Gaanyogini Pandita Dhondutai Kulkarni

A life that echoes unconditional musical integrity.

Dhondutai was born on July 23rd 1927 in Kolhapur. Her musical journey began very early in life owing to the encouragement she received from her father, Shri Ganpatrao Kulkarni. An art aficionado, he always aspired for the best possible training for his daughter. Dhondutai’s life journey shows deep ties with the Jaipur – Atrauli tradition. She received her very first music lessons from Ustad Natthan Khansaheb (nephew of Ustad Alladiya Khansaheb, adopted son of Ustad Haider Khansaheb) when she was just 5 years old which lasted for a very brief period.

Sittting from left to right: Unknown person, Ustad Azizuddin Khansaheb, Ustad Bhurji Khansaheb, Ustad Alladiya Khansaheb, Ganpatrao Kulkarni (Dhondutaai’s father), Prabhakar Kulkarni (Dhondutai’s brother).
Standing from left to right: Dhondutai Kulkarni and Shakuntala Kulkarni (Dhondutai’s sister).

Kolhapur was then a princely state under the rule of Rajarshi Shahu Maharaj where Ustad Alladiya Khansaheb was honoured as the Darbar Gayak. His son Bhurji Khan was employed to sing at the Mahalaxmi temple every morning. Ganpatrao along with his daughter regularly attended his temple recitals. Ganpatrao had made a firm resolve of training his daughter under the tutelage of Ustad Bhurji Khansaheb. After initial reluctance finally Khansaheb accepted Dhondutai as he sensed how serious and dedicated Ganpatrao was for his daughter’s training.

Baithak Foundation · Raag Sukhiya Bilawal by Dhondutai Kulkarni

Raga Sukhiya Bilawal is a type of Bilawal which integrates the phrases of Raga Sawani. Their assimilation results in a beautiful raaga swarup. The bandish is हे देवी दुर्गे. There’s a special memory associated with this raga where I had the opportunity to accompany and witness the magic when she performed the raga in the Mahalaxmi Temple of Kolhapur which has a deep rooted significance in Dhondutai’s life. The bandish is set to Vilambit Jhaptal (cycle of 10 beats).

Bhurji Khansaheb was considered an excellent teacher and also one of the prominent figures in propagating the Jaipur – Atrauli Gayaki by training and influencing artists like Mallikarjun Mansur, Vasant Kanetkar, Shobha Gurtu, Gajananbuwa Joshi and many more who took ahead the legacy in their own way. Dhondutai received training from him for around 10 years (1940-1950). The Guru – Shishya bond was truly shared even by Dhondutai’s family who supported and nurtured her training which built the fundamentals and were the building blocks of her music. These early life experiences had a long lasting impact as Dhondutai often mentioned her way of teaching was deeply influenced by Bhurji Khansaheb’s way of training.

After Bhurji Khansaheb’s death in 1950, Dhondutai stayed in Hyderabad and worked in a pharmaceutical company which was owned by her maternal uncle. In the year 1957, she was conferred with a scholarship from the Central Government Ministry of Education for 3 years. Coincidentally Laxmibai Jadhav who was the Darbar – Gayika in the princely state of Baroda was back in Kolhapur. She was a disciple of Ustad Haider Khan. Dhondutai resumed her training from Laxmibai with the scholarship she had received. Simultaneously she also learnt with Ustad Azizuddin Khansaheb aka Baba (grandson of Ustad Alladiya Khan and son of Bhurji Khan). Dhondutai mentions that this was the golden learning period, as she learnt many rare ragas and compositions from Baba coupled with the gayaki training from Laxmibai Jadhav. Her association with Baba remained untill his death in 2010. Dhondutai remained a devoted disciple and her sense of reverence was the core of her musical persona.

Baithak Foundation · Raga Des by Dhondutai Kulkarni

Let us listen to a beautiful Khyal in Raag Des, ‘सखी मोहन मोहनी डारी रे’ (Sakhi mohan mohani dari re). The rendition of this composition beautifully draws in some elements of Thumri which makes its presentation unique. This was composed by Ustad Alladiya Khansaheb. The delicate usage of Komal Gandhar and peculiar phrasing brings out a different facet of the raga. 

Recording shared by Shri Kishor Merchant.

One of the most celebrated vocalists of the 20th century, Surashree Kesarbai Kerkar who marks her eternal presence in the world of Hindustani music was one of the leading representatives of the Jaipur – Atrauli Gayaki. At this juncture it is also important to note that this tradition has witnessed remarkable women vocalists who were Kesarbai’s contemporaries like Tanibai Ghorpade, Laxmibai Jadhav and Mogubai Kurdikar.. This trend continued in the later generations too. Kesarbai had received rigorous taleem from Ustad Alladiya Khansaheb and had an illustrious career as a performer for 4 decades. She felt the need and responsibility to pass the legacy to the next generation but also admitted that she could not train anyone from scratch. It was said that during one of her concerts she announced that she was ready to accept a disciple who would be as dedicated and hardworking as she was. After Kesarbai declared this, Dhondutai who was accompanied by Baba approached Kesarbai.

Baithak Foundation · Raga Shahana by Dhondutaai Kulkarni

Raga Shahana belongs from the ‘कानडा’ (Kanada)  family of the ragas . The composition ‘गूँदला मालनी फूलों का सेहेरा’ is set to a variant of आद्धा तीनताल (Addha Teentaal) also known as ‘चम्पक आद्धा’. One can listen and observe how the Khyal rendition justifies the structure of the ठेका which is beautifully played by Shri Shridhar Padhye who shared a long musical bond with Dhondutai and accompanied her for several decades. Padhye ji  is a disciple of  Yashwant Kerkar who regularly accompanied Kesarbai Kerkar. 

Recording shared by Shri Kishor Merchant.

Having extensively trained under the acclaimed Gurus of the tradition, she was the perfect suit to receive Kesarbai’s Taleem. Dhondutai along with her parents settled in Mumbai after selling their property in, Kolhapur solely for Dhondutai’s taleem with Kesarbai. She was the only musical heir of Kesarbai’s legacy. Her training with Kesarbai began in 1962 and continued till 1971, untill Kesarbai started ailing with age related health issues. Along with ragas and Jaipur – Atrauli Gayaki, Dhondutai emulated Kesarbai’s musicianship. Her full throated vocalism, an unbreakable gayaki flow, suave Jaipur – Atrauli characteristic taans and her ability to win the hearts of the audience, together constituted a deeper impact on Dhondutai’s music.

Dhondutai’s life as a performer began very early, during her early student days she had gained accolades. She earned acclaim as a promising artist as she also got the opportunity to be a part of the conference where stalwarts like Baba Allaudin Khan (founder of the Maihar Gharana) were featured. When she was as young as 16 years, she received blessings from Ustad Alladiya Khan as he saw a spark in Dhondutai’s singing and was reassured about her to take forward his legacy. During her intermittent stay in Hyderabad, she performed on the All India Radio and was also conferred with an ‘A’ grade. She was truly a torch bearer of Jaipur – Atrauli legacy and her individuality was defined by the reverence she felt for the contribution of her parents, gurus and the uncompromising nature of her musical pursuit.

Baithak Foundation · Raga Maalavi by Dhondutai Kulkarni

Raaga Maalavi, a blend of 5 ragas – Jayat, Shri, Bhoop, Sohani and Hindol. Each raga phrase flows seamlessly into one another unfolding an independent raga Maalavi. The bandish ‘अंग सुगंध’ (Ang sugandh), is composed by Ustad Alladiya Khansaheb, the composition also has his pen name ‘अहमद'(Ahmed) which is set to Vilambit Jhaptal.

Recording shared by Shri Kishor Merchant.

Her mark remains eternal in the hearts of her disciples and admirers which shall continue to reverberate. She received many opportunities of performing in many prestigious festivals across the country. She was conferred with the Sangeet Natak Academy Award in the year 1990 and also received a special award from the Maharastra State Government in the same year.

Dhondutai receiving the prestigious Sangeet Natak Academy Award at the hands of Shri. R. Venkatraman (Former President of India) and Girish Karnad, the then chairman of the Academy.

Along with being an excellent disciple, she was a dedicated Guru. She has trained students belonging to diverse walks of life. Her disciples include Shri Deepak Raja, Vasant Karnad, Manjiri Vaishampayan, Namita Devidayal, Smita Bhagwat, Rutuja Lad, Aditya Khandwe, Jahsan Bhumkar, Deepika Bhide Bhagwat and many more.

Dhondutai in a concert, accompanied on tanpura by Namita Devidayal, the author of the book The Music Room.

Indeed, her’s was a life destined to be weaved in the intricacies of the Jaipur – Atrauli tradition. Dhondutai remained devoted to her calling of music and her life decisions were defined by this pursuit. The world of music shall always be in reverence of this Gaanyogini.

Source (Images and Music): Received from Rutuja Lad

About the curator:

Rutuja Lad was born in a musically initiated family. She received training in the Jaipur Atrauli – Gayaki from Gaanyogini Pandita Dhondutai Kulkarni from a very young age, for around 12 to 13 years. She is now furthering her training from Dr. Ashwini Bhide – Deshpande. She is also learning harmonium from Shri. Sudhir Nayak. She has received recognition as a performer and is engaged in multiple avenues like teaching and has a keen bent for research.

We are listening! 

Do you have an anecdote or a story or any archival recordings of Ganayogini Dhondutaai which you would like to share? We are all ears! 

All the recordings have been compiled from the web. In case you feel proper credit has not been given, please reach out to us!

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