Listen: D.V. Paluskar, the Young and Brilliant Vocalist of Gwalior

Ninety-five years after his birth, his devotional and classical renditions, representative of the rich heritage of Gwalior, remain unmatched.

Cover of a 78 rpm recording of bhajans by D.V. Paluskar. Credit:

Cover of a 78 rpm recording of bhajans by D.V. Paluskar. Credit:

The fame that D.V. Paluskar earned in his time and that endured after his passing, establishing him as a foremost vocalist of the Gwalior gharana, was anomalous to his age: he was only 35 when he died.

Today, May 28, 2016, would have been his 95th birthday.

L.K. Pandit, the well-known Delhi-based vocalist of the Gwalior gharana, remembers D. V. with a fond smile. In his cap and coat, “D.V.” was a familiar figure at all the festivals and smaller baithikis to which L.K. Pandit went with his guru and father Krishnarao Shankar Pandit, maestro of the Gwalior gharana, for whom he played the tanpura on stage and provided vocal support.

“His bhajans are unmatched to this day,” says the now white-haired vocalist, “His ‘chalo man Ganga Jamuna ke teer…’ Lata Mangeshkar sang it in his melody but couldn’t capture his depth of feeling.”

That bhajan, and others that he sang – Payo Ji Maine, Thumak Chalat Ramchandra, Raghupati Raghav Rajaram – became tremendously popular through the 78 rpm recordings he released.

On stage, he sang all the main Gwalior ragas and paramparic (traditional) compositions. One reason why he earned such respect was the consistent quality of his performances: he never failed to create a sensitive and balanced synthesis of sthai-antara, alap, bol-alap, tan and bol-tan. His singing was systematic and “clean,” and stylistically mature beyond his years. But his sweet, velveteen voice was also full of youthfulness.

Although he seemed to sing effortlessly, his success on stage, says L.K. Pandit, was “the result of a coming together of chintan (self-reflection), riaz (practice) and talim (training), which he had cultivated through hours of labour.”

He never wavered from this kind of honesty and discipline, his sense of what was right and appropriate.

Once, an audience member requested him to sing the song he had recorded for Vijay Bhatt’s 1952 film Baiju Bawra – “Aj gawat man mero jhum re,” a beautiful, somber melody in Raga Desi. But he refused, saying that the music in question must always be appropriate to its setting.

L.K. Pandit recounts that Ustad Amir Khan himself recommended D. V. to music director Naushad, to compete with him in the famous contest between Baiju and Tansen staged in the film – not a small matter, considering D. V.’s age and Amir Khan’s prowess. But the younger singer proved to be quite a match for the Ustad. This was despite his having to lower his singing scale by a whole note to match the latter’s.

He never wore jewellery on stage or interrupted a performance to expound his views. His unaffectedness as a performer reflected his personality and lifestyle offstage. He was known for never bargaining for his fees, for often performing for free and for singing for charities, as well as for his collection of music recordings and the meticulous diary he maintained to keep track of his concerts and commitments.

He replied to every letter he received – for which he invested in a typewriter.

A rich history, a fragile future

Vishnu Digambar Paluskar, founder of the Gandharva Mahavidyalaya. Credit: Youtube

Vishnu Digambar Paluskar, founder of the Gandharva Mahavidyalaya. Credit: Youtube

D. V.’s brilliance and popularity were no doubt partly nurtured by his father Vishnu Digambar Paluskar’s own hard work and fame, despite the fact that he died when D. V. was just ten.

The Paluskars came from a family of Haridasis, or performers of the Hindu epics, who enjoyed the patronage of the feudal chiefs of Southern Maharashtra. But V. D. Paluskar declined the patronage of the courts to work towards systematising music education and support for artists. One result was the chain of music schools called Gandharva Mahavidyalaya, now a full-fledged university.

After his father’s death D. V. was trained by his elder cousin Chintamanrao and then by senior disciples of his father Narayanrao Vyas and Vinayakrao Patwardhan, in Bombay and Pune. When he performed at the age of fourteen at the Harvallabh Sangeet Sammellan in Jalandhar, his reputation as a rising artist was established. Soon after, he began to perform all over the country.

D.V. Paluskar performing Raga Todi. Credit: Youtube

D.V. Paluskar performing Raga Todi. Credit: Youtube

L.K. Pandit recalls the great shock and dismay among Gwalior musicians when they heard of D.V.’s unexpected and premature death. “My father’s eyes filled with tears,” he remembers.

Despite the presence of Man Singh University, Gwalior has become a musical desert today, he says – because of a lack of patronage. There are few Gwalior gharana musicians left.