[See also the earlier notes, from a week ago; and see also this post (on my earlier blog) from 10 months ago]
photo caption (6 Nov. 2002):
FIRST WOMAN: Radhika Umdekar, the only lady vichitra veena player in the world, performs in city on Nov 8, 2002, as part of the three-day Chandigarh Sangeet Sammelan at Bharatiya Vidya Bhawan, Sector 27.
A Times of India article (7 Nov. 2002) --
Of a vichitra girl and her veena
Radhika Umdekar has everything deceptive about her appearance. Her seemingly school-going girl frail looks and a barely audible voice are enough to mislead you into believing that you're meeting an ordinary person.
But probe her and you find a girl who has designed her destiny with the extraordinary, by choice. Not only is she the only woman vichitra veena player in the world, at the age of 22 years, she has already made a few modifications in the veena to lend a contemporary sound to this almost-extinct instrument.
Since childhood, she was fascinated by all the 'first woman achievers' and this became the motivation that lead Radhika to her calling. "When I used to read about the first woman pilot, the first woman space scientist and the like, I used to think I too must do something that no other woman has done. Since I come from a family of royal musicians of Gwalior, my father, who plays the sitar and rudra veena told me to try my hand at the vichitra veena which is a very difficult instrument to handle, and no woman had ever tried playing it. So, I began learning the veena when I was eight. I liked its name, vichitra, and thought I must do something special with it. So apart from playing the sitar and getting lessons in vocal music I began pursuing the veena."
There are as such, only three more artistes in the country who play this difficult instrument, which does not have frets, hence, the notes have to be produced by sheer dint of practice in tandem with a pair of well-tuned ears. Just the handling this large instrument requires strong arms but this is no impediment for Radhika, who has installed an electronic tanpura inside the body of the veena to lend it better resonance. She has also changed the quality of sound produced by the instrument, by giving it a higher pitch, so that it sounds closer to contemporary instruments. She is also attempting to produce from it, sound effects of other contemporary stringed instruments like jhala and tantrakari, something not attempted by any other player of vichitra veena.
"I have got this instrument custom made from Kolkata. Even the girth of the strings has been improved and this gives a better tonal quality. Some people play the veena with a glass paper weight, I play it with shaligram shila, the stone that is worshiped as, for me, each musical note is like a prayer. I know I've a long way to go but if I am able to draw people again to this forgotten instrument, I would think my endeavour was worth it."
Radhika has received numerous prestigious fellowships and has performed at all major sangeet sammelans in the country. She is in city to perform at the Chandigarh Sangeet Sammelan on Friday.
And a review (from the Tribune News Service) --
CHANDIGARH SANGEET SAMMELAN
Radhika, Devaki spill magical melodies
Chandigarh, November 8
Taking refuge under the cover of notes is easy, so easy that even before the mind realises that it has surrendered to music, the heart is already on wings of desire. These days music is flowing through the city like a stream. Before one concert ends, the other begins lest the cycle of melody should break.
The 25th Tribune-sponsored Chandigarh Sangeet Sammelan opened today at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan with a flush of lyrical melodies, as produced from the rare-stringed instrument — the vichitra veena. Playing on with style, precision and power, the young Radhika Umedkar ruled over the audience for almost an hour. As she struck melodies on the instrument which is nearly on the verge of extinction, one realised how difficult it was to create music from the vichitra veena, which has no frets to guide the instrumentalist. Music is produced from a special object called the ‘Shaligram Sheela’, made out of ‘Sangwan’. The instrument, which has no frets for producing notes, requires tremendous concentration, which Radhika maintained in plenty.
Born into a family of musicians, Radhika is the granddaughter of late Pt Balabhau Umedkar who was a great exponent of the Gwalior gharana of Hindustani classical music. Radhika sought training from her father who is a well-known sitar and rudra veena player. Academically strong with a Kovid in sitar playing to her credit, Radhika today set out to explore the variations in ‘raga bihag’. From slow pace to fast, the instrumentalist bared her talent immensely, often drawing applause from music lovers, who craved for more of her music.
Presently pursuing an MA in sitar, Radhika talked about how she felt fulfilled after playing the vichitra veena, which is a challenge in itself. She said, ‘‘Playing this instrument is very difficult because you have to maintain the melody yourself. There are no frets to guide you. It requires single-minded devotion.’’
Radhika Umedkar’s presentation was followed by a vocal recital by Devaki Pandit, who matched the mood of the evening well with her extremely mellifluous rendering of ‘raga rageshwari’. . . . [etc.]
[One incidentally notices that the 1st article above spells the musician's maiden name as "Umdekar" while the 2nd one spells it as "Umedkar." I have also seen it spelled "Umadekar." But suffice to say, the name was evidently most commonly spelled (in English) as Umdekar -- and that the musician now goes by Radhika Budhkar.]
As noted in this list, Radhika was recipient of the Gwalior Ratna award (it doesn't specify exactly what year this was awarded -- sometime after 1992 is all it says. Since her maiden name is used, this I think further locates it to sometime prior to the past several years.
I don't find Radhika's name in this amazing roster of all Hindustani musicians. Her absence from the list most likely can be attributed to the probable date the list was compiled -- i.e., Radhika is a fairly recent entry into the rosters of performing musicians. My guess (thus) is that the list was perhaps largely compiled well over a decade ago.
It's worth noting the names that DO appear vis-a-vis vichitra vina on the above-linked, comprehensive list. In alphabetical order, they are:
1) Ustad Abdul Aziz Khan (also played sarangi) -- early 20th century; he coined the name Vichitra Vina [or Batta Been]
2) Ustad Ahmad Raza Khan (student of Abdul Aziz Khan) (late)
3) Alladin Khan
4) Amiya Chakravorty
5) Ustad Asad Ali Khan (born 1937 -- better known for his Rudra Vina; New Delhi)
6) Ustad Aziz Ali Khan (late)
7) Gianni Ricchizzi (student of late Pt. Gopal Krishan; also plays sitar etc.)
8) Pt. Gopal Krishan (student of 3 gurus, including Pt. Ravi Shankar) [late]
9) Ustad Faqir Habib Ali Khan Beenkar (student of his older brother, Ustad Abdul Aziz Khan Beenkar) (late)
10) Pt. Lalmani Misra (late; was a teacher at Banaras Hindu University)
11) M. Raza
12) Narayan Chakravorty (student of Amiya Chakravorty)
13) Ramesh Prem (Bombay)
14) Ustad Sharif Khan Poonchhwala (Pakistan; also plays sitar) (Presidenet's Pride of Performance medal in 1965).
That's the full list.
Also to note: I've stumbled on a new (to me) website relating to Dhrupad musicians:
www.Dagarvani.org. Apparently the site has been organized by students of Ustad F. Wasifuddin Dagar.
And here's an interesting article (or, evidently, notes for his lecture-demo) by Bimal Mukherjee: Jaipur Binkar / Sitar Gharana. This appears on the India Music Forum website.