ibnlive » India

Jul 21, 2009 at 04:53pm IST

Obit: Grand old lady of Kirana-Gharana is no more

New Delhi: Gangubai Hanagal, one of the last links with the last century which witnessed the zenith of Indian classical music, breathed her last at Hubli in Karnataka, on Tuesday morning. A legend, Gangubai was considered the oldest active vocalist in the world. She gave her last public performance when she was 94 years old.

The "more manly than the best male voice" in the Hindustani music bid a final good bye. Gangubai, with her robust, androgynous voice, projected a larger-than-life image. Despite the unmistakable quiver, her voice was marked by the characteristic boom and base.

Eleven-year-old Gangubai sang her first song in public at the historic 1924 Congress session in Belgaum, the only session presided over by the Mahatma Gandhi. After that she never looked back.

Considered one of the living landmarks of Indian classical music, Gangubai had literally ruled Hindustani music for over 75 years. She was treated equal to other greats like Ustad Bismillah Khan, Kumar Gandharva and Pandit Bhimsen Joshi - the only female singer, who reached the pinnacle of Hindustani music, though her voice had taken a beating with the time.

Born in the capital of Hindustani music, Dharwad, in 1913 into a Devadasi family, she had to face the brutality of the caste system, a decadent society, the discriminating world of music which sets different standards for man and woman. But her irrepressible talent earned her respect, status and financial security.

She was conferred with the highest awards including Padma Vibhushana, Karnataka Ratna, honorary doctorates by many universities and the Tansen Samman. She was even nominated for the Bharat Ratna more than once.

Gangubai's great legacy of music will continue through her thousands of disciples. Truly end of an era.