The inimitable genius of Kishori Amonkar, her exceptional virtuosity and the richness of her contributions to Hindustani classical music, as conveyed through anecdote and appraisal, were the focus of an evening memorial to the late legendary vocalist here on Monday.
Notable personalities from a wide range of creative disciplines shared their thoughts and experiences over the hour-long commemoration, organized by the Raza Foundaion at the Amphitheater of the India Habitat Center. The event, titled ‘Tribute to Kishori Amonkar,’ celebrated the extraordinary life of a musician who was widely regarded as one of the last great vocalists of Hindustani classical music. Amonkar died on April 3 at the age of 84.
“Kishori ji’s music has reason, debate and a story. To that end, she brought all her faculties to focus on the raga she sang at a particular moment. We should be indebted to her for the way she established the dignity of the svara or the note,” said noted journalist, author and television personality Mrinal Pande.
Pande stressed on a great artiste’s need for absolute supremacy in moments of creation. “Amonkar was an epitome of fierce concentration while being transported into a different realm in the process of interpreting notes and meandering inside a raga. It was perfectly justified on her part to be angry at disturbances during her live concerts,” she said.
The event, which drew a capacity crowd, was organised by the Raza Foundation – set up by the late master modern artist Sayed Haider Raza in 2001 and helmed by eminent Hindi poet Ashok Vajpeyi, the Managing Trustee.
Observing how the gradual fading of greatness in Hindustani classical music, which started with the loss of legends like Kumar Gandharva, Mallikarjun Mansur and Bhimsen Joshi, had come full circle with Amonkar’s death, Vajpeyi said. “It’s an end of an era of greatness in classical music. Such greatness is focused on a mix of imagination and the vocal talent for discovery. Kishori ji sang intensely of separation, loneliness and loss in her unique style and created music of depth, existential angst and spiritual yearning.”
The memorial saw music aficionados and critics expound on various facets of her vision, style and personality. “Kishori ji used to enter the stage in a meditative trance. Her process was to establish the raga to be sung that day in her soul, offer her prayers to it and embellish it with her deep understanding,” said noted music critic Manjari Sinha.
Noting that her continuous struggle with her own self made Amonkar a peerless musical talent Irfan Zuberi, Project Manager at Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA), said, “She struggled with her gayaki (vocal style), thought process, expression, persona and demeanour. Most importantly, she also strived to achieve a kind of simplicity which takes us close to the divine. Raag sangeeth was necessarily bhav sangeeth.”
“For her, the gharana was a non-entity. She would say that gharanas were as divisive as castes and that one should not teach students the limits of this art for there are none,” Zuberi added.
According to award-winning architect Vikram Lall, Amonkar’s music goes well beyond her performance, pedagogy and personality. “It reveals a sharp and intelligent min
d. Her music has not only inherited the best of our traditions but has also found ways to expand upon it with her brilliant imagination. As rendered by Kishori ji, notes had personalities and emotional textures,” Lall said.
Other speakers chose to pepper their speeches with several reminiscences about Amonkar’s performances. Sucheta Banerji, of the Society for the Promotion of Indian Classical Music and Culture Amongst Youth (Spic Macay), recalled that young people would turn out in droves for her concerts.
“Kishori ji saw music as a path to mukti or salvation. Young people, she would say, needed to be filled satisfaction, which was getting harder to come by these days where everything is practical and readymade,” Banerji said.
For author Sunita Budhiraja, “Amonkar’s music was a space where all opinions ceased to exist. What remained was just a deep realisation.”
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