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Kishori Amonkar-The Doyen of Classical Music

Kishori Amonkar is no more. It is not easy to believe as I had met Kishori Amonkar Madam a few years ago for an interview for a local art magazine. She was an amicable and affectionate lady. I wanted to interview her for A Journalist Reveals. I lost the chance with her demise. So, I decided to post the old interview to pay homage to her. Here is the interview I did. I have not changed anything in it, even the tense because I still feel that she lives among us. RIP Madam :'( :


She is the doyen of Indian classical music. She is very vocal about the less number of admirers of classical music, today. She is Kishori Amonkar.

Born to Madhavdas Bhatiya and Mogubai Kurdikar, Kishori, a renowned classical vocalist, she had her early music lessons from her mother. Kishori initially learnt from the difficult Jaipur-Atrauli gharana of music. Later, she did not stick to the gharana, which was her heritage, but she developed her own style, which emphasizes the emotional content of musical notes while maintaining the rigor of the Jaipur “gaayaki” (singing style).

Popularly known as “Gana Saraswati” (Saraswati of Singing), Kishori Amonkar has received the Padma Vibhushan (2002), Rashtrapati Award, Sangeet Natak Akademi Award (1985), Sangeet Samragni Award (Queen of Singing) (1997).

Kishori Amonkar is a poet as well. This music genius from Goa has attained such mastery over her art that she can justifiably claim to be the sole heir to the exacting standards set by her predecessors- her illustrious mother and the formidable Surashree Kesarbai Kerkar.

You used to sing film songs and light music like Bhav Geet towards the end of your concerts. But for the last more than 3 decades, you have been singing major Khayals, Bhajans and Thumris as a concluding item and not making the main part of your concert. Is there a definite thought behind it that you don’t want to sing film songs or light music like Bhav geet?

I’ve actually not indulged much with light music, though I’ve sung in Geet Gaya Patharone and I’ve also directed Govind Nihalani’s film Drishti. But as I went on studying music in general, I thought that what is known as creation is a vast world. And a raga itself is so magnificent that it can give you ample scope to explore the medium by manifesting a feeling. A raga is a feeling, it is not a cluster of notes or a group of notes or just Aaroha/avaroha. Because I believe that the medium has a purpose behind it. It has a particular purpose behind coming into existence. So I try to explore that purpose and when I try to do that my creative powers grow. I try to explore the purpose through creative power. Because a raga can create a lot. Many say that they can compose 50 odd songs in Yamen, it means that Yamen is eternal. A pot of water from Ganga is not Ganga, it is just a part of Her.

And that would pertain to all the ragas?

Absolutely. Yes. It is magnificent. It is universal. It is eternal, every raga. So I get ample help from the raga to increase the creative power. Take for instance a film song or a natyapad, you cannot go beyond that you cannot sing it for more than 10 mins. If you sing for 10 mins, it is repetitive. It is monotonous. It becomes boring. But the raga is not like that because the raga is eternal. It is vast. It is eternal. Because it has been so many years for which raag Yamen has been living. Itne mein kitne admi chale gaye. Kitne admi mar gaye. Kitne admi janme. Kisko malum. So what I mean to say is, when you take light music, it is so limited. And a creative person like me, I think I am a creative person, but even my ego fails, utterly, miserably. When I sing a raga however much, a time comes when I realize that this particular phrase was not there, I’ve never sung this phrase. To extinguish my ego, this is the best avenue. It makes me realize that unless the ego is completely extinguished you cannot see the reality of life. You cannot go towards peace.

And therefore I prefer singing Khayal more than any other. Raga is eternal and vast.

Kishori Amonkar
Kishori Amonkar

What is different about your gharana Jaipur-Atrauli gharana?

As far as I am concerned and with, of course, due respects to all the other gharanas, Jaipur is most aesthetic gharana because there is tremendous restrain and control between the presentation of notes and rhythm. Every note abides by the rhythm. There is balance. Aisa nahin hai ki hum koi alankar use Karen aur rhythm kuch aur chalraha hai. Isse koi tallukat nahin, aise nahin hota hai. So it gives you equilibrium whenever you practice. We do not get carried away by emotions, in our gharana. We are not sentimental people. Though we manifest the feeling, we are under control of the feeling. We have the remote control of the raga’s feelings. We sing with a restraint. Jis raag mein jo karna hai wahi karna hai. To be able to do that you should be able to love that feeling, instead of loving yourself or have an attraction for the medium.

The audience has not been taught like this that is why they get bored. They do not understand the purpose why we sing.

Now you have evolved a style of your own beyond any gharana.

I am trying to go to the universal existence of a raga. It is not restricted by any sector-wise knowledge. I am trying to explore the feeling of a raga. And the area becomes so vast that it becomes universal. Raga is not restricted to gharana also.

Anybody can sing Yamen. What is Yamen? However, I prefer to sing raga in its true character, rather than representing any sect or gharana because the feeling of raga does not restrict itself to any sect or sub-sect called as gharana. There I don’t want to restrict myself to any gharana as such.

Why do I do this? Because if you say that music is universal, every existence in nature must respond. Because music is one of the aspects of nature. You are drawing some notes from where? From the nature. You are a part of the nature. Nature should respond to what you express. You have to return what you have taken from nature. You have to complete the circle. Unless the nature responds, you cannot say that this is natural. That is the reason why Indian Classical music has been created. We forget this.

What is the Indian scene as far as classical music is concerned?

Very depressive, because unless you know the purpose behind the medium, which is music, the activities of the medium and the completion, the cause behind the existence of the medium of notes (the language of notes) and its completion, which sadly is not practiced these days. Or you can say it this way. We know the purpose and so we express something and we come to the conclusion of what we want to say.

Let’s see it this way. What is Yamen?

It’s a raga.

What is a raga?…Ok, how many rasas do you have in your abhinaya (dance).


One rasa is not like another. Toh vaise humare raag mein nahin hai kya? We have different ragas with different feelings of different rasas. We are not restricting ourselves to this condition of music therefore we are failing.

Are the audiences changing? What do they want as far as music is concerned?

Every person wants peace, even if it is in bits. Because we need peace these days particularly in a chaotic world. Everybody wants it.

No. I am dealing with the soul of the audience. The soul is one. You can get that ultimate peace when you forget your body. An artist is supposed to make the people forget themselves. And that too does not happen every time. Every art is so difficult.

Do today’s listeners understand classical music?

I don’t expect them to understand classical music. I expect them to feel peaceful may it be any music and this they will get through any pure language. To understand classical music you don’t need to have knowledge of Indian classical music. Indian classical music expects us to feel good on hearing it. Have you forgotten yourself?  This is what is expected. We don’t expect everybody to have the knowledge. Many people have told me that we don’t understand classical music but our headache has gone.

Now there is a painting. What do you know about the technique of the painting, etc. But to your eyes it is beautiful. That is what is expected. Through art what you are trying to get is ecstasy or bliss. And this peace they will get through a pure language like classical music.

Kishori Amonkar
Kishori Amonkar

What is the ‘rasa theory’ of music?

Every art is emotive. It is necessarily emotive. It means that it should deal with the mind, with the help of intellect or whatever. When we say that Indian classical music should be emotive it should deal with the rasas. Now rasa is not vulnerable. Rasa is bliss. But you should know the path, the start to go towards the bliss. For that purpose you should know and understand the basic feeling of the raga expressed through notes.

You are the one of the rare singers using violin for accompaniment. Your comments.

I am not the only one taking violin for accompaniment.

How can you sing and play an instrument together?

It is not playing. It just sings.

I mean, how can you concentrate on two things together?

Can I ask you a question? How do you manage to tap your feet and at the same time do your gestures?

Ok! You are the only female singer to play swaramandal while singing. Why?

Each raga has its own shruti through which it can manifest itself. See, harmonium plays tempered scale, so you can’t tune it in the required manner. I can tune up swaramandal according to the necessary micro-notes of the feeling to be manifested and then after tuning up the instruments when I play all the strings at a stretch I get the feeling of the raga I am going to sing. It is very difficult to tune up the micro-notes according to the raga and this needs total peaceful atmosphere.

What is the importance of tanpura as an accompaniment?

Taanpura is tuned on the basic swara of a raga, which by playing continuously makes you stay tuneful.


About Gayatri T Rao

A double post-graduate (MSc. - Botany and MA - English Literature) Gayatri T Rao is a Senior Multimedia Journalist with vast experience in writing on varied topics.

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