Marathi Natya Sangeet
by Mohan Nadkarni
First Online: July 02, 2006
Page Last Updated: April 04, 2014
Marathi Natya Sangeet: A Trend-Setter In Indian Musical Drama
Maharashtra is a State of pioneers in the evolution and development of
stage music, as in several other fields. Natya Sangeet, popularly
known as pad, is, in fact, one of the two most popular forms of
singing in Maharashtra today (year 2000, the other one is bhavgeet).
Marathi stage music came into vogue exactly a hundred years ago, when
Balwant Pandurang alias Annasaheb Kirloskar, staged his first
musical play Shakuntal on October 31, 1880.
Looking back, Kirloskar's attempt in introducing his trend-setting
innovation can be regarded as truly symbolic of his compelling urge to
provide an impetus to India's musical tradition-so unique in its range
and variety-through the medium of stagecraft.
A visionary who lived ahead of his times, Kirloskar hailed from
North Karnataka. He was an educated man, a poet and gifted writer of
musical plays and an equally talented actor. And, what is more
significant, he had also an exceptionally refined taste for music. In
sum, he was destined to become the founding father of Marathi musical
Kirloskar's music initially covered a wide compass. The songs he
wrote for his plays were an utterly delectable assortment of
saki, dindi and lavani tunes side by side with
those from Hindustani and Carnatic music. His song-studded
Shakuntal, Ramarajya-viyoga and Soubhadra are an
eloquent testimony to his versatility as a music-maker, capable of
creating the kind of repertoire that catered to all classes of his
A noteworthy aspect or Kirloskar's evolving musical genre was the
marked influence of Hindustani and also Carnatic music in his
Soubhadra. This is not surprising, because he had sought
guidance and direction from a maestro of the eminence of
Balkrishnabuva Ichalkaranjikar, who pioneered the introduction of
Gwalior's Khayal gayaki in the Western and Southern regions of
the then Bombay Presidency.
With the eventual establishment of several Khayal gharanas in these
regions, Kirloskar, with his uncanny insight, decided to popularize traditional music among the common people. He, therefore, employed in
his dramatic company great actor-singers like Moroba Wagholikar, Balkoba NateKar and
Bhaurao Kolhatkar, who, together, aptly came be
known as the ``holy trinity" of Marathi Stage music.
Kirloskar's genre faced many challenges: first, from Pandoba Gurav
(Yawateshwarkar), an eminent exponent of dhrupad and
dhamar, then, from Madhav Narayan Patankar who sought to popularize cheap tunes, based on Parsi and Gujarati stage-songs and
Urdu Quawwalis and Ghazals; and then again from Shripad
Krishna Kolhatkar, who also tried to introduce dignified tunes from
the Urdu, Parsi and Gujarati stage through his own plays like
Veertanaya and Mooknayak.
Yet Kirloskar's original pattern proved to be so resilient that, by
and large, it managed to overcome all these challenges-and also the
most menacing challenge of film music to the very survival of the
institution of drama-from the late thirties till the early
fifties. Although, by then, the Marathi stage revived itself, stage
music had continued to enjoy its popularity all throughout even
The tremendous vogue which Mahathi pad has continued to
enjoy is borne out by the fact that no concert of classical music in
Maharashtra in the last 75 years has been complete without at least a
pad or two in the singer's repertoire. Even blue-blooded Muslim
classical maestros like Abdul Karim Khan and Manji Khan once delighted
their audiences with choice Marathi pads.
If Kirloskar pioneered Marathi stage music, the credit for its
continued popularity must also go to the brilliant galaxy of
singer-actors, music-makers, those are exponents of pads
without their being stage-actors themselves past and present. Here are
the photographs of some of the celebrities who have preserved and
enriched the century-old tradition of Marathi Natya Sangeet in
all its beauty, dignity and grandeur.