Kumar Gandharva and the perseverance of musical spirit over disease
Kumar Gandharva was an eminent vocalist who sang Hindustani ragas and Carnatic devotional songs while also exploring rich folk traditions by weaving them into classical canons thereby turning Indian music to its roots. There was little influence of any particular gharana on his style, and his melodic lines often contradicted established vocal techniques, which explains why contemporaries recognized him as both the rebel and creator of a new musical syntax.
Many wonder whether Kumar Gandharva's legacy would have been the same if not for the debilitating illness that struck him at the height of his career and permanently blocked one of his lungs. Indeed, some aspects of his distinctive vocals developed around his disability, and the long years of being forbidden to sing were spent collecting folk songs.
Unlike most classical musicians who had studied since childhood, Kumar Gandharva did not receive any training and, unexpectedly for everyone, developed his beautiful and clean singing naturally. As it turned out, the boy had a rare gift for imitating vocal timbres, so outstanding vocalists were stunned when they heard him sing in different voices so similar to their own. His first public appearance caused an unprecedented sensation and provided the boy with a flattering nickname Gandharva, meaning a musical spirit in Hindu mythology.
Listen to Raga Saijari by Kumar Gandharva:
After his early success, Kumar Gandharva began intensive training and developed his own vocal style, having gone through all the difficulties that come with searching for his own voice instead of simply imitating other people's songs. Despite being diagnosed with tuberculosis at the beginning of his career, he persevered even through the six-year medical ban on singing and permanent change of location.
These difficult years were not in vain as Kumar Gandharva immersed himself in deep research into the nature of music and the notation of about 300 folk songs that fueled his creative inspiration for the rest of his life.