was futile.
But Kishoritai did not give in. And when she did get
a copy of the book in a University Library, she got the
whole significant part of the book cyclostyled. Today,
it is one of her proud possessions, to be admired by
the connoisseurs and not to be lent even to an ardent
It is well known that Dnyaneshwar, Tukaram,
Surdas and Meera are her "singing partners" but few
may know that Bharat Muni, Sarangdev, Narad and
Anandvardhan- the great ancient literary masters---
are her 'thought companions." She is extremely happy
in their company and it gives her equal joy to sing
them or talk about them.
Kishoritai feels intently and thinks deeply. You
cannot segregate " feeling " in life from "feeling" in
art; for their roots go right down to that land which
everyone owns but no one knows---i.e. the human mind.
As far as feeling is concerned for Kishoritai, everything
in this area is a "little more" than what the other
people experience. For her the ruby-mud of her
beloved Goa is a "little more" red; and its "sapphiresky"
a "little more" blue. Jasmine, Champak,
Roses and Lilies, all these flowers are more fragrant
when they have to be offered to Guru Raghavendra
Swami; at the same time a "more expensive" saree is
" less expensive " if it is to be given to her mother Mai.
And if Mai is unwell, Kishoritai is terribly disturbed.
She repeatedly rings up her younger sister Lalitatai's
place and keeps on enquiring about Mai's health. At
that time, it is easier for Lalitatai to nurse Mai than
attend her Tai's frequent and demanding phone calls.
Not satisfied with what she hears, Kishoritai than
decides to rely on her own eyes. She straight- as
she is - dashes to Mai. "How are you Mai?" her
transparent concern for her mother is evident in the
curve of the question. And as soon as Mai says, "I
am having a stomach ache or a little palpitation,"
Kishoritai leaves her side to sit besides the telephone.
Then she rings up a Doctor or two. She rings up the
Doctor so often and with so much of urgency that she
makes the Doctor sick. But her Doctors know well
that though a rebel in the field of music, she is also a
nervous, highly strung daughter. They therefore
smilingly take the "doses" she gives them. And only
when Mai says that "she is feeling a little better"
Kishoritai is at a little peace with herself.
But her health is not even considered when it
is a question of her music concerts. With a temperature
as high as 103 raging in her body, I have seen her give
all excellent full fledged concert in Dadar. She has
also rendered a 3 1/2 hour programme on our SaintPoet
Dynaneshar in a Bombay Hall, with the excru-
ciating and relentless agony of a Herpes infection running
a deadly line of pain on her face across thc nose.
I can still see her holding her tanpura in her right hand
and with the left hand dipping cotton in a medicinal
solution and applying it to her face. One had only to
see it to believe it. That is the fierce intensity she has
for her music. It is almost inhuman or superhuman.
Thinking -intuitive, creative thinking - is also an
innate part of her music. Her razor sharp intelligence
is used to gently reach and unfold a particular "bhava"
in a bhajan, a thumari, a ghazal or raga. Kishori
tai firmly believes that "feeling" is the soul of music.
She has thought long and lovinly about the various
"bhavas" in art; how their subtle shades emerge and
re-emerge, and one being prominent, surges forward
towards the formation of a "rasa". Her study of
"rasa theory" is very comprehensive. But everything
that she reads in the ancient texts and whatever she
herself experiences in the fire of the creative process is
to be accepted only if it stands the test of actual music
Like a sincere hard-working student, she still gets
up early in the morning to study and interpret the texts
and spends or invests some time with the textual
notes. Then after an interval of some kitchen work,
she turns to and becomes one with her musical notes.
The journey from the world of words to the universe of
"sa-re-ga-ma " is as smooth as the sliding of the finger
from one string to the other of her tanpura.
Kishoritai has given immeasurable joy to her
listeners - through her music and her lectures. By now,
she has become a renowned exponent of the "Rasa
Theory of Music". She is an excellent speaker, being
clear in though and lucid in expression. She has given
lectures - series of lectures all over India. She carries
the same brand of fire in her speeches as in her musical
rendering. I remember its early beginning.
It was the year 1977; Place: New Delhi.
Smt. Kishoritai Amonkar had been invited to
participate in an International Seminar on Arts to be
held in the capital of India. Her paper was entitled
"Music and Communication" The audience comprised
of writers, musicians, dancers, painters, poets,
sculptors and architects of national and international
renown. In fact, they were the people who must have
been more on the platform - on the other side of
creation - than on the receiving side.
In the presence of such an illustrious and discerning
listeners, Kishoritai read her paper with the ease of
a professional and a fervour of a reformer. The text,
born and bred on experience was appealing and thoughtprovoking
and the diction was perfect, her breath-control
remarkable with the right pauses and correct stress.
The thunderous applause at the end "communicated"
the listeners' feeling of appreciation. The impact of
the paper was further seen when the Indian and Foreign
Delegates attended her concert at 'Ashoka Hotel' the
following day and made it a point to tell her of the
same. As one dancer then remarked "Is it necessary
to read the paper also so well? Can you not leave
anything to others ? "
That is Kishoritai -
Perfectionist and a dreamer,
Lover of words and notes,
Colour and stones,
An old understanding friend,
A singer, setting a new trend,
Bound to music and its Reedeemer too.
And now finally about her Music. Kishoritai
doesn't sing music, she breathes it. Then what can one
write about it? It is like trying to describe and give
one's impression of a beautiful sunrise. The sun of
her " Bhairav " or " Bhup " is the same; yet, just as,
every dawn is new, so also the " ragas " are different
with every rendering. Her Music is as fresh as dew
and as ancient as the earth.
Here I acknowledge my utter helplessness to do
justice to her singing. Much has been written about it,
and many are still trying to write about it. She like
her mother Mai has also been awarded a 'Padmabhushan'.
It is indeed a rare feat for a mother and
daughter to get one of the highest National awards in
the same field - i. e. Hindustani Classical Music.
Kishoritai sings with utmost intensity and sincerity.
She believes in introspection and guidance from the
ancient sages and seers, therefore the evolvement of her
"raga" is different from others. Like a staunch
classicist she wants to maintain the purity and the
discipline of the " bhava " in a " raga ". She is totally
convinced that in order to depict the " true and living
raga " in future, one must progress towards the past wherein
lies knowledge that is eternal and Absolute.
Trying to analyse the subtle nuances of her music I find
that the river of words merges into the sea of silence.
We can only pray that may Kishoritai continue
to sing for a long long time; and may we all be blessed
to listen to that divine melody.