Shruti Sadolikar on women power in music

When speaking to Shruti Sadolikar Katkar, you realise you are in conversation with a thinking musician. Her expertise as a vocalist is backed by her vast theoretical knowledge of the art. Since her training days, Shruti had been curious about the many nuances that characterise Hindustani music. Though the winds of change have been sweeping the classical arts, her steadfast commitment to traditional values comes through in her singing.

As one of the foremost exponents of the Jaipur-Atrauli gharana, she takes her role seriously by upholding the sanctity of the gharana’s style and drawing inspiration from the maestros belonging to it.

Recently during an interaction at Shiv Nadar University, New Delhi, the senior vocalist and Vice-Chancellor of Bhatkhande University of Music, Lucknow, talked about finding herself through the music of three legendary women artistes of her gharana — Mogubai Kurdikar, Kesarbai Kerkar and Laxmibai Jadhav.

“There is so much to learn from their life and music. In a predominantly male-dominated world, they managed to establish themselves as artistes of repute, made major contributions to the art form and had a huge following. Aesthetics apart, their music had an intellectual quality about it,” explains Shruti.

Their tenacity and perseverance in expressing themselves musically made their engagement with the art an intense exercise and a liberating experience. While Kesarbai and Mogubai learnt from Alladiya Khan, the founder of the Jaipur-Atrauli gharana, Laxmibai trained under his brother Hyder Khan.

“The challenges faced by these three doyens, who were contemporaries, were similar. They came from humble backgrounds, were constantly compared to their male counterparts and fought hard to find acceptance as competent performers. Even seeking a guru to train was not easy. But they mastered every aspect and earned the admiration of their gurus and rasikas. Their music has had a deep impact on me,” says Shruti, who felt a sense of belonging to the gharana right from the day she began to train under her musician-father Pt. Wamanrao Sadolikar.

“With my father around, there was no question of straying from the Jaipur-Atrauli style. It is part of my sanskar. I later trained under Ustad Gullubhai Jasdanwalah and Ustad Alladiya Khan Sahab’s grandson, Ustad Azizuddin Khan. Though the gharana is known for its mardana (masculine) quality, with a forceful and voluminous projection of voice, it offers space to the softer female voice too. The gayaki is not simple and its complex repertoire of ragas requires a deep understanding of the subtleties.”

Shruti’s emotional bonding with the gharana led her to do research in Haveli Sangeet. “When I was doing my Master’s in Music in Mumbai, I used to get upset over people’s insensitive remarks about the compositions Alladiyakhan Saheb taught his disciples. When I told my father, he said you cannot expect people to get to the root of these works, as someone belonging to the gharana, it is your duty to do it. So I decided to explore the tradition of haveli sangeet. It was fascinating to understand the historical context of the songs you sing, the milieu in which they were created and their musical essence.”

Many of the raags and compositions sung in the gharana are said to have come from the tradition of Haveli Sangeet, a form of music sung in the havelis or temples, as an offering to Lord Krishna by Vaishnavites of Nathdwar in Rajasthan. Since Khansaheb grew up in the region and his forefathers were associated with the royal courts there, he was greatly influenced by this form of music when creating bandishes and raags.

“The well-known physicist MGK Menon, who loved my singing, advised me, ‘don’t do the research to just prove a point. It will be wonderful to bring to light the hoary musical tradition’. And the more I studied music, the more I realised what difference a scholarly approach to an art makes,” says Shruti.

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