Individual Issues

Dhondutai Kulkarni

  • Issue 358
  • Published By Sruti
  • ₹120.00


Life may be a flow of moments that play on as compound ragas, different emotions converging on a common note, sometimes setting off a dichotomous melody, or blending into the mood of the minute. Within this interplay, the varjit swara, the unheard note, plays a crucial part in balancing the identity of the raga. As we remember a life steeped in solitude, we see a passion immersed  in the insular and determined pursuit of knowledge. Dhondutai Kulkarni passed away on 1 June, 2014, leaving behind a void that continues to carry around it the aura of uncompromising love and devotion to music. This absent note today emphasises the presence of the strong legacy of Jaipur-Atrauli gharana that the veteran vocalist nurtured.

“My father taught me music so that I gained knowledge. I was not encouraged to learn music so as to get name and fame. Never. It was for knowledge. To me knowledge is most important,” said Dhondutai in an interview. This was her mantra through life.

Dhondutai was born on 23 July at Kolhapur. Her musical journey started at the age of five. Her first guru was Natthan Khan (nephew of Alladiya Khan – the founder of the Jaipur-Atrauli gharana), followed by Bhurji Khan (son of Alladiya Khan), Lakshmibai Jadhav of Baroda (disciple of Hyder Khan), and Azizuddin Khan (grandson of Alladiya Khan). She became Kesarbai Kerkar’s sole disciple in 1962. Kesarbai Kerkar was 72 years old then. In 1965, Kesarbai Kerkar announced her retirement, but Dhondutai continued to learn from her till 1971. Kesarbai was known for her temperamental and mercurial nature. Dhondutai’s reflections bring forth the other side of Kesarbai as the kind and generous guru, “Kesarbai encouraged me and started sending me for concerts. She also offered me her diamond jewellery to wear because she felt that I should look my best on stage.”


In the last issue of Sruti I recounted my personal experiences which were concerned more with my heart and less with my intellect. I had genuine concern for those with whom fate had played a nasty trick. Quite by accident I had stumbled upon an entirely new and hitherto unexplored quality of “my dance”. A  totally, hitherto unknown quality of dance, was presenting itself and crying out for exploration and recognition. The unbounded enthusiasm of Dr. Nandu Chhabria, Dr. Ali Irani and their assistants forced me to adopt an eclectic approach to dance wherein dance would also provide (what I today call) “The Healing Touch”. Earlier we were tempted to term it ‘Dance Also Cures’. But I realised later that what is incurable cannot be cured. All that can be done is to provide the healing touch which is physical as well as emotional. The physical healing, to a certain degree, is to be provided by well planned exercise regime. The emotional is a very elusive factor and cannot be cast into definitive channels. The physical one can be categorised and systematised. The emotional one relies on personal equations and cannot be categorised.

When I started working with these children I tended to form groups: the visually challenged, the hearing and speech challenged, the physically challenged, the mentally challenged. In a general manner I gave them movements that they could perform with a certain level of comfort – like making the visually challenged dance on the rim of a brass plate or making the hearing and speech impaired perform the Naga bamboo dance. In these two groups, there was no debilitating physical hurdle.

K.P. Kunhiraman - A personal loss
G. SUNDARI as told to S. Janaki
TRIBUTE <br/> K.P. Kunhiraman - A personal loss <br/> G. SUNDARI as told to S. Janaki

The passing away of K.P. Kunhi-raman is a personal loss to me. I knew his father Ambu Panikkar who was a good Kathakali artist specialising in satvika characters. I still remember Ambu Panikkar acting as a fisherman in Rukmini Devi’s dance-drama Bheeshma. He was very popular with all the children in Kalakshetra. When he passed away, Rukmini Devi brought his son Kunhiraman to learn Kathakali under the great Chandu Panikkar.

Like his father, Kunhiraman was a popular figure with teachers and students. As S. (Peria) Sarada  has written, “Kunhiraman was one of our best artists taking part in all our dance-dramas, beginning with his role as Lord Siva in Kumara Sambhavam. As Viswamitra in Sita Swayamvaram, Dasaratha in  Sreerama Vanagamanam, as Guha in  Paduka Pattabhishekam, as Ravana in Sabhari Moksham, as Vali and Ravana in Choodamani Pradanam, and as the Kotwal in Shyama, he was striking and impressive.

(Veena) Sambasiva Iyer used to call Kunhiraman “Viswamitra” because he had enacted the role effectively. He has personality and grace, and his bhava is superb.”

Kunhiraman married Katherine in 1970. After some years Sarada and I visited them and their little daughter Nandini in California. Kunhiraman was so happy to have us there that he took a break from teaching his students  and spent most of his time with us.

Lalgudi Rajalakshmi
MY GURU <br/> Lalgudi Rajalakshmi <br/> SINDHUJA BHAKTAVATSALAM

Lalgudi Rajalakshmi, the third of the Lalgudi siblings, is a respected violinist in the Carnatic music circles of Bengaluru. “Lalgudi Mami”, as she is fondly called, is an endearing personality, but an uncompromising teacher. I am fortunate to have been her disciple for the last seven years.

Mami who belongs to the formidable Lalgudi lineage, is the epitome of discipline and perfection. She learned to play the violin from her father Lalgudi Gopala Iyer and her brother Lalgudi G. Jayaraman, and started performing at the age of ten. She settled in Bangalore after her marriage  in 1957 to Radhakrishnan; her late husband who was  employed in the Indian air force. Over the years, Mami performed extensively as a soloist and accompanist. She has accompanied several artists across generations like M.L. Vasanthakumari, D.K. Pattammal, Bombay Sisters, Sudha Ragunathan, Aruna Sairam, Neyveli Santhanagopalan, Mandolin Shrinivas, and her own daughter Jayanthi Kumaresh, and grandson Abhishek Raghuram. She has also performed duets with her brother Jayaraman and sisters Srimathi Brahmanandam (violin) and Padmavathy Ananthagopalan (veena). During her long stint at All India Radio she brought out many musical productions, including women’s and children’s orchestras. Outside of India, my guru has performed and taught in Singapore, Malaysia, Japan, and the U.S.A. She has received many awards – ‘Swara Bhushani’ presented by Gayana Samaja, Bangalore, being the most recent.