Sawai Gandharva

Sawai Gandharva

Sawai Gandharva
Background information
Birth name Ramchandra Kundgolkar Saunshi[1]
Born (1886-01-19)January 19, 1886
Origin Kundgol, Karnataka
Died September 12, 1952(1952-09-12) (aged 66)
Genres Hindustani Classical Music, Khayal, Thumri, Bhajan, Natyageet, etc.
Occupation(s) Hindustani Classical Vocalist

Ramachandra Kundgolkar Saunshi, popularly known as Pandit Sawai Gandharva (January 19, 1886 – September 12, 1952),[2] was a popular Kannadiga-Maharashtrian Hindustani Classical vocalist and Marathi stage actor of the Kirana Gharana. He was the first and foremost disciple of Utd. Abdul Karim Khan and guru of Bharat Ratna laureate Pt. Bhimsen Joshi. Pt. Gandharva is most well known for popularizing the stylings of the Kirana Gharana through his accomplished disciples, including Pt. Bhimsen Joshi, Dr. Gangubai Hangal, Firoz Dastur, and Pt. Basavaraj Rajguru.[3]

Early life and background

Born Ramchandra Kundgolkar on January 19, 1886, in Kundgol, 19 km. from Dharwad, Karnataka, he grew to be known as Rambhau.[1] His father, Ganesh Saunshi, was a local clerk employed by Ranganagowda Nadiger, a landlord. Early on, Pt. Gandharva did not show interest in academics but progressed in school through the admiration his teachers had for how "sweetly" he sang poems. Later, he was admitted to Lamington High School in Hubli which he would travel to everyday by train. Pt. Gandharva's father found it increasingly difficult to fund his son's education and eventually his schooling stopped.

Initiation into music

After discontinuing his education, Pt. Gandharva's father put him under the tutelage of Balwantrao Kolhatkar who found himself in Kundgol. From Kolhatkar, Pt. Gandharva learned 75 Dhrupad compositions, 25 Tarana compositions, a hundred other compositions and also mastered a few Taals. Kolhatkar died in 1898, leaving Pt. Gandharva's tutelage incomplete and without guidance.

Ustad Abdul Karim Khan

In traveling to high school everyday to Hubli, Pt. Gandharva would actively participate in the daily cultural events in Hubli, where he spent his time watching Nataks and listening to music. Once, he found himself listening to a young Utd. Abdul Karim Khan and was immediately captivated. From then onwards, Pt. Gandharva wished for the Ustad's tutelage. After Balwantrao Kolhatkar's passing, Utd. Abdul Karim Khan began touring Karnataka, where he often stayed with the Nadiger family, Pt. Gandharva's father's employer, whom Pt. Gandharva was staying with.

It was a time when Ustad Abdul Karim Khan, the founder of Kirana Gharana, was touring Karnataka. He would often stay with the Nadigers for days on end. On such a trip, Ramchandra hovered around Abdul Karim Khan, humming jamunaa ke teer, the Ustad’s Bhairavi cheez. It caught Abdul Karim Khan’s ear who asked, "Kaun hai yeh ladkaa? Galaa achchaa hai". Rangangowda Nadiger pounced upon this opportunity: " Ustadji, he is our clerk’s son. He wants to learn music from you". "Yeh baath hai tho chalo hamaare saath". Fortune smiled on Ramchandra. This was in 1901. Abdul Karim Khan did not want his name to be spoilt by disciples learning haphazardly. He made a contract with them that they would learn from him for at least 8 years.


Rambhau did not complete his musical education. Against the wishes of his teacher, he joined a drama company and became popular as a singer in Marathi theatre. He received acclaim for playing female roles, and also the title, Sawai Gandharva after, Bal Gandharva, the doyen of Marathi theatre.[4][5] He worked for Govindrao Tembe's Shivraj Natak Mandali for some time, becoming famous for playing female roles.

In 1942, at the age of 56, his concert career ended abruptly after he suffered a paralytic stroke. Though he continued teaching, till the end of his life in 1952.[4]


Although he became a well known classical vocalist, his most enduring legacy is that he trained great artists who would carry on the name of the Kirana Gharana, like Gangubai Hangal, Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, Basavaraj Rajguru and Pt.Feroze Dastur.[4]

Sawai Gandharva Festival

Pandit Bhimsen Joshi started the annual Sawai Gandharva Music Festival in Pune, in memory of his guru Sawai Gandharva.[6] The festival was held on a modest scale for first two decades. In the 1970s and 1980s, its popularity skyrocketed.


  1. 1 2 "Sawai Gandharv". Dharwad district website. Retrieved 20 July 2013.
  2. Artist of the month
  3. Pandit Bhimsen Joshi - Pandit Bhimsen Joshi Classical Singer - Pandit Bhimsen Joshi Khayal Singer
  4. 1 2 3 "Tribute to a Maestro: Sawai Gandharva". ITC Sangeet Research Academy. Retrieved July 20, 2013.
  5. Two Men and Music: Nationalism in the Making of an Indian Classical Tradition by J. Bakhle; Oxford University Press, USA (2005), ISBN 978-0-19-516610-1
  6. "About Festival". Sawai Gandharva Music Festival website. Retrieved July 20, 2013.


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