The son of a shehnai player in Aundh, Rambhau Pawar spent his childhood in penury because his father fell prey to vices and as a consequence, was unable to provide for the family. Forced to fend for the family, Rambhau took up a variety of jobs, working in Sangli as a watchman for Ranade contractor, and as an apprentice for a mason, and even selling vegetables from door to door. In 1952 he secured the job of peon at the taluka office in Sangli for the princely sum of 46 rupees a month. It was only then that he learned to read and write and also developed a fascination for singing bhajans. With no formal training in music, he simply sang along with local bhajan groups, occasionally trying his hand at the pakhawaj as well. Soon well wishers suggested that he should train himself by listening to formally trained musicians, and following their advice he found himself attending performances every Sunday at the home of a certain Mr. Degaonkar, a local jeweller who organised weekly bhajan gatherings at his residence. Here he was able to listen to accomplished musicians trained in raagdari music, who presented bhajans based on a variety of classical raags. Rambhau painstakingly acquired a knowledge of classical raags by listening to these performances, repeating each raag-based bhajan composition innumerable times, till he developed a good understanding of the melodic structure of each raag. Always eager to hone his talent, Rambhau sought guidance from eminent theatre actor and singer Shankarrao Sarnaik when he was transferred to Kolhapur, even though he had by now acquired a following as a bhajan singer of repute in the area. Over the years, Rambhau would meet virtually every eminent musician performing in Satara where he finally settled down, learn from them, adapt the raags and compositions he learnt for bhajan compositions, eventually earning a reputation for being an accomplished bhajan singer in the region.
I first heard about Rambhau several years ago, when my husband, tabla player Aneesh Pradhan and my colleague Sudhir Nayak, one of the country’s leading harmonium artistes, traveled to Satara for a tabla solo performance by Aneesh on the invitation of veteran tabla scholar and teacher Anand Sidhaye. Rambhau was to perform before the tabla solo, and sent in a last minute request that the duo should accompany him if possible. The two accepted the request and found themselves full of admiration both for the joyous, ecstatic music that they found themselves accompanying that evening, and for the simple, unassuming man who sang “for the love of music”. On his return Aneesh urged me repeatedly to travel to Satara to listen to Rambhau. We planned to document Rambhau’s work and music and spoke to some film makers about the possibility of doing a short documentary on the artiste. But when no such opportunity was forthcoming, we decided to make the trip to Satara ourselves, armed with a camera and some microphones and other equipment we had acquired. Mr. Sidhaye very generously agreed to take us to Rambhau’s home, and we finally found ourselves driving from Mumbai to Pune and thenceforth to Satara. When we parked outside Rambhau’s humble abode, he was already singing and his voice spilled out on the road welcoming us. Once inside, introductions and greetings over, Aneesh asked him which raag based bhajan he would like to record for us to begin with. Pat came the answer – “Khat Todi” ! Khat Todi is incidentally, a formidable blend of six raags that is attempted only by the wisest of musicians and usually presented only before truly discerning listeners. What followed was a day of sheer bliss, during which I handled the camera, assisted by our driver of many years Jayant Pandit, as Aneesh interviewed Rambhau, and accompanied him on the tabla. Although by now Rambhau must be an octogenarian, probably still singing with the same twinkle in his eye, here is how we saw him and heard him that day several years ago: http://youtu.be/43QoD2R2dNQ
The article above was first published in my column Music Matters for the Lounge section of The Mint in 2014. <img: