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They created connoisseurs in villages
Among the top-ranking vocalists of the current generation, M Venkatesh Kumar started life in Bellary as the child of an impoverished folk artiste. His stint at the ashram, he says, changed his life...
I was 13 when I joined the ashram in 1968. My father was a folk artiste and we had heard guruji sing in the village. Those days there were few students - all of 25. I learnt for 11 years before I took the stage.
How tough was it to follow the ashram's 'riyaaz' regimen?
There were no distractions in those days. What else is a child to do in a small village ashram? We would follow the routine of practice, prayer, sewa for the blind starting 4 am. It was tough and I ran away three or four times, only to return. Guruji wouldn't give up on me, his love for me and music was immense.
How come Hindustani classical music has such a huge following and talent pool in and around the districts of Gadag and Dharwad?
For one, we are close to Mumbai and Pune, both big hubs for Hindustani music. Then, the Mysore court patronised a large number of greats from the north. After performing at the court, they would come down to this area and stay for a month or so giving concerts around this area.
How much did the Gawais contribute to the popularity of classical music here?
I would say 99 per cent. There are so many mass music festivals in Kundgol and Gadag which see good attendance. Also, you have to remember that the Gawais were seen by the common people as big yogis. They had a huge draw among the masses, worshipped like gods. Their music was margi sangeet, it had spiritual appeal. Even those who were not connoisseurs would come for their darshan and stay on and listen to the music.
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