Maverick. Rebel. Nonconformist. A question mark for Indian Classical Music.

Pandit Kumar Gandharva has been described likewise by different people. Today he is one of most well-documented musicians of the country. The number of books, articles, online posts and videos about him are a testimony to this. This site is an attempt to put together different facets of this genius in one place.

It is my humble tribute to Kumarji, who continues to give many hours of listening pleasure.


Presenting compositions of three saint-poets, each one as different as can be, was a challenge that Kumarji met with consummate ease. The concert began with Kumarji’s own composition (written under the pseudonym of ‘Shok’) which describes the unique characteristics of the three poets. What better way than this to open the concert!

It is significant to note the choice of raag (and I think the taal too) that Kumarji chose for the compositions. I will attempt to illustrate with just one example of each.
Surdas’ pain and longing when he says “Kabahu na mitat sada pawas brij, laagi rahat jhari” comes alive with the Raag Jhinjhoti in slow Keherwa. When the reference of rain returns in another composition to express acute longing, Kumarji chooses Bihagada (with Keherwa again, but much faster this time) for singing “Bin pawas pawas ritu aai, dekhat hai vidman”.

Compare this with Meera’s unconditional surrender to Him – “bhavsagar mein bahi jaat hoon, beg mhari sudh leejo ji”. Kumarji also ‘surrenders’ to Bhimpalas to convey Meera’s state of mind.

Kabir embodies a state of ‘blissful detachment’, of merging oneself with the ‘Nirgun’ – the formless, shapeless Infinite. Nothing other than a Nirguni mand could have expressed this unending search – “Hum sab maah, sab hai hum maah, hum hai bahuri akela. Hum hi siddh, hum hi samadhi, hum mauni hum bole.”
Not all of Kumarji’s experiments went down too well with the purists and pundits, and Triveni was no exception. There was criticism that the vast difference in each composition did not create a ‘unified picture’ of the concert as a whole. One wonders, however, whether that was Kumarji’s purpose anyway.

Sr. No. Bhajan Raag Taal Lyrics
1 Main gaoon pad gaoon Kedar Keherwa Kumar Gandharva 'Shok'
2 Aho pati so upai Des malhar Tritaal Surdas
3 Nirbhay nirgun gun re gaoon Nirguni Mand Satwa Kabir
4 Sakhi mori neend nasani ho Mand Bhatiyar Keherwa Meera
5 Uthi uthi sakhi sab mangal gai Gaud Malhar Tritaal Surdas
6 Piyaji mhare naina aage Bhimpalas Keherwa Meera
7 Nain ghat ghatatan ek ghari Jhinhjoti Keherwa Surdas
8 Kaun thagva nagariya lootan ho Mishra Kalyan Keherwa Kabir
9 Ram milanaro ghano umavo Mishra pahadi Keherwa Meera
10 Avdhoota yugan yugan hum yogi Nirguni Mand Satwa Kabir
11 Udho ankhiyan ati anuragi Bihagro Keherwa Surdas
12 Naiharwa humka na bhave Nirguni dhun Satwa Kabir
13 Mhara olagiya ghar aayaji Bhairavi Keherwa Meera

Geet Varsha

The importance of rains can hardly be overstated. With Geet Varsha, Kumarji depicted the multitude of emotions that the four months of rains evoke in the Indian mind. This was one of his first forays into thematic concerts, and the first in his exploration of the seasonal cycles. He divided the months of Jyeshta, Ashadh, Shravan and Ashwin into three parts and aptly called them Bauchhar, Jhadi and Rimjhim. These words have no parallel in English! One has to experience the Indian rains to fully understand what these three mean, and Kumarji did exactly that. There are countless traditional compositions describing the rains, and Kumarji dived deep into various sources to pick 25 of these compositions. As an artist he was blessed with a state of ‘divine discontent’ and included his own compositions wherever he found gaps.

Kumarji was attentive to the essence of each facet of nature, and his keen sense of observation picked up all minute changes happening around him. For his inquisitive and sensitive mind, the unending cycle of seasons was not just a weather phenomenon. It was the cycle of life itself; life with its mixture of happiness and sorrow, unions and separations, striving and contentment, and much more.

To enjoy the rains fully, one has to first live through the stressful scorching summer, which Kumarji depicts with ‘Gham pare re’ in Marwa. The first clouds appear shortly thereafter, but they turn out to be just a vacant hope. In fact, they only increase the discomfort. Kumarji follows this with a ‘Barmahi lokgeet’, which is a signature melody throughout all his Geet Varsha, Geet Hemant and Geet Vasant. It is a haunting melody, heralding the passing of one season and onset of the next one. The cycle of life goes on….

These months are also the time for festivities. Kumarji included the references to not just the major events of Gurupurnima, Janmashtami and Ganesh chaturthi, but also to events like Teej, womenfolk visiting their parents, the jhoolas and such other ‘local flavours’ of the rains. While the rains bring boundless joy happiness and festivities, Their departure brings a period of quiet contentment. The parched earth of summer is now a hazy memory, as the entire landscape is lush green. It is time to count one’s blessings, the time to enjoy a good harvest, of which Kumarji reminds us with his superb ‘Heera moti nibaje’.

Sr.No. Bandish Raag Laya Taal
1 Gham pare re Marwa    
2 Nayo nayo meha Sorath desa Madhyalaya Tritaal
3 Lago indra asad Lokgeet  
4 Guruji mai to ek niranjan     Satva
5 Ghan garaje barakha Gaud malhar Drut Tritaal
6 Dal re badal beech Lokgeet   Satva
7 Meghako ritu ayore mita Jaldhar basanti Madhyalaya Tritaal
8 Kare megha barasat nahi Miya malhar Vilambit Ektaal
9 Jajyo re badarawa Miya malhar Drut Tritaal
10 Lago sawan mas Lokgeet  
11 Ritu ayi bole mora re Chandrasakhi   Keherwa
12 Ho nakherala dewariya Lokgeet   Satva
13 Le ja sandeso Sawani bihag Madhyalaya Tritaal
14 Ho sayaba gayi thi Lokgeet   Satva
15 Sawan zar ayo Maghawa Madhyalaya Tritaal
16 Mai kaise awu balama Pilu khamaj   Chachar
17 O diladara aja re Khamaj Drut Tritaal
18 Lago bhadaw mas Lokgeet  
19 Gokul pragat bhaye Mand   Satva
20 Jasodake mandir begi Lokgeet   Chaumatra
21 Aaj nandake dware Lokgeet   Keherwa
22 Amaraiyanake birakhanake Gaud malhar Madhyalaya Tritaal
23 Tame to gaweraka poot Lokgeet   Satva
24 Purawaj kine bandhayo Lokgeet   Satva
25 Heera moti nibaje Jaldhar basanti Madhyalaya Tritaal

Geet Hemant

The rains have left behind a state of prosperity and fulfillment, but it’s not the time to relax. Quite the opposite, because it is time to venture out for new conquests. Warriors will pray to the Goddess Shakti, bring out their weapons and armour, and set out to seek glory.

Just a moment. The grand design of nature also seems to give us another message. Hold on, don’t rush. Take some time out to be with the ‘Nature within’. The thunder, lightning, torrential rains, gushing springs, rolling rivers, have all now become quiet. Listen to these silences – what are they telling you?

Winter is around the corner. Kumarji tells us of the times ahead with his achingly beautiful ‘Sharad Hemant Shishir’ composition in Nindiyari. In line with the thundering clouds having gone away, there is no rhythm accompaniment! Just the drone of perfectly tuned tanpuras and minimal following on the harmonium. Yes, it is time to be in harmony with everything around us. Kumarji seems to tell us, “come out and feel the crisp early morning air” by his – Sohe Hemant naam pukaroon, karoon gaan re sumanva, sunoo sajanva re.”

It is also that time of the year when one is awed by the beauty of clear starlit skies. Sharad purnima comes around in all its glory with the outstanding rendition of ‘Anand zarayo ri’. A few days later, one doesn’t mind even if there is no moonlight, because every little town will be lit up with a thousand lamps. It is the time to celebrate Diwali! Kumarji takes us through the festivities of Navratra, Diwali, and Mahashivratri, and also brings us in close realization with the bitter chill of winter nights.

After many long cold winter nights and foggy mornings, a day comes when the Sun begins his journey North with Makar Sankranti, thus making way for that last act in nature’s drama.
Spring – Vasant rutu. But that is another story….

Sr.No. Bandish Raag Laya Taal
1 Sharad hemant shishir Nindiyari    
2 Lago awaj maas Lokgeet   Satva
3 Chidiya chuchuhani Deshakar Drut Tritaal
4 Kanku bharire Lokgeet   Satva
5 Sohat hathama Bageshri Vilambit Jhoomra
6 Baradayini hori Bageshri Drut Ektaal
7 Bachale mori Madhasuraja Madhyalaya Tritaal
8 Dholiya bajale Madhasuraja Madhyalaya Tritaal
9 Anand zarayori Durga Madhyalaya Roopak
10 Lago kartik maas Lokgeet   Satva
11 Deep ki jyot Dhanabasanti Madhyalaya Tritaal
12 Ajeko goyara Lokgeet   Satva
13 Mehal mandiramahi Kanada Drut Tritaal
14 Lago agane maas Lokgeet   Satva
15 Ghodi Nachat Khundat Lokgeet   Satva
16 Sami sanj goro lado Lokgeet Madhyalaya Roopak
17 Bana byahan ayo Kukubh Bilawal   Sadra
18 Maang bharo ri Lankeshri Drut Ektaal
19 Baithi hoon akeli Kedar Madhyalaya Tritaal
20 Lago posaj maas Lokgeet   Satva
21 Sakal ban bheji Bihagada Vilambit Tritaal
22 Ramabin siya akulayari Mand Gara   Keherwa
23 Guruji mhare mhane dar Bhajan   Dadra
24 Shunya gadh shahar Bhajan   Keherwa
25 Ravike karam Bhairaw   Sadra
26 Meetha bola hum Zinzoti Sindhura Tappa   Chachar
27 Yo Jogika Shiwabhatiyar   Sadra
28 Sawariya raho Bhairawi   Chachar

Geet Vasant

The winter has silently swept across the landscape. It is so quiet that one can almost hear a leaf drop to the ground. Yes, all the trees stand stark and bare. That unseen force, which we call death, has walked silently among the woods, gently shaking each tree and helping that last leaf to fall to the ground.

Kumarji opens this concert with ‘Arun ake kiran rang phekyo’ in Rati Bhairav. It ends with the line “bolan lagi koyaliya”. The koel is singing! Leave your depressions behind, because it is time to welcome spring, the time for rebirth and rejuvenation! No wonder that spring is the only season for which we actually have a dedicated festival – Vasant Panchami. However, it will make us wait a bit. Vasant panchami is still only the 5th day of the month of Maagh. This tantalizing wait comes alive in the brilliant Vasant Stavan, which begins in a slow tempo with no rhythm accompaniment. And then, suddenly, you wake up one day to find new flowers all over! “Gaavat naachat sab sakhiya mil, has has kar man ranjan.”

Kumarji exhorts us get out of our cocoons and witness the spectacle of nature with his ‘Aayo basant ritu’. New delicate leaves adorn the mango tree – “nayo roop nayo paat, sohan sab birakhan ri”.

It’s time to forget old decadent rivalries and forge new friendships. Go ahead and celebrate with everyone in the village. It’s a community festival of Holi! Get drenched in fun and gaiety in the celebration of colours. No wonder then that Kumarji devotes as many as ten compositions to this one festival. Even the river Narmada joins us in celebrating Holi!

Kumarji brings in the festival of Ram navami, as the month of Chaitra heralds the New Year and before we realize it, one whole year has passed. The wheel has turned a full circle, but does that mean we find ourselves at the same point? So many things have changed within us. Let’s walk ahead to be in tune with the new cycle ahead of us.

Sr.No. Bandish Raag Laya Taal
1 Arun ake Rati bhairav Vilambit Tritaal
2 Ras barasayo Bahar Vilambit Tritaal
3 Bhanwar man gelyo Bahar Drut Tritaal
4 Ayo basant ritu Vasant Madhyalaya Ektaal
5 Lago mhawaje maas Lokgeet   Satva
6 Mor layi re Maghawa Vilambit Tritaal
7 Dungarepar betha Lokgeet   Keherwa
8 Ayal ho rituraja Vasant stawan    
9 Radha gori khelan Shankara   Dhamar
10 Tari de de gari Khamaj Drut Keherwa
11 Ayo rang fag Bhimpalas Madhyalaya Roopak
12 Abir gulal lai ayi Bhoop Madhyalaya Tritaal
13 Narabada rangase bhari Lokgeet   Satva
14 Kanchan pichkari Adana Drut Ektaal
15 Rasiyako nar banawori Rasiya Dhun   Keherwa
16 Zini rang zini rang Deshi Vilambit Tritaal
17 Awori awo tum Lokgeet    
18 Horiko khelaiya yar Mishra Tilak Kamod   Chachar
19 Wari jaoon re Chaiti Barawa   Tritaal
20 Lago chetaj maas Lokgeet   Satva
21 Patiya na bheje Mand   Keherwa
22 Na karoji mohe sang rar Paraj Madhyalaya Tritaal
23 Mai kehi kahau Bhajan Madhyalaya Addha
24 Seese banajike chira Lokgeet   Satva
25 Kesariya mharo Lokgeet   Keherwa
26 Piya basera ghar ali Gaud Sarang Madhyalaya Tritaal
27 Hamara suseraji Lokgeet   Satva
28 Lago jethaj maas Lokgeet   Satva

Thumri Tappa Tarana

Over the centuries, presentation of classical music moved from the slow elaboration of a Dhrupad to the (comparatively) fast of rendition of a raag through the Khayal form. With passage of time, other forms such as Thumri, Kajri, Chaiti, Hori, Dadra etc. found their way into mehfils.

Thumri, Tapaa and Tarana - these three have long been popular as ‘light’ classical forms, and along with bhajans, these are often presented at the end of concerts. Kumarji endeavoured to find out if there was a link joining these, and presented a rather revolutionary concept that thumri and tappa have the same connect that a vilambit and drut khayal in any raag have.

A popular story surrounding the origin of Tarana is that Amir Khusrau conceived it because he couldn’t understand the words of any bandish in Indian languages! While Kumarji didn’t delve into the origins of Tarana, he did propose an entirely different thought about what the Tarana achieved. It was that even after expressing his thoughts in a performance by way of vilambit and drut bandish, the artist could still feel that something remains unsaid. The ‘meaningless’ phrases in a Tarana are a way to express that unarticulated part.

Sr.No. Bandish Raag Laya Taal
1 Raat piya bin Khamaj thumri Madhyalaya Deepchandi
2 Chhab dikhla ja Khamaj thumri Madhyalaya Deepchandi
3 Satavi ve sata Khamaj tappa Madhyalaya Tritaal
4 Main kaise Kafi thumri Madhyalaya Chachar
5 O miya jaanewale Kafi tappa Madhyalaya Tritaal
6 Dim tana derena Kafi tarana Drut Tritaal
7 Kaun jatan Tilang thumri Madhyalaya Tritaal
8 Yaar daaave Tilang tappa Madhyalaya Tritaal
9 Tadare dani tom Shree tarana Drut Tritaal
10 Nainura Des thumri Madhyalaya Tritaal
11 Yaad lagiye Des Tilang tappa Madhyalaya Tritaal
12 Yala yalala Mishra Bihag tarana Madhyalaya Addha
13 Na daiyaan Sindura thumri Madhyalaya Tritaal
14 Naal ve Sindura Jhinjhoti tappa Madhyalaya Tritaal
15 Dir dir tanadiyan Bhoop tarana Madhyalaya Tritaal
16 Chaailava na daaro Bhairavi thumri Madhyalaya Chachar

Nirguni Bhajan

Kumarji was a deeply spiritual person, and was influenced by the yogis of Nath sect. He frequented the seat of Shilnath Maharaj near Dewas, where he heard the bhajans sung by ‘Kaan-phate’ sadhus and was immediately drawn to them. It was no surprise that Kabir’s compositions fascinated him and he chose to present these in his own unique style. Nirguni sect believes in the Supreme Power being beyond description and definition. His rendition of Nirbhay nirgun gun re gaoon, Ud jayega hans akela, Avdhoota yugan yugan hum yogi, and other bhajans have become immortal.

It was a fitting tribute to Kumarji that when his mortal remains were being consigned to flames, a group of Kanphate sadhus came and sang ‘Hum pardesi panchhi baba”.

An excerpt from Shri Ananthamurty’s poem, which was inspired by Kumarji’s concert in Mysore in 1989 captures the connection that Kumarji found with Kabir.

Kumar Gandharva - U. R. Ananthamurthy
That shameless wanderer Kabir was riding on your back,
reins completely loose, galloping
in ecstasy and yet contained
in melody and time
Sometimes you’d stop
and comment in your high-pitched voice
as if to note your own location.
You were so pleased!
You swelled with pride
that such a vagabond would choose to ride
on your back for a while.
Singing, you laughed and smiled.
I wondered how that mad Kabir
from the far North
could haunt our Southrern Kumar
of Belgaum.
I admired the celestial Gandharva’s
worldly wisdom – how he freed himself
by hurling that mad creature
on innocents like us.
I was astounded that God
became a tenant
and prospered
in a place like that.
(From ‘Singing Emptiness’ by Linda Hess)

Sr. No. Bhajan Composer
1 Avdhoota gagan ghata Kabir
2 Avdhoota kudrat ki gat nyari Kabir
3 Avdhoota yugan yugan Kabir
4 Bin satguru nar Kabir
5 Dhun sun ke manva Kabir
6 Gruji ne diyo amar naam Kabir
7 Hum pardesi panchi baba Kabir
8 Hirana samajh boojh Kabir
9 Jhini jhini bini chadariya Kabir
10 Kaun thagava nagariya Kabir
11 Man bavara bayo Kabir
12 Maya mahathagani Kabir
13 Naiharva hum ka na bhave Kabir
14 Naiya mori neeke neeke Kabir
15 Nirbhay nirgun gun re Kabir
16 Ram niranjan nyara Kabir
17 Ramaiya ki dulhan Kabir
18 Sakhiya wa ghar sabse Kabir
19 Satguru mori chook Kabir
20 Sunta hai guru gyani Kabir
21 Ud jayega hans akela Kabir
22 Bhola man jaane Gorakhnath
23 Gura to jine gyan ki Shivguru
24 Guruji jahaan baithoon Devanath
25 Guruji main to ek niranjan Gorakhnath
26 Guruji mhare mhane Gorakhnath
27 Kachi chhe kaya thari  
28 Lagi hoy so jaane shabad  
29 Main jagoon mhara satguru  
30 Shoonya gadh shahar Gorakhnath
31 Sidh bhayo aumkar  
32 Chalo gurujan sapad  

Mala umajlele Balgandharva

Balgandharva ruled the Marathi theater for five decades. No discussion on Marathi music-dramas can be complete without a reference to him. When an artist achieves such levels of popularity, anyone else trying to present his/her singing has to face immediate comparison that is tinted with bias. Naturally, many purists considered it a sacrilege when Kumarji chose to present his understanding and interpretation of Balgandharva’s songs in this concert.

Kumarji’s attempt was to show that Balgandharva’s singing had a firm base of classical music and that just because the song was part of a theater drama did not make it any less classical.

In his opening remarks, Pu La Deshpande paid rich compliments to Kumarji when he said that “this (concert) can only be compared to another such event in Maharashtra, when Sant Dnyaneshvar once appeared in the dream of Sant Eknath and told him to present his interpretation of Bhagvad-geeta to people.”
As with many of his other experiments that faced criticism, this one was no exception. The commonest complaint was that Kumarji’s Marathi pronunciation was flawed due to his Kannad upbringing. What matters today for his fans is that none of this deterred him from exploring various aspects of music!

Sr.No. Bandish Raag
1 Swakul tarak suta Bhimpalas
2 Khara to prema Mand
3 Nath ha maaza Kalyan
4 Tat kari duhita Mand
5 Mam atma gamala Bihag
6 Daya chhaya ghe Tilak Kamod
7 Narawar krushnasaman Pahadi Mand
8 Sujan kasa man Bhoop
9 Mala madan bhase Mand
10 Prem nach jayi Bageshri
11 Kashi ya tyaju padala Pahadi Kalyan
12 Satya wade wachanala Mishra Kafi
13 Nayane lajawit Mishra Kalyan
14 Karin yadumani Gara Pilu
15 Nach manasa asha Bhairavi
16 Prabhu aji gamala Bhairavi
17 Ata rag deyi mana  
18 Madiwari chal ga gade  
19 Wirat dnyani  
20 Johar Maybaap  
21 Rupabali to narashardul  
22 Bhaktibhaw ha ghya deva  
23 Mam sukhachi thev Tilak Kamod
24 Chandrika hi janu  
25 Wairi marayala  
26 Nach par naad nidhila  
27 Andh bichari mi Bhairavi