Despite having only one functional lung, he was one of the greatest ever Indian singers

Can you imagine an accomplished singer with just one lung, that too an Indian classical singer ? Indian classical vocal is all about long periods of not breathing, and is completely dependent on storing air in your lungs to perform those amazing long ‘alaaps’.

Today is the birth anniversary of Kumar Gandharv. Born as Shivaputra Siddharamayya Komkalimath in Sulebhavi near Belgaum (Karnataka), he already showed signs of musical genius by the age of 5. His first appearance on stage was at the age of 10. When he was 11, his father sent him to study music under the well-known B. R. Deodhar. Due to his exceptional skills, he was called ‘Gandharva’ (the divinely figures who sing in heavens). His mastery of technique and musical knowledge was so rapid that Gandharva himself was teaching at the school before he had turned 20. By his early 20s, Gandharva was seen as a star of music and was praised by critics

He was not just a singer, but a legend who was an incarnation of the divine Gandharvas. It won’t be any kind of exaggeration if we say he was one of the best singers the country ever had. Due to Tuberculosis during his late 20s, one of his lungs was completely damaged. The other lung was also infected. Thanks to new antibiotics that were discovered, his second lung (and his life) was saved. However, he remained completely bed-ridden for good 5-6 years. There was no hope that he would ever return to the world of singing. With his will power, resolve and great care from his wife, he recovered and went on to become one of the best Indian classical singers of the country.

Despite of having only one functional lung, Kumar Gandharv became one of the best Indian classical singers. The beauty of his singing was he didn’t stick to the styles of any gharana and innovated. He himself admitted it and experimented different styles. Because of not strictly adhering to any of the gharanas, his critics and those jealous of him mocked his style as ‘Ek-Lungi Gharana’.

His singing won not only many awards, but many hearts. He was often referred to as “a common man’s classical singer” because a lay man with no theoretical knowledge of classical music could relate with his songs. He was awarded Padma Vibhushan, India’s second highest civilian award. On his birth anniversary, let us pay a tribute to one of the best classical singers the country has ever produced, a legendary figure who still rules the world of classical music after his death.

As one of his students said, “People go to heaven after death. Kumar Gandharv had come to earth from heaven.”

Kshitij Mohan


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