Pandit Nivruttibua Sarnaik was born in Kolhapur on 4 July 1912. His father, Tukarambua Sarnaik, was a well-known singer of bhajans of his time. He used to render bhajans regularly at the Mahalakshmi temple of Kolhapur. When Nivrutiibua was five, his uncle, Shankarrao Sarnaik (father of the beloved Marathi actor Arun Sarnaik) took him under his wings and brought him to the Shivraj Natak Mandali, a drama company, which had been founded by the famous composer and harmonium wizard, Govindrao Tembe, and some others. After some years, the company’s ownership changed and it was renamed the Yashwant Natak Mandali.
Nivruttibua played various roles, including female ones, in many plays that the company used to perform. He also travelled extensively with the company. During all this time he used be around his uncle Shankarrao Sarnaik, who had become a disciple of the legendary Sawai Gandharva, a doyen of the Kirana gharana. Shankarrao was simultaneously learning from Govindrao Tembe. On his part, the young Nivruttibua was imbibing the gayaki of Shankarrao, who, in a sense, was his first guru. But his formal training started under Govindbua Bhave. Soon thereafter, Nivruttibua became a disciple of Sawai Gandharva and, subsequently, he got the opportunity to learn the Jaipur-Atrauli gayaki from Ustad Alladiya Khan himself, as also from Ustad Rajab Ali Khan. After Yashwant Sangeet Mandali closed in 1935, Nivruttibua came back to Kolhapur with his uncle’s family. He began grooming himself for classical singing through relentless riyaz.
In course of time, Nivruttibua evolved a distinctive style of his own, which was marked by an eclectic approach, constantly improvising, even while it maintained its moorings firmly in purism. It can be said that his gayaki was a blend or confluence of the Kirana and Jaipur-Atrauli gharanas. In addition, he was deeply influenced by Ustad Amir Khan, as he himself used to acknowledge. He became one of the most popular Hindustani vocalists of his time. As early as 1937, he performed so well at a concert at Shikarpur (now in Pakistan), that he was felicitated with a garland of 10-rupee currency notes, which had great value in those days.
All through his musical journey, Nivruttibua collected innumerable bandishes, or compositions, from many diverse people: apart from Ustad Alladiya Khan, he got bandishes from Ashiq Ali Khan, Hafiz Ali Khan (father of Amjad Ali Khan) and many others, from different gharanas, including Gwalior and Patiala, apart, of course, from Kirana and Jaipur-Atrauli.
An important fact to be noted is that Nivruttibua was also an excellent tabla player. He had learnt to play the tabla quite early, during his stint with the Natak Mandali. Initially, he learnt it from the tabla accompanists of the company, Rukdikar and Babalal Islampurkar. Afterwards, given his eclectic approach, he learnt the nuances of the tabla from many distinguished visiting tabla maestros, including the Grand Old Man of the tabla, Ustad Ahmedjan Thirakwa, as also Ustad Natthu Khan. As a result, Nivruttibua had an exceptional understanding of taal, rhythm, and taan, a hallmark of the Jaipur-Atrauli gayaki. He could strike the most appropriate balance between the two, which had a significant bearing on his unique style.
Nivruttibua came to Mumbai in 1966. Between 1969 and 1979, he was an Honorary Guru in the Music Department of Mumbai University. In 1979.
Panditji was a senior guru in Sangeet Research Academy in Calcutta for 12 years. The SRA is an institution sponsored by ITC and dedicated to the pursuit of music as Guru-Shishya parampara. His teachings mainly included the Jaipur Gharana Gayaki. He had great knowledge of the "Anvat Ragas".
Some of Panditji’s ideas were thought provoking:
* Panditji always highlight to all the younger generation - He felt that this an art of "Adhyatma". As in Adhyatma, where we never see the god but we take
efforts to see or feel his devine presence, similar in music we never feel the sur easily, we try to master it in our voice. This is not easy and can take up to
many years of practice to achieve the same.
* In vocal classical music, the traditionalists believe that some ragas should be sung in the mornings and some in the evenings, but Panditji did not agree. He
felt that if an artist could sing an evening raga in the morning at the radio station, and still perform well, one could only dismiss the old traditional views.
Nivruttibua was not in favour of any strict adherence to the conventions about the times of the day during which various ragas are supposed to be sung or played.
In Kolhapur, Late Pt. Sudhakarbua Digrajkar, Arun Kulkarni, Late Sardarbai Kardgekar, Appasaheb Deshpande, Late Smt Varshraje Pandit, Mrs. Bharati Vaishampayan, Vinod Digrajkar
and many others took the opportunity to learn Jaipur Gayaki and anvat ragas from Panditji. Today many of them are class one performers.
Needles to say he left behind a lot of disciples. His shishya Smt. Vijaya Jadhav Gatlewar, Pt. Dinkar Panshikar, late Pt. Prabhudev Sardar have made their grade on the concert platform.
Today's legends and all time popular vocalist such as Late Pt. Jitendra Abhisheki, Smt. Kishori Amonkar, Smt. Prabha Atre, Pt. Ulhas Khasalkar, Pt Arun Kashalkar and Mrs Padma Talwalkar
learn and took guidance from PanditJi for some time and got benefitted.
Several other disciples like Smt. Vandana Bhagwat, Prasad Gulvani, Smt. Chaya Rahalkar, Late Sri Ramesh Ganpule, Late Srikrishna Kastur, Smt. Vrinda Limaye, Dr Lata Godse,
Smt. Nilakshi Juvekar, Smt Madhuri Oak, Smt Nandini Rege, Sri Madhusudan Aapte, Smt. Veena Sastrabudhe and many more are benefitted from his tutelage and guiadance.
Tragically, Nivruttibua got Parkinson’s disease in 1991 and his health began to detoriate. He returned to Mumbai in 1991.
He passed away on 16 February 1994, at the age of 81, leaving behind a rich and lasting legacy.
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