Eminent vocalist, composer and teacher (1948-2016)

Veena Sahasrabuddhe, a leading Indian vocalist and composer of Hindustani classical music, with roots in Gwalior gharana (but also borrowed from Jaipur and Kirana gharanas) was also a singer of khyal and bhajan. She performed all over India and in several countries the world over.

Born into a musical family, the last of three siblings, she began her early musical education under her father, Shankar Shripad Bodas, one of the earliest students of Vishnu Digambar Paluskar, founder of the Gandharva Mahavidyalaya, and then under her brother Kashinath. Her musical mentors included Padmashri Balwantrai Bhatt, Pandit Vasant Thakar, and Pandit Gajananrao Joshi.

She held a bachelor’s degree in vocal performance, Sanskrit and English literature; and master’s degrees (Sangeet Alankar) in vocal performance, and also in Sanskrit. The subject of her PhD was the tarana, said to be invented by Amir Khusro – a form, of which she remained an unmatched master.

For some years she was the Head of the Department of Music at SNDT University, Pune Campus, and from 2002 to 2004, served as the additional professor in the Humanities department at IIT-Mumbai, and conducted a series of music appreciation courses on its campus.

Imbued with tremendous melodic appeal, her concerts were memorable. She was known for her clear pronunciation and her ability to develop an instant rapport with the audience. Her impassioned Khayal renditions held her audience spellbound. At the prestigious Sawai Gandharva Music Festival, organised by Pt. Bhimsen Joshi, she revealed her musical virtuosity with her powerful voice projection and singing, like no other female vocalist of that time.

Veena laid great emphasis on understanding music in order to appreciate it. With detailed renditions of ragas and clarity of concept, she quickly became one of the top women vocalists in the country. A gifted teacher herself, her lecture demonstrations were unique in that she would explain the finer points of music or the raga, breaking them down into syllables to make it comprehensible to the youngest novice in the room.Her precise intonation, neat presentation, variety of repertoire, her cultivated voice and style, shorn of gimmickry, released the Gwalior tradition from its shackles even while remaining true to it. Her elfin frame belied the formidable power of her music.

Her music was dramatic, yet meditative and soulful; her singing, a beautiful amalgam of all the various gharanas that shaped her syntax. She affirmed that “the road to earning acclaim was one paved with hard work.” She recalled lessons from her father (who told a young Veena that ‘her music must speak for her’). Pandit Shankar grounded her in ‘the importance of honest ‘self-analysis’ when it came to her performances, as well as in the basics of various musical instruments, reading and writing musical notes. A generous but uncompromising teacher, she remained a down-to-earth person, wonderfully free from artistic caprice. She was so involved in the lives of her family and quite unassuming, even not hesitating to perch on a stool, trying to clean the cobwebs on the ceiling fan.

Among her awards included a prize in Vocal Classical category in a national competition for artists under age 25, conducted by A.I.R in 1972; in 1988, she was conferred the honorary doctorate of Sangeet Praveen by the Vidyalaya; the Uttar Pradesh Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1993 and the National Sangeet Natak Akademi in 2013.

Veena gave her last public performance at California, in December 2012. Detected with Progressive Supra nuclear Palsy, a rare debilitating, degenerative neurological condition, Veena retreated from the stage, but continued to teach – a testament to her dedication. When even teaching became impossible, she sat quietly in a corner, gesturing to her students when they made a mistake.

She passed away in Pune on 29 June 2016, tragically at just 67 years of age. She will be remembered as a fine person, a great vocalist and an outstanding teacher who readily treaded the extra mile to help one understand Indian classical music.The voice that captivated music lovers will live on.

– A. Radhakrishnan is a Pune based freelance journalist, short story writer, poet who wants the world to be happy always.