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Early years of Gururao

Once in Kolhapur , the great Sarodia Ustad Hafiz Ali Khan was scheduled to perform at the residence of the legendary Ustad Alladiya Khan, father of the Jaipur-Atrauli Gharana. It was however learnt that the sarodia would arrive late. Alladiya Khan Saheb's son and disciple, Ustad Manji Khan, asked a young vocalist present among the audience to perform, to fill in. Singing before such stalwarts was no ordinary feat. But, the youngster rose to the occasion and mesmerized the learned audience with his evocative rendition of Raag Nat Bihag.
Ustad Alladiya Khan was very impressed. He said to him in chaste Hindi, "Beta tere ko Gaane mein Aankh hain. Bahut Accha gaa rahe ho. Gao, gao". He then turned to his son and asked, "Ye kiska Shagird hai?" To which Manji Khan, his son, said, "Ye Vaze Bua ka shagird hai" . Then Khan Saheb asked, "Lekin bete, ye hamare gharane ka gana kaise gaa raha hai?" Manji Khan replied, "Ye humko Guru maanate hain". Alladiya Khan was pleased and said, "Isko jaldi se jaldi shagird bana lo". This very youngster was none other then Gayanacharya Gururao Deshpande.

Gururao was born in 1889, into the honoured family of the Deshpandes. The parents Narayanrao and Gangabai, had an affiliation wth literature and arts. Though Narayanrao was himself a Carnatic musician, he had hopes of making his son a lawyer, which were dampened when young Gururao exhibited an overwhelming attraction for Hindustani classical music. Gururao had been gifted with a melodious voice, and sensing his liking, his parents, finally succumbed to his love for music. They placed him under the tutelage of eminent vocalists, Sri. Dattopant Joshi and Sri.T.K. Pitre, when the lad was barely ten. In 1919, Gururao moved to Belgaum where he developed an in depth knowledge of music from Pandit Ramakrishna Buwa Vaze-the renowned maestro of Gwalior Gharana. With a firm foundation of Gwalior gayaki, Gururao Deshpande went on a grand tour of the north, listening to great Ustads performing, and gained invaluable experience and nurtured his knowledge further. He made his reverence for stalwarts like Ustad Abdul Karim Khan, Ustad Fiaz Khan, Ustad Manji Khan and Smt.Kesarbai Kerkar, very evident by emulating their exemplary lives and life long commitment to classical music.



Gururao shunned the orthodoxy of the singing of any particular Gharana. He was such a musician, whose music was a confluence of many Gharanas, yet transcended them all beyond the realms of boundlessness. Gururao’s music was always totally convincing and invited only praise and appreciation from the erudite, critic and layman, alike. Be it, Aalap or Taan, Laaya, Laayakari or compositions, he gave them their best of expressions. Even as he was firmly rooted in Gwalior Gharana, he had a insatiable thirst for the beautiful aspects of other gharanas, such as aiming for the ‘sur’ in ‘sur’, and the ‘ras’ in ‘sur’ of Kirana Gharana aalap, adopting the most appropriate ‘laya’ for different ragas and presenting rare ragas with ease, as is the character of Jaipur Gharana, and the ‘dhang’(style), the ‘naum-taum’ aalap and ‘cheez bhaav’(composition) presentation of Agra Gharana. Gururao became a master musician transforming every fraction into wholeness and weaving together several wholeness of various gharanas into a new oneness, for which he was recognised as a complete musician.

Gururao Deshpande’s music was unsurpassed for its sheer ease, melody and sweetness. It was a fusion of ultimate sophistication and highly developed spontaneity. Even as an octogenarian, the Gayanacharya performed with forbidding power and competence. He had the power to recreate ragas in a new sense and convey their distinctive character, poise and balance.

Gururao became a successful singer as even orthodox singer and connoisseurs of any given Gharana appreciated and immensely enjoyed his singing.Hence his music came to be recognized as Gururao gharana. Great musicians and gunijan of yesteryears often made reference to him to illustrate quality music. Gururao’s records, which have been preserved, containing ragas Yaman, Basant, Khambavati and also Kannada Natya Sangeet, bear testimony to this fact.

Gururao was also a passionate singer of light classical music, such as Thumri, Tappa etc. He drew his inspiration from Thumri King, Mouzuddin Khan Sahib. He was equally excellent in singing both Marathi and Kannada Natya Sangeet. He also sang Bhajans, Abhangs and Kannada devaranama, with utmost devotion. He inherited Carnatic style of singing from his father and he was rendering Kannada Devaranamas in Carnatic style, which became very popular. His singing of Purandara Dasa’s, “˜Pogadirelo Ranga” was a masterpiece.

Gururao Deshpande toured all over India extensively, including the present Pakistan, to give public performances. Those days, no major musical event went without Gururao’s concert. When All India Radio, Government of India, New Delhi, started a broadcasting station at Dharwad, there was a search for a well educated, knowledgeable and able musician, for the post of music producer. They did no mistake in identifying Gururao as the most befitting person and appointed him as music producer, where he gave sixteen years of unblemished service.



In Bharatiya Sangeet Parampara, even up to the era of Gururao Deshpande, the concept of awards and rewards for the musicians were very different. The highest of awards for any musician was a proper Guru, 'mehnat/Taalim' and performing amongst the gurujan, gunijan and being appreciated and recognized by them. Gururao, always felt most honoured to have performed before his Guru, Pandit Ramkrishnabuwa Vaze and also genius musicians, like Ustad Alladiya Khan, Manji Khan Saheb, Kesarbai Kerkar, Abdul Karim Khan Saheb and the like, and felt blessed and rewarded.


In all humility, he shunned every kind of publicity. In the 24 th Punya Smarane Music Festival held in memory of the great Sawai Gandharva, at Kundgol, Pandit Gururao was honoured with the epithet of "Gayanacharya" with which his name has become synonymous today. In 1971, the master was honoured by the Sangeet Nritya Academy . He never traded his music for commercial gains.



He had a very commanding personality and all vidvats and gunijans of all ages were inwardly compelled to respect him. His education and family background aided him in becoming a multifaceted personality during his lifetime.

Though he had a fiery temper when faced with indiscipline, he was basically a very kind hearted and soft spoken person. His contemporaries and colleagues remember him as a simple sympathetic human being, ever sensitive to the feelings of others. Gururao was a stickler for punctuality and cleanliness and would never tolerate indiscipline. Gururao was a clock himself said Pt. Bhimsen Joshi. This speaks volumes about his punctuality.

Gururao was an educationalist. He was of the opinion that education makes one cultured and a cultured artiste is able to behave appropriately with colleague artistes, audience, organizers and general public as well. Because of this Gururao was bent upon Pt Torvi completing his education along with the music lessons. Gururao's children who are artistes are highly educated also.

There was a kind of universal appeal in Gururao’s music which itself drew inspiration from a deeply religious and philosophical personality- Sri Gurudev Ranade. This philosophy found expression in the Gayanacharya’s routine life-style and simplicity. He regularly attended the discourses of Guru Govind Ranade and pleased his Aadhyatmic Guru with his divine music.

He practiced meditation and also recited the “Jnaaneshwari” and “Dasabodha Parayana”, everyday.

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Bhimsen Joshi Gangubai Hangal Mallikarjun Mansoor Basavraj Rajguru Pt. Vinayak Torvi