Pandit Dinkar Kaikini’s musical legacy is marked by a highly refined level of musicianship and gayaki, complemented by a visionary approach to composition and pedagogy. As a renowned vocalist of the Agra gharana, his performances were known for capturing the vibrant spirit of the style while maintaining a distinct musical identity that reflects his blend of deep musical introspection and erudition.
Born on October 2, 1927 to Krishnabai and Dattatreya, Kaikiniji evinced very early signs of musical talent. His father had taken him to see the film “Sant Tukaram,” which was known for its extremely popular and appealing soundtrack of abhang-s. A few days later, when Kaikiniji heard his neighbor, a harmonium player, playing the same melodies on his instrument, he immediately joined in and sang all of the songs from the film perfectly. He had only seen the film once. He became a local phenomenon, and his neighbor encouraged his father to teach him music seriously.
At just the age of seven, he experienced a pivotal turning point in his life. He heard about a very special concert that was happening at Blavatski Lodge, and stealthily made his way to the concert, where he snuck in and sat right in the front. He did not know that the music he was about to hear would form a seminal moment of his musical journey – the concert featured three Hindustānī legends: Ustad Alladiya Khan, Ustad Faiyaz Khan, and Ustad Abdul Karim Khan. At the conclusion of this grand musical feast, he had made up his mind that he must become a musician, and he must sing like none other than Ustad Faiyaz Khan.
Since that day, the young boy was determined to find a Guru who would train him to sing just like the music he had heard. Even as a child, he was uncompromising in his musical vision. He received his initial two years of training from Karekette Nagesh Rao, followed by a brief period under Pandit Omkarnath Thakur. But it was after hearing a performance by Pandit Chidanand Nagarkar that he was reconnected to the gayaki that had drawn him in to begin with. He insisted that his father ask Nagarkar to be his Guru, but when approached, Nagarkar suggested they go directly to his Guru, Pandit S.N. Ratanjankar.
At the time, Ratanjankarji was Principal of Marris College, in Lucknow. During a visit to Bombay, Dattatreya went to meet him and requested that he take his son as a student. Initially, Ratanjankarji refused on the grounds that he was already responsible for two other children and could not take on any more residential students. But Dattatreya did not relent, and after asking the young Dinkar to sing for Ratanjankarji, he was able to convince him that his son’s talent was something extraordinary. Ratanjankarji agreed, on the condition that Pandit Chidanand Nagarkar took up the responsibility of looking after the child.
Kaikiniji left his home at the age of 11 to pursue his music studies in Lucknow, a period that would be filled with tests of his determination and will power. After discovering the undesirable conditions of the general hostel, he went on a hunger strike until he was finally allowed to live with his Guruji. But once his basic living conditions were improved, he was immersed in taalim and Ratanjankarji’s immense knowledge. Despite being away from his family from such a young age, he developed a deep brotherhood with his guru bhai-s, Pandit S.C.R. Bhat and Pandit K.G. Ginde. The relationship of these three musical giants would last for their lifetimes.
Career as Performer, Guru & Composer
Over time, Kaikiniji molded a personal style based on the deep scholasticism of Ratanjankarji’s approach and the performative influence of his role model, Ustad Faiyaz Khan. His performance career spanned many decades during which he toured the United States, Europe, Singapore and Malaysia, and many cities across India. Detailed Nom-Tom alaaps were a central part of his gayaki, in which he would showcase both robust musicianship and the nuance of a bhava-laden approach. His repertoire encompassed the gravitas of a nom-tom alaap to the free spirited expression of a thumri with equal ease and mastery. Some of his most notable honours include the Sangeet Natak Akademi award and the Taansen Puraskar.
Kaikiniji’s career would showcase the many facets of his skills. He was a Producer for the Light Music Unit of All India Radio Delhi, during which he composed many pieces in a variety of genres (ranging from geet to dhamar-s) and large ensemble arrangements. While he was in Delhi, he also collaborated with Pandit Ravi Shankar for his Discovery of India ballet production and composed extensive choral productions that were performed at Government events and conferences. In 1971, an offer to be the Principal of Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Chowpatty, drew Kaikiniji back to his hometown, Mumbai.
At the Bhavan’s, Kaikiniji established a precedent for his high standards as a Guru and meticulousness as a leader of an institution. Over the years, he would formulate his own pedagogical theories, meant to enable students to face the daunting task of improvisation. As a Guru, he enabled his students to be independent thinkers, to cultivate the knowledge and thought process necessary to empower creativity.
Singing a self-composed bandish in Raga Gaud Sarang; from Raagrang, collection of bandishes by Kaikini ji.
As a composer, Kaikiniji’s corpus of work reveals great versatility and an egalitarian approach towards various forms. At the age of seventeen, he composed his first bandish, “Nahi maane, nahi maane,” in the raag Bhoopali. Following this, and perhaps in the tradition of his Guru, who was a prolific composer, he too composed khayal, tarana, dhrupad, dhamar, thumri, tappa, dadra, kajri, abhang, geet, Carnatic kritis, choral arrangements, and songs for children. While composers are normally endowed with a level of craftsmanship that blends raag, taal, and kavya, Kaikiniji’s compositions stand apart in their originality of thought.
He has composed on topics ranging from the first moon landing by Neil Armstrong, on issues of hunger and starvation, and even humorously about the state of the modern music critic. The trademark of his bandish-es lie in the playful and unexpected use of laya and taal, and the lyrical and thematic depth of kavya that blends into authentic raag representation. He also has several newly invented raags to his credit, including Gagan Vihang, Gunaranjani, Bhoopavali, and Bayati.
In 2010, Kaikiniji passed away in his home in Gamdevi, Mumbai. His family is committed to keeping his legacy alive through the work of their trust, Svarit, which offers a platform for performers and educational events such as specialized workshops and lecture-demonstrations. Svarit’s work is led by his wife and vocalist, Smt Shashikala Kaikini, his daughter and vocalist Smt Aditi Kaikini Upadhya, and his son and tabla artist, Sri Yogesh Samsi.
Copyright and Source (Images): From the Kaikini Family Collection
About the curator:
Priya Purushothaman: Priya is a Hindustani vocalist, educator and writer. She is a disciple of Vidushi Aditi Kaikini Upadhya and Pandit Sudhindra Bhaumik, and has also received guidance from Smt Shashikala Kaikini and the late stalwart Pandit Dinkar Kaikini. She has performed around India and abroad, and also conducts lecture-demonstrations and workshops at music institutions. She is the author of the book, “Living Music: Conversations with Pandit Dinkar Kaikini,” published by Popular Prakashan.
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