Born in 1922, Kausalya Manjeshwar’s earliest exposure to music came from her mother, who had taken some lessons at the Gandharva Mahavidyalaya in Mumbai, a music school established in the city in 1908 by the eminent vocalist and educationist Vishnu Digambar Paluskar (1872-1931). Her formal lessons in khayal, however, began with D.R. Nimbargi, a vocalist following the Gwalior style.
At 16, Kausalya Manjeshwar nee Padukone was married to Dinkar Manjeshwar, an ardent music lover who was a member of the Bombay Music Circle, one of the earliest music circles in the city. The young couple attended several concerts organised under the aegis of the circle, and Kausalya Manjeshwar was thus, exposed to musicians presenting different musical styles. The environment in her new home encouraged music education. Consequently, she went on to learn from the learned vocalist and violinist Gajananrao Joshi, who was widely respected for his collection of choice repertoire of the Gwalior, Agra and Jaipur-Atrauli schools of khayal.
The national movement for independence was at its height during this period. The Manjeshwars were not directly involved in the movement, but Kausalya Manjeshwar had the privilege of singing bhajans at Mahatma Gandhi’s prayer meetings in Mumbai. In 1948, she even sang bhajans at the function preceding the immersion of the Mahatma’s ashes in Mumbai.
In 1953, Kausalya Manjeshwar’s life took a sudden twist placing her at the head of a countrywide agitation against regulations that were introduced in the 1950s by the government-run radio network All India Radio also presently called Akashvani. The new policy made it obligatory for most musicians irrespective of their public stature to audition before a panel that apparently put untold pressure on candidates and often demeaned them. A musicians’ organization called Bharatiya Sangeet Kalakar Mandal was set up in 1953 with eminent vocalist Vilayat Hussein Khan as its President and Kausalya Manjeshwar as Honorary Joint Secretary. Musicians collectively decided to stop broadcasting until a policy more respectful of musicians was in place. During this phase, Kausalya Manjeshwar’s studentship under Gajananrao Joshi had stopped for a variety of reasons, but her involvement with the Mandal activities brought her in close contact with several leading figures of the music world. The agitation finally ended in 1955 and a settlement was reached. This was one of the rare occasions in the history of Indian music that musicians rallied together for a cause common to the fraternity, and Kausalya Manjeshwar’s involvement was singularly significant in this context.
Soon after the agitation ended, Kausalya Manjeshwar once again turned to her musical training and began studying under Mogubai Kurdikar. She had the privilege of meeting Mogubai Kurdikar on a few occasions earlier and had even admired her music, but she could not muster up enough courage to request Mogubai Kurdikar to accept her as a disciple. Her wish came true with the help of a friend and well-wisher, and Mogubai Kurdikar readily agreed to teach her without accepting any fee. Thus began a long relationship between the two that Kausalya Manjeshwar cherishes to this day. Mogubai Kurdikar though a disciple of Alladiya Khan, the founder of the Jaipur-Atrauli gharana, had also studied with his brother Hyder Khan, and with Vilayat Hussein Khan and Bashir Khan, both of the Agra gharana. In addition, she had imbibed special rhythmic subtleties from Khaprumama Parvatkar, who was known for his intricate display of mathematics in rhythm. Thus, Kausalya Manjeshwar inherited all these influences that had come to be a part of Mogubai’s gayaki.
The training continued for a few years during which Kausalya Manjeshwar was introduced to the intricacies of the Jaipur-Atrauli style. But the Manjeshwars experienced a series of tragedies in the family between the years 1957 and 1961 causing them to make frequent trips to their hometown in Karnatak. These tragic occurrences not only interrupted the training, but also put Kausalya Manjeshwar in a state of gloom. It was only a chance happening that ended her depression and helped regain her earlier form and involvement in music. She was invited to perform at a religious event in Mumbai. Despite her reluctance to perform, Mogubai Kurdikar urged her to do so. This proved to be a turning point, as it was soon after this recital that Mogubai Kurdikar advised Kausalya Manjeshwar to turn to learning music yet again.
During her long years of intensive training, Kausalya Manjeshwar imbibed Mogubai Kurdikar’s vocal style, which she subsequently taught to her students. Thus, Vamanrao Deshpande, disciple of Mogubai Kurdikar and commentator on contemporary trends in Hindustani music, stated, “Smt. Kamal Tambe and Smt. Kausalya Manjeshwar adhere closely to the gharana’s musical mode but interpret it in their own personal manner”. (Source - Vamanrao H. Deshpande, Mogubai Kurdikar, (originally published in Marathi in Satyakatha, July 1974), The National Centre for the Performing Arts souvenir, Mumbai, 1976.) Unfortunately, Kamal Tambe, a disciple of Mogubai Kurdikar, passed away early after a prolonged illness.
Kausalya Manjeshwar preferred not to perform in public, as she did not take up music as a profession, but she continued to perform in private concerts, in temples, and at special programmes organised to mark the birth or death anniversaries of great masters. On special request, she also performed in a few music conferences held in Kolkata, Mumbai, Belgaum and other parts of the country, but she did not charge any remuneration for these performances. During this period, she continued to broadcast frequently on All India Radio.
Kausalya Manjeshwar cherished every moment of her musical journey and shared her valuable experiences with young students and performers. Several organizations conferred her with awards for her contribution to music. H. H. Shrimat Sadyojat Shankarashram Swamiji of the Shri Chitrapur Math Sansthan bestowed upon her the Saraswatabharanam award in the year 2000.
Kausalya Manjeshwar’s husband Dinkar Manjeshwar had been a major source of support and encouragement to Kausalya Manjeshwar. He played an important role in actively helping musicians, who were agitating under the leadership of the Sangeet Kalakar Mandal. Further, Dinkar Manjeshwar had over the years been an avid music collector, having recorded music and preserved it on various formats for posterity. He maintained a catalogue of his collection with a thoroughness that would be a lesson to any student venturing into the field of archiving.
Biographical note prepared by Aneesh Pradhan
Dinkar Manjeshwar,Shiv Aram,Dr M B Raut Road,8 Shivaji Park,Mumbai 400028