Whenever references about Khyal in Indian Classical Music are discussed, the name of legendary singer Gangubai Hangal from the Kirana gharana, is mentioned with great respect for her intense and powerful tone. If the history of Indian Khyal singing is to be written, it would be incomplete without her name.
She was born on the 5th March 1913, in Dharwad to singer mother Ambabai of the Carnatic music. Her father Chikkurao Nadiger was a farmer. In her childhood, a woman singer was like a social stigma, which Gangubai Hangal had surpassed after a hard fight to become a celebrity Indian Classical singer.
Due to her attraction towards classical music, her father decided to move to Hubli in 1928. Until then she had completed only elementary schooling.
Thus, from the age of 13, she had initiated her formal classical singing lessons from her first ever guru Krishnacharya Hulgur, who also was the kinnari (the veena-like stringed instrument) player. Thanks to her brains, with which merely at the age of 13, Gangubai Hangal had had more than 50 lessons only in a year from him.
Thereafter, she had her next learning from Dattopant Desai, before sheltering under the giant tree of Indian Classical music Sawai Gandharva. Throughout her life, Gangubai Hangal had supreme reverence for him. Due to Sawai Gandharva’s going back to his native place, she had to study under him for a shorter period initially. However, when he returned back to Hubli for good, she had a thorough 3 years’ training under him.
Bharat Ratna Pandit Bhimsen Joshi is a Guru Bandhu of Gangubai, In 1953, it was Pt. Bhimsen Joshi started Sawai Gandharva Festival. He launched the festival to observe the first death anniversary of Pandit Sawai Gandharva. I was written article on this festival which you can read below.
As per the custom of that era, Gangubai Hangal married at age 16 to a lawyer Gururao Kaulgi. She had her musical concerts all over India. Moreover, she also sang for All India Radio stations until 1945. She also held the honorary position of a music professor with the Karnatak University.
Before coming to Khyal in her life, in the beginning she would sing light classical compositions, like bhajans and thumris. Subsequently, she would deny offers of concerts for light classical to insist Khyal.
Gangubai Hangal had a series of prestigious awards, like Karnataka Sangeet Nritya Academy Award, Padma Bhushan, Sangeet Natak Akademi Award, Sangeet Natak Akademi Fellowship and Padma Vibhushan. After Gangubai Hangal’s name, the State Government of Karnataka has named Karnataka State Music University, which functions from Mysore, Karnataka.
When her fans were celebrating the day of her 75th career year, she sang for the last time in March 2006.
Read about more Kirana Gharana Maestros listed below :
As she bravely had to struggle against the odds of her mother’s singing background in her musical grooming years, she also fought with bone marrow cancer in 2003 with the same nerves.
However, on the 21st of July 2009, God might have wished someone in the heaven to sing Khyal for Him, as on that day she died of cardiac arrest at the age of 96, in Hubli.
Just like her devotion for the tradition of Khyal singing all her life, as per her wish from the deathbed, her eyes also were donated.