Pandit Taranath Rao

Pt. Taranath Rao

Pt. Taranath Rao

Practice of the art of music is an endeavour directed towards self-realisation. All endeavour irresistibly emanates from an inner urge, may it be obscure or evident. In the evolution of living beings from the beast to the perfect Guni, every individual represents a stage in the attainment of self-realisation.

Pt. Taranath Rao - short tabla solo in Teental  ~ 1978

The choice of the means for fulfilling this innate urge depends upon the individual's evolution and level of awareness. This explains the diversity of paths to self-realisation, which in the case of music may take the form of vocal music, instrumental music (such as sitar, sarangi, tabla, etc.), and the various styles of dance.

It is therefore not justifiable to discriminate between one path and another, for this is tantamount to criticism of the individual's state of evolution. The criterion of judgment, therefore, is not the attainment of the destiny, but the spirit behind the quest. The spiritual application of the endeavours to a particular form or style is like one of many roads terminating at the same destiny: self-realisation.

Pt. Taranath Rao Introduction to 'Pranava Tala Prajna'

The preceding quote is from Shri Jef Feldman's edition of Pt. Taranath's manuscript on Tabla:
'The Tabla Legacy of Taranath Rao - Pranava Tala Prajna' - an excellent textbook for learning tabla.

Pt. Taranath Rao
The life of Taranath Ramarao Hattiangady (1915-1991) spanned most of the Twentieth Century and so unfolded during a period of radical change in Indian music. He was witness to the decline of courtly patronage, the passing of the traditional gharanas' of tabla playing, the advent of sound amplification and recording, the rise of governmental, educational and public sponsorship of classical music, and a new wave of western notice. He studied formally for 47 years. The consensus of musicians, connoisseurs, and scholars of Indian music is that each of these modern influences has been predominantly detrimental to this ancient classical tradition. Some particularly dour musicians have even suggested that it would be better for the music to die gracefully than to be corrupted by unworthy musicians and audiences. Such an attitude was completely foreign to Taranath - he lived to teach. If a beginning student expressed self-doubt, Guruji would laugh and say, "Don't worry. I will make you play!"

Early Years -

Taranath Rao was born March 6, 1915 to a musical family of Saraswat Brahmins in Mangalore (Kannada), South India. Taranath's early years were rich in musical experiences. His uncle was a famous Carnatic violinist, Prof. A. K. Rao. Young Taranath learned tabla from Vishnuji Goakar, tala with Laya Brahma Bhaskar Khapruji and mridangam and maddalam from his father, Ramarao Hattiangady. Besides being a musician, Ramarao was an actor in the Yakshagana, the folk theater of South Kannada that features night-long performances of traditional stories with elaborate costumes and make-up. Ramarao was a specialist in the depiction of women's roles. A wealthy patron bequeathed to Ramarao a successful tobacconist business, enabling him to invite musicians from both the North and South to his home for extended visits, to the benefit of Taranath's musical education. (Incidentally, young Taranath displayed an aptitude for wrestling, and his father occasionally invited worthy opponents for him.)
Ud. Shamshuddin Khan accompanying the legendary Ud. Abdul Kareem Khan

Ud. Shamshuddin Khan accompanying Ud. Abdul Kareem Khan

While still in his native Mangalore, Taranath met his future teacher, Shamshuddin Khan, who was on tour as the accompanist to the legendary Abdul Kareem Khan. Shamshuddin was also Abdul Kareem Khan's vocal disciple. Shamshuddin cut a striking figure, and could easily have been mistaken for Clark Gable in a kurta. Shamshuddin Khan's hand was admired for its light, smooth, effortless touch - it was said that if you sat behind him on the dais, you could not tell from his movements when he was playing and when he was not. After the concert Taranath introduced himself and expressed a desire to study with him. 'Anytime' was the reply. (Little did anyone suspect that young Taranath himself would one day accompany Abdul Karim Khan!)
Ud. Shamshuddin Khan

Ustad Shamshuddin Khan

Bombay Years -

In 1932, Taranath migrated to Bombay to study commercial art at the Sir J. J. School of Arts, where he eventually took a degree, and to join his Ustad, but met with disappointment. Shamsuddin Khan had accepted a staff position at All India Radio (AIR) which occupied him day and night, leaving no time for a student. However he promised to teach Taranath whenever he became free of his responsibilities to AIR. That was not to happen for seven years.

Taranath with his brother Sundar and nephew Ravi Bellare.

Taranath with his elder brother Sundar Rao and his nephew Ravi Bellare.

Shortly thereafter an opportunity came which helped to establish Taranath as a premier accompanist. While on a visit to Mangalore, he received a sudden request to perform. It seems that Wahid Khan, a famous North Indian been player of the day, was in Mangalore on a pleasure trip through South India. When the local music patrons learned of his presence, they hastily arranged a concert, and young Taranath was a convenient choice as an accompanist. This is how Sundar Ramarao Hattiangady, Taranathji's late brother, described the concert:

The Ustad, before seeing him, had thought him to be just a novice. The hall was packed with connoisseurs, and the Ustad in his royal regalia started the concert with alap and jor in Rag Jhinjhoti on the rudrabeen, followed by the vilambit Reza Khani Gat in Ada-chautal (14 beats) with an obvious side glance toward Taranath on the tabla, but quick as lightning, the budding artist had shot the 'Sum' with a thrilling mukra which drew a spontaneous `Ah' from the Ustad and a simultaneous applause from the audience. This wonderful instrumental concert was the first of its kind in Mangalore, and it established indisputably Taranath's virtuosity on the tabla.
A Rupak Tal Chakradhar Gath composed by Ahmedjan Thirakwa,

A Rupak Tal Chakradhar Gath composed by Ud. Ahmedjan Thirakwa, notated by Pt. Taranath in my lesson book.

Back in Bombay, Taranath one day chanced to meet his friend Subbana, who announced that he had become a student of Pandit Subbarao Ankolekar, a famous tabla and pakhawaj player and a fellow disciple of Shamshuddin Khan. Taranath was eager to meet Subbaraoji even though the master seldom accepted students. Taranath's friend led him to a small room behind a laundry where Subbaraoji lived. The master invited Taranath to play. At first he tried to discourage Taranath by saying that he played beautifully and that there was nothing left to be taught. Taranath persisted, and promised to practice diligently whatever the master assigned him. Subbaraoji accepted him on the condition that Taranath would put out of his mind everything he had learned on tabla and start from scratch. Taranath instantly agreed. It was then that Subbaraoji set Taranath's hand - with the tabla centered in front of the body and the bayan slightly to one side, and with the distinctive 'thumb-under' bayan technique. True to his word, Subbaraoji started Taranath from the begining again, giving him nothing but the beginner's Delhi kaida — Dha Dha Tit Dha Dha Tin Na — for a full six months! Also it was Subbaraoji who discouraged Taranath from using talcum powder on his hands, saying that it caused lazy fingers. Subbaraoji eventually became quite attached to Taranath, and this productive association continued until Subbaraoji's passing in 1937.
Ustad Shamshuddin Khan

Ustad Shamshuddin Khan.
Listen to his tabla solo on youtube.

Finally in 1939, Shamshuddin Khan was ready to accept Taranath as his disciple. The long awaited ganda ceremony, which formally linked the shagird Taranath to his Ustad, Shamshuddin, was attended by many luminaries of the Bombay music scene. On this memorable occasion, Shamshuddin played a four-hour tabla solo, exploring many different tals. Thus began an association that lasted some twenty years, during which Taranath made a thorough study of Khan-Sahib's old compositions and rare tals.

A devout Muslim, Shamshuddin Khan made preparations late in his life for his hajj, his pilgrimage to Mecca. His younger students were especially anxious about his departure, but he reassured them by saying that he had given to Taranath the "keys to the treasury," and they could rely on him as a teacher. Khan-Sahib completed his hajj, but tragically, died on the return voyage and was buried at sea.

To understand Pt. Taranath's position in the history of the art of drumming, it is necessary first to understand that his Ustad, Shamshuddin Khan, was a fellow student since boyhood with Ahmedjan Thirakwa. Together they studied in the Farukkhabad style with Thirakwa's uncle, Fayyaz Khan of Moradabad, and from Thirakwa's father's uncle, Karam lftal Khan. Karam Iftal was a student of the founder of the Farukkhabad gharana, Hajji Vilayit Ali. This remarkable figure was not only an exciting tabla player, he was also a renowned dancer of the Lucknow Court. Many of his compositions are included in the book, and are distinguished by the beauty with which a wide variety of strokes are employed. Hajji Ali (as he is also known) is also remembered for having married the daughter of Bakshu Dhadi, founder of the Lucknow Gharana of tabla, and thus for having received a large repertoire of compositions as a dowry. Therefore Taranath stands in a direct line of discipleship from the founders of the Farukkhabad and Lucknow Gharanas.
Pt. Taranath Rao playing pakhawaj.

Pt. Taranath Rao playing pakhawaj.

Twentieth century audiences began to expect tabla players to perform in styles other than those of their own gharana, and Shamshuddin sought out Teghar Jaffar Khan for instruction in the Dehii style. Similarly, Taranath acquainted himself with the Ajrada style through his study with Kallu Khan.

Taranath's unique perspective on Indian drumming stems not only from his mastery of the tabla, but of the pakhawaj as well. His teachers Baburao Gokhle and Shankarrao Alkutkar provided the Dhrupad perspective on drumming to complement the Khyal and dance-influenced styles of playing gained from his teachers of tabla.

During his years in Bombay Taranathji distinguished himself as a soloist, accompanist, and teacher. He frequently performed and lectured on All India Radio. He often served as a talent judge for AIR, and in 1961 gave an hour-and-a-half discourse on the radio, comparing the North Indian rhythmic system to the South Indian system. In the courtly tradition he was honored by the Maharajas of Baroda, Kholapur, and Savant Wadi. He was for many years a teacher at the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, an esteemed cultural institution in Bombay, and since 1952 has been a postgraduate examiner in tabla theory and performance for the Bhatkhande University. He also taught at Ravi Shankar's Kinnara School in Bombay.
Pt. Taranath and his wife Sushila (Guruji and Maami)

Pt. Taranath and his wife Sushila
(Guru-ji and Maami-ji).

Another momentous event which occurred during the Bombay years was his marriage to Sushila-ji, known by all with affection and respect as Maami (Auntie). This extraordinarily forbearing woman endeared herself to the hearts and stomachs of musicians around the world with her fabulous curries and biryanis, boundless good nature and home-spun wisdom.

Later Years -

In 1967 Ravi Shankar opened a branch of his Kinnara School of music in Los Angeles, and Taranathji was a natural choice as a tabla instructor. Unfortunately the school did not survive the end of the Beatles Era, but Taranathji proved that he could communicate his knowledge effectively to Western musicians; he was destined to return to Los Angeles.

After a short stint at Wesleyan University, Taranathji toured extensively in Europe and Africa with various artists, including Zia-Mohi-uddin Dagar. In 1978, after three years at the Government Kala Academy at Goa, Taranathji was invited to the California Institute of the Arts to join Amiya Dasgupta in the North Indian music program, where he remained as a beloved faculty member for the next 12 years.
Pt. Taranath with his nephews Shashi and Ravi Bellare.

Pt. Taranath with his nephews Shashi and Ravi Bellare.

Taranath Rao was an extraordinary teacher. His knowledge of rhythm was vast, and he shared it with all who truly wished to learn. As a teacher he developed the invaluable knack of reciting tabla compositions while playing lehara (a cyclic melody) on the harmonium. As scores of students of California Institute of the Arts will attest, this is a compelling method of instruction; after only a few short months these students performed impressively in the CalArts Tala Vadya Kacheri, the Indian percussion ensemble led by Pandit Taranath. Those who studied with him since his arrival in the autumn of 1978 had a unique opportunity for a broad and systematic introduction to Indian rhythm. Taranathji was justly proud of his senior students from India. These students are respected and admired throughout India for their mastery of difficult rhythmic cycles and rare traditional compositions. Some of Pandit Taranath's senior students are Omkar Gulvady, Anand Badamikar, Mohan Balwally, Sadanand Naimpally, Vijay Kangutkar, Sudhir Naringrekar, Uday Raikar, and Maruti Kurdekar.
Pt. Taranath performing in memory of his guru, Ud. Shamshuddin Khan.

Pt. Taranath performing in memory of his guru, Ud. Shamshuddin Khan.

Taranath's brother, Harihar Rao, was well known in Los Angeles as a sitarist, teacher, radio personality, and with his guru Pt. Ravi Shankar co-founded The Music Circle. Dinkar Kaikini and Ashok Bellare are also later generation members of this extended family. Taranathji's twin nephews, Ravi and Shashi Bellare, were his disciples and child tabla prodigies; Ravi became an excellent dancer of both Kathak and Bharatnatyam styles, a music school administrator and lecturer in India, Germany and the USA, and Shashi toured and recorded with Ali Akbar Khan.

Performing Career -

During his long and illustrious career, Taranath performed at public and private concerts and conferences (festivals) with the major artists of the day, such as Abdul Kareem Khan, Allauddin Khan, Nissar Hussain Khan, Ravi Shankar, Ali Akbar Khan, Enayat Khan, Vilayat Khan, Vilayat Hussein Khan, Khadim Hussein Khan, K.G. Ginde, S.C.R. Bhatt, Chidanand Nagarkar, Omkarnath Thakur, Hirabai Barodekar, Suresh Babu Mane, Hafiz Ali Khan, Amir Khan, Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Pannalal Ghosh, Devendra Murdeshwar, V.G. Karnad, Faiyaz Khan, Sawai Ghandarva, Kumar Ghandarva, Rais Khan, Gangubai Hangal, Bhimsen Joshi, Amir Khan, Krisnarao Shankar Pandit, Azmat Khan, Malikarjan Mansur, Salamat and Nazakat Hussein Khan, Amanat Ali Fatali, Lakshmi Shankar, Sabri Khan, Ram Narayan, Dinkar Kaikini, Appa Jaogaonkar, Lalith Rao, G. S. Sachdev, Mohinuddin and Aminnudin Dagar, Rahimuddin Dagar and Ziamohiuddin Dagar.
Pt. Taranath, Ud. Papa Miya (son of Ud. Amir Hussain Khan), Pt. Nikhil Ghosh, Ud. Ahmedjan Thirakwa.

Pt. Taranath, Ud. Papa Miya (son of Ud. Amir Hussain Khan), Pt. Nikhil Ghosh, Ud. Ahmedjan Thirakwa.

Two of Taranath's most treasured performances were with Ravi Shankar at the Court of the Maharaja of Mysore and with Ali Akbar Khan at the court of the Maharaja of Jodhpur in the 1950s.

If you asked Taranathji, 'Have you ever played with (such-and-such) a musician,' he would often times say, 'Yes, I played with him. I also played with his father, and with his grandfather!'

In India it goes without saying that one learns more than music from a guru. Like all classical Indian arts, music is considered a yoga, a discipline leading to enlightenment. Merely being in the presence of a guru is said to develop a person spiritually. A student who spent time with Pandit Taranath would be impressed by his sure-handedness, which he showed not only in his music but also when he wrote in a student's lesson book, in his maintenance and decoration of tablas, in his carpentry, in his fashioning of tabla accessories, his formidable skills as a chef, and he even displayed his intangible aesthetic sense in an action as mundane as slicing fruit. If Guruji had a fault, it is that he lacked the aloofness expected of venerated teachers; his house was regularly filled with boisterous students eating, drinking and making merry. He was an eminent multi-disciplinary artist and scholar, a generous and kind teacher, a devoted husband, father and grandfather, and a down-to-earth guy with a zest for living. As we remember him, let us give him a hearty Jai Guru!

The preceding text is from Shri Jef Feldman's edition of Pt. Taranath's manuscript on Tabla: 'The Tabla Legacy of Taranath Rao - Pranava Tala Prajna' with additional material from the souvenir booklet for the Felicitation program for Pt. Taranath in Los Angeles, 1982, written by Jan Steward.

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Watch a documentary by The Peshkar Foundation celebrating the birth centenary of Pt. Taranath Rao.

I have known Shri Taranath since 1945 when I lived in Bombay. He was at that time an excellent tabla and pakhavaj player. He accompanied me on tabla at that period to many of my sitar recitals. Then through the years he emphasized on teaching and became a great teacher of tabla and pakhavaj.

He had many outstanding tabla players as his students who were so attached to him as he taught them with such love and care. Apart from being a wonderful artist and teacher, he was a great friend and human being.

Pt. Ravi Shankar
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