Marathi Natya Sangeet
by Mohan Nadkarni
First Online: July 02, 2006
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 drama.
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 stage-loving audiences.
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 off-stage!
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.
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