Ushering in women's power

Mother Figure

“Gangubai was an exponent of the Kiarana gharana. She was a mother figure for several younger classical women musicians like us. Gangubai Hangal, along with contemporary north Indian classical vocalist like Mogubai Kurdikar, broke the gender bias in Hindustani classical music. She was our inspiration. Gangubai showed us that 'we (women) don't care if it's a man's world, we will do what we want',” Bombay Jayashri, leading Chennai-based Carnatic vocalist said. Gangubai Hangal was one of the early musicians who breached the all-male world of classical Indian music in the late 1920s, when she decided to take it up as a profession. The fact that she came from a family placed low on the caste ladder, at a time when caste mattered in music, made it for her a difficult vocation to choose, musicians across the gender lines have said.

She was often looked down upon as a 'gaanewali'. “But she triumphed and proved that music was worship. A woman as a musician has to manage several things on stage and has to forget everything else. Gangubai was an example of such devotion. I feel as if I have been orphaned,” Jayashri said.

Gangubai Hangal managed to retain her fetish for perfection and devotion for 60 years, Mumbai-based classical vocalist Padma Talwalkar said.

“The qualities that marked Gangubai were respect for music, devotion and hard work that honed her style. I once heard her at a concert when she was 90. For the first 20 minutes, her voice refused to set — in tune with the tambura. But when her voice finally set itself to tune, she rendered six ragas in full khayals for nearly four hours. I was scared. After the concert, I told her 'How many times should I touch your feet - for the sheer strength of your voice, will and strength?',” Talwalkar told IANS from Mumbai.

Gangubai's 'powerful masculine tenor voice' was her trademark. As a woman, Gangubai was warm and down-to-earth. “She was very homely and rarely spoke about music unless she was on stage. Her music proved her mettle,” Talwalkar recalled. “Gangubai was very fastidious as a musician. It was a pleasure just to sit next to her and hear her tune her tambura. That fastidiousness has gone out of music now,” Sanjeev Bhargava, promoter of traditional Hindustani music and founder of SEHER, a 19-year-old south Asian arts and culture platform, told IANS.

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