Kesarbai becomes Malkauns, Malkauns becomes Kesarbai

16 September 2014

In early September 1977, when the space probes Voyager 1 and 2 were launched by NASA to explore the interstellar medium, they carried with them a collection of gramophone records. On one of these discs was a recording of Kesarbai Kerkar’s Jaat Kahaan Ho, an interpretation of Raga Bhairavi and the only Indian selection among other works by Bach, Mozart and Beethoven.

Kerkar, perhaps the most well-known of Indian women classical musicians, was born in Goa in July 1892 and began her training as a vocalist at the age of eight. She was a student of Alladiya Khan, the founder of the Jaipur-Atrauli gharana, and went on to distinguish herself as a singer of the khayal form, mostly associated with male vocalists.

She passed away on 16 September 1977, a few months after Voyager was sent into space with her voice on-board. To commemorate the anniversary of her death, publisher S Anand writes here of his experience with Kerkar’s music and magic.

S Anand is the publisher at Navayana.