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Pandit Arun Kashalkar’s vocal mastery

Up until April 2016, the mastery of vocalist Pandit Arun Kashalkar was experienced primarily by connoisseurs in the Thane-Mulund belt and Pune. It was only when Kashalkar performed in the first part of Secret Master Sessions, a series organised by First Edition Arts, that others in Mumbai got exposed to his brilliance.

In form

Now 76, the elder brother of well-known vocalist Pandit Ulhas Kashalkar has been regularly performing in Mumbai ever since. On Sunday, March 24 morning, he appeared at the annual programme of the Swar Sadhna Samiti at Veer Savarkar Auditorium, Shivaji Park. While his base uses the Agra gharana technique, he blends them with elements of Gwalior and Jaipur-Atrauli gayaki.

Kashalkar’s recital was preceded by an exquisite presentation of Raag Bhatiyar by flautist Ashwin Srinivasan and violinist Manas Kumar, who were ably assisted on the tabla by senior artiste Omkar Gulvady. Both are youngsters who have played in different genres. Here, they came up with a jugalbandi that was simple and beautiful, thankfully avoiding the gimmicks that often accompany such duets.

One did feel that the instrumental performance was a bit short, and they should have got a chance to play another raag. For his part, Kashalkar began with raag Todi, using the nom-tom alaap (abstract syllables) and then launching into the composition ‘Lala manavana main chali’, before ending with ‘Gunana gao tumharo’. His phrasing was measured and the raag was developed elaborately, with charming layakari (use of different rhythmic patterns) and bol baant (rhythmic variations with text).

Kashalkar was accompanied by Praveen Karkare on tabla and Siddhesh Bicholkar on harmonium, and his two students Vishal Moghe and Mukul Kulkarni provided perfect vocal accompaniment. He ended with two short compositions in the rarely-presented raag Khat, including the melodic ‘Vidyadhar gunijan so’.

Devoted to music

Today, Kashalkar divides his time between performing, teaching and researching. Though he began learning at an early age, he also held a day job, finally quitting State Bank of India in 1994 to focus full-time on music.

The maestro initially learnt from his father N.D. Kashalkar, a lawyer and musicologist. A large part of his training was under Pandit Gajananbuva Joshi, who blended nuances of the Gwalior, Agra and Jaipur-Atrauli styles. To hone his Agra skills, Joshi sent him to Pandit Babanrao Haldankar. Kashalkar’s other gurus included Ram Marathe, Rajabhau Kogje and D.V. Panke.

He has over 20 students. As a composer, he has used the name Rasadas, and his book Swar Archana explains details of 150 of his compositions. He has also conducted research on Agra gharana maestro Ustad Vilayat Hussein Khan and the importance of gharana-based education.

Kashalkar’s live recordings with First Edition Arts are available on YouTube. These include raags Kedar, Bhoopali, Maru Bihag, Lalita Gauri, Kaushi Kanada, Hameer, Malgunji, Sughrai, Barwa, Sampoorna Malkauns, Jhinjhoti, Bageshree and Shree. This is besides concerts with other organisers. A close hearing will give audiences a clear idea of his style. In an era where star names are featured in big-ticket festivals, artistes like Kashalkar are making a distinct and unique mark of their own.

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