How Ulhas Kashalkar became one of the greatest musicians of our time

01 January 2015


MINUTES BEFORE THE LIGHTS DIMMED and the Hindustani vocalist Pandit Ulhas Kashalkar walked onto the stage at Mumbai’s National Centre for the Performing Arts, the eminent singers Ashwini Bhide-Deshpande and Padma Talwalkar took their seats in the front row. The vocalist and veteran critic Amarendra Dhaneshwar sat a few rows behind them. Other listeners looked around to see who else had come. Several younger singers were there as well: Noopur Kashid, Rutuja Lad, Amita Pavgi-Gokhale and Saylee Talwalkar. The turnout for Kashalkar’s concert, held last September, was not unusual; for at least a decade, he has been considered a musicians’ musician. Still, expectations were high: what would the maestro sing for this audience?

Kashalkar’s performance was dedicated to jod ragas, a particularly challenging melodic form. When singing a jod raga, the musician must fully elaborate two conjoined ragas—the complex melodic modes at the centre of Indian classical music. Each raga evokes a range of moods, and in a jod raga, the musician moves from one to the other only through their common swaras, or notes, attempting to keep the ambience of each distinct. Even while presenting a single raga, the singer faces the challenge of sustaining an emotional intensity, so that the rendition does not lapse into a dry, mechanical exercise. This is all the more difficult with a jod raga because technical skill plays an even greater role: here, the singer must also switch fluidly and surprise the audience with twists and turns. But Kashalkar, cutting a trim and graceful figure on the NCPA stage, made it look easy. With his characteristic mellifluousness, he sang four jod ragas back to back: Lalita Gauri, Shiv Kalyan, Malkauns Bahar and Jayant Malhar.

Sumana Ramanan is a Mumbai-based journalist and researcher. She is on Twitter as @sumana_ramanan.

Keywords: Pandit Ulhas Kashalkar Hindustani music vocalist khayal singer