Musician of no mean ability, outstanding composer, inspiring teacher, exceptional scholar and theorist, competant administrator, and above all, a lifelong student - that was S.N. Ratanjankar. A veritable Gyan Kosh. In my opinion, unequalled in this century, in his breadth and depth of musical knowledge. Handpicked, it would seem, by Saraswati Herself. A profile follows...
[ Originally posted on RMIC by Rajan Parrikar as part of Great Masters Series. ]
Decades ago, when Pt. Ratanjankar was known with affection and respect as "Anna Saheb" among his colleagues, friends and followers, and his voice was in excellent form, he could have chosen the more paying and exciting life of a practical musician. But, such was his reverence and loyalty to the memory of his Guru, that he chose to follow the latter's footsteps, to continue the work of training generations of musicians and music teachers, and to work in every possible way for the propagation of classical music. So dedicated was he to his ideals, that he stuck on steadfastly to the Principalship of the Bhatkhande Music College, Lucknow, through three long decades when emoluments were meagre, and sometimes, not forthcoming at all! Leaving his family in Bombay, Srikrishna Ratanjankar spent the best years of his life cooped up in a small room next to his equally small office-cum-class room in the college. It would not be an exaggeration to say that but for the enormous personal sacrifices that he made, this music college would not have survived the years of poverty and emerged as such a reputed institution today. While personal tragedies assailed his life repeatedly, this small, frail, man continued to live like a true Karma Yogi, imparting music to students and scholars who flocked to him from all parts of India, and Ceylon, writing scholarly articles on music for various journals, seminars and radio-talks, and enriching our music with a prolific number of masterly compositions such as Khayals, Lakshanageets, Taranas and Bhajans (in Hindi and Sanskrit). An erudite scholar in music, he remained an eager student and research-scholar till the end.
Born on the first dawn of this century in a middle-class Maharashtrian family of Bombay, Srikrishna's father (an officer in the C.I.D.) had a deep and discriminating interest in music. Therefore, he was able to have the good fortune of receiving excellent training in the art under the most efficient masters available. At the age of 7, young Srikrishna was put under the training of Pt. Krishnam Bhat of Karwar (a pupil of Kale Khan of Patiala Gharana) whose method of teaching was so thorough that in 2 years of (nothing but) scale exercises, the boy's "swar-jnan" was perfected. His next teacher was Pt. Anant Manohar Joshi (a pupil of Balakrishna Buwa). It was about this time that Srikrishna's family came into contact with Pt. Bhatkhande Ji. The latter was so deeply impressed by the boy's talent and zeal, that the Chaturpandit predicted that with proper training, he would not only become a great musician, but also a pioneer in the rejuvenation and popularization of Hindustani classical music.
From 1912, Ratanjankar's family had to endure many misfortunes. Young Srikrishna lost his mother, and his father had to retire from service on a premature pension owing to recurring heart-attacks. Unable to live in a costly place like Bombay, the family shifted to Ahmadnagar where Srikrishna, though only 13, began to give "mehfils" (music sittings) and became very popular.
In 19l6 Srikrishna took part in the first All India Music conference in Baroda. In 1917. he was given a scholarship by Baroda State for studying music. The family moved to Baroda where the teen-aged musician taught the Maharani for some time. With Pandit Bhatkhande's approval he became a disciple of Aftab-e-Mousiqui Ustad Faiyaz Khan and remained with him for five years. The mutual affection and respect between these two was great, and the Ustad always mentioned Srikrishna's name as one of the most eminent of his "musical heirs".
In 1923 Ratanjankar's family went back to Bombay. In spite of the vicissitudes of the family, and his all-engrossing musical training, he found time to pursue his academic studies as well, and in the year 1925, Ratanjankar graduated from the Wilson College. The contact with Pandit Bhatkahandeji was always maintained, and then Ratanjankar began to take classes and give performances in the Sharada Sangeet Mandal sponsored by Bhatkhande. Later on, when Pt. Bhatkhande started the Music College in Lucknow, Ratanjankar was brought here, first as professor, and soon after, became Principal. The latter used to accompany the Chaturpandit during his visits to the various eminent musicians of the day to collect ancient compositions from various Gharanas. Thus he was able to learn an enormous number of old and traditional compositions (Dhrupads, Dhamar, Khayals, Lakashanageet and Thumri). Like Bhatkhandeji, his disciple also strove in various ways through lectures, classes, demonstrations, writings etc., to revive interest in classical music among the public.
A senior music teacher of today recalls the first time he met and heard Sri Ratanjankar. It was in the All India Music Conference organised in Lucknow in 1924. In that conference where music maestros from all important centres like Rampur Jaipur, Gwalior, Alwar, Dholpur, Indore, Baroda and Maihar had assembled, Shrikrishna somehow stood out like a young Abhimanyu among the revered Dronas, Bhishmas, etc. Besides being a graduate and a polished musician, he was already a profound scholar in music. His voice was in excellent form and his erudition in "Sangeet Shastra" was astounding. He could render rare and difficult ragas like Deepak, Patmanjari, Natnarayan, Bhankar, etc., with as much ease as the Prachalit (current and popular) ones like Yaman, Bilawal, Todi, Bhairavi etc.
He knew by heart even the rare compositions published in the fifth and sixth parts of Bhatkhande's Kramik Series. We could not help wondering how and when he had managed to learn such a large number of ragas and compositions, to take his B. A. Degree, and to make such a deep study of classics like Sungeeta-Ratnakar, Natya-Shashtra, Lakshya-Sangeet, Raga Tala vibodh and so on !
Those who have had the good fortune to listen to "Anna Saheb's" (Ratanjankar's) music when he was in his best form can never forget the vastness of his raga - and - songs - repertoire, the richness of his creative imagination, the purity and precision of his note-combinations, and the overall beauty of his well-integrated, systematic style. Being of a shy and quiet temperament, and a genuine votary of music, Annasaheb never made any concessions to placate plebian tastes. He retired into his own quiet shell, and loosened the springs of his great and unspoilt art, only in front of the knowing and discerning few. His style, though basically of the Jaipur Gharana, bore the unmistakable impression of Ustad Faiyaz Khan's Agra or Rangeela style, while delightfully combining some of the best characterstics of the Gwalior-gharana. The resulting synthesis was a remarkable individual style of his own. It was a rare combination of sweetness and dignity, aesthetic purity and creativeness and of swara suddhi with Uchchaar suddhi (purity of notes and intonation). I have had the good fortune to listen to innumerable soirees of Annasaheb when his music was at the peak of its glory. Some of his memorable performances were at the various festival functions organised in the college such as Basant, Hori, Janmashtami and so on. But it was at the annual Sangeet Dhara programmes, dedicated to Pt. Bhatkhande's memory, that he really sang like one inspired, and poured out his soul in song, in honour of his gurus "Punya tithi." Past and present students, musicians from far and near, used to flock to participate in this unbroken-musical stream which commenced at dawn on l9th of September each year, and lasted for 12 hours. The ragas Paraj, Bhairavi, Lalit Poncham, Desh, Darbari ,Sohini, and Malhar that I heard him sing in the Nineteen forties still echo in my ears.
Throughout the day and late into the night, Annasaheb lived in a musical world of his own, engrossed in ancient music classics, and composing new rare-combinations like Marga-Bihag, Kedar Bahar, Sawani Kedara, Rajani Kalyan, Salag Varali, Sankara Karan etc. He also experimented on new types of compositions like Varnams from Carnatic music with Hindi Sahitya and Taranas with Sanskrit verses instead of Persian ones. Well versed in English, Hindi, Sanskrit, and Marathi, all this came to him with ease. It was a joke (though a fact) among his students, that his "companions" during railway-journeys were never light magazines or novels, but heavy classics like the Samaveda, Bharata Natya Sastra, and Sangeeta Ratnakara.
With the passing of years, the strenuous years of music teaching, the impact of tragic personal losses, and deteriorating health-all these factors ruined his voice. Ratanjankar performed less and less frequently. He concentrated on other aspects of music-creativity. As an examiner in various universities, and as a member of the Syllabus-Committee, he wrote and published his Sangeet Shiksha in 3 parts, the Abhinava Sangeet Shiksha, the Tana Samgraha, etc. His Abhinava - Rag Manjari alone contains nearly 200 of his original and beautiful compositions. He never tried to publicise the fact that his compositions are being broadcast from the various stations of All India Radio almost every day. Generations of musicians will revere his memory as one of the most eminent and prolific Vagyeyakars of modern times. Only a musician-cum scholar could create such beautiful classical songs in which Swaras and Sahitya, blend so harmoniously. Annasaheb's musical credo was that the effect of music ought to be, and is pure aesthetic joy" and that the musician should be able to draw out from every raga whatever rasa or emotion he wishes to". Perhaps it was to illustrate this point that he wrote his successful musical operas-Govardhanodhar, Jhansi Ki Rani and Shivamangalam. The first of these was put out as a national programme from all stations of AIR. In all of them, he made use of a plethora of ragas to produce various rasas.
When the Indira Kala Sangeet University was inaugurated in Khairagarh (Madhya Pradesh), Principal Ratanjankar was persuaded to accept the Vice-Chancellorship. Leaving his humble college in Lucknow was a most painful wrench for him. Again, like a true karma-yogi, he felt it was his duty to take up this new challenging job, see this infant University through its birth-pangs, and put it on firm foundations. In fact, a less dedicated person could not have borne this heavy responsibility. Night and day, he strove selflessly for the University. Only his closest-associates know how he secretly used to donate a large slice of his own salary back to the University whenever funds became inadequate. He did not lay down the heavy reins of this office until he had steered this institution out of troubled waters and set it sailing along calm seas.
At a time when the majority of north Indian musicians looked askance at Karnatak music, Shri Ratanjankar was one of the very few who studied deeply the theory and ragas of the Karnatak system, appreciated its great traditions, and adapted much from it to enrich the Hindustani system. Averse to party politics, and narrow provincialism, he remained dignified and above petty jealousies. Sangeet Kalanidhi Justice Venkatrama Iyer described Ratanjankar as "the symbol of the unity of lndian music". As a member of the expert committee of the Music Akademy, Madras, he contributed richly to "promote close mutual understanding between the two systems".
As chairman of the Music Auditions Board, Pt. Ratanjankar was closely associated with AIR for a number of years. He participated in many music seminars with his scholarly papers. Among his more well-known disciples may be mentioned the late Chandrasekhar Pant, the late Chidanand Nagarkar, Chinmoy Lahiri, Dinkar Kaikini, P.N. Chinchore, Dr. Sumati Mutatkar, S.C.R. Bhat, K.G. Ginde and others. While all of them have been regular broadcasters, two of them served on the staff of the AIR for many years. But now most of them are teaching music.
Shri Ratanjankar adorned many positions of honour in the world of music and was honoured with the title of "Padma Bhushan" by President Rajendra Prasad in recognition of his outstanding services to music.
Musicians and musicologists from all over the country pay their homage to the memory of this rare "missionary" in music who lived a life of utter simplicity and dedication, and who enriched Hindustani music in many ways. In one of his many lovely Bhajans he used to sing: "It is a precious gift to be born as a human being on this earth. Do some good work while you are here. Keep your mind and body and your entire life pure and clean. Help those in need. Make your life useful and purposeful". In fact, this describes Pt. Ratanjankar's own approach to life.