When she returned to her newly restored childhood home at the age of 95, Gangubai Hangal, doyenne of Hindustani classical music, still vividly recalled her favourite places around her old house – the tulsi plant at the entrance and the pillar in the centre of the house where she used to practise her music for hours.
This was the house where she was born and where she had been initiated into the world of music.
Gangubai Hangal was born on March 5, 1913, to Ambabai and Nadgir Hangal. Gangubai inherited her musical talent from her mother who was a musician in the Carnatic style.
She was initiated into Hindustani classical singing with the encouragement of her mother and her grandmother, Kamlabai, who was also a singer.
Gangubai learnt her music under the tutelage of the great Sawai Gandharva, who also lived in the Hubli-Dharwad area, and began performing when she was in her mid-teens. She left the house in Shukravaradapete in Dharwad in 1928 when the family moved to Hubli.
The house was sold in 1957 and changed hands once again until it was eventually bought by the family of Dasoi Kulkarni who lived here till the late 1980s.
Subsequently, the house remained locked and neglected for several years, years which took their toll on the structure. Parts of the house collapsed. The heavy rains of 2005 did further damage, and portions of the roof and more sections of the walls caved in.
In 2007, the State Government decided to restore the house and establish a museum in it dedicated to the singer.
The restoration project was executed by Nirmithi Kendra, Dharwad, under the guidance of the Bangalore chapter of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), which also oversaw the setting up of the museum. INTACH worked closely with Manoj Hangal, President of the Hangal Music Foundation, founder of the School of Indian Classical Music, Hubli, and the grandson of Gangubai.Humble beginnings
The house represents the regional style of architecture. But the real significance of the Shukravaradapete house, named Gangotri, lies perhaps in its reflection of the humble beginning of the maestro.
The house is a low rise structure with an entrance verandah having a tulsi plant and a narrow passage with rooms on either side leading to a central hall. The building is narrow but deep, with rooms placed one after another.
The rear portion of the house with the kitchen, store room and service area was covered with a sloping roof with country tiles. There used to be a backyard with some coconut trees, of which only a small area now remains.
A narrow wooden ladder accessed the terrace where the windows from the attic opened.
The house had mud walls with timber framework, mud plaster and mud roof on bamboo reeds. These materials constitute the structure of this house. Many challenges
The challenges of the restoration process were many. It was important to restore the house to its original using local techniques in the process. Artisans and workers with the Nirmithi Kendra were experienced in the use of mud for building and received further training to improve their knowledge and expertise. Repairs and restoration were carried out using stabilised mud blocks.
Once the building was restored, a museum dedicated to the singer and outlining her career was set up. Display of photographs
The museum displays photographs and exhibits from Gangubai Hangal’s early days right through to her more recent performances and awards. The Hangal Foundation provided all the material for the museum including rare photographs and certificates.
At the entrance is a large portrait of Gangubai Hangal that invites visitors inside. In the entrance passageway are two large photographs of the singer taken at different times in her life, both showing her smiling, holding a tanpura.
Nearby is an exhibit of a tanpura, gifted by the Hangal Foundation. Soothing notes of Hindustani classical music fill the entire museum. Inside, the museum is divided into sections.
The first room showcases Gangubai’s early days with her family members. Among other exhibits here is an endearing one of the child Gangubai with her mother. The second section shows the people who were the singer’s inspirations and her mentors.
This is followed by photographs of her early performances, a section on the awards she received and another on eminent people she met and who felicitated her. A final display shows her recent performances and portrays how she was an inspirational figure for many.
The area in the rear portion of the house which was originally a kitchen is planned to be used as a classroom for teaching music while the attic is planned to house books on Gangubai and on Hindustani classical music.
The building, after restoration, was handed over to the Hangal Music Foundation for running and maintaining the museum. Says Manoj Hangal, “We are very proud of this museum building. Every musician in the country knows of this tribute to her.”
According to him, about 50 people visit the museum everyday, more during holidays and weekends. It is heartwarming to know that the restoration of Gangubai’s childhood home has received such interest and has helped to keep her music and memory alive.
But the best testimony perhaps came from a delighted Gangubai herself, who when she first visited her restored house, sat down in her favourite place in the house – near the wooden pillar where she had sat as a child all those years ago – and began to sing.
(The author is a conservation architect who worked on the restoration and reuse of Gangubai Hangal’s birthplace as a museum dedicated to her.)