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Take Gangubai Hangal, in her 90s and ailing, who took the gayaki of the famed Kirana gharana to great heights. After the death of her daughter Krishna Hangal, there is no musical successor in sight. Her unique musical tradition, perfected through years of rigorous riyaaz, could be lost forever.

A woman of extraordinary talent and courage, Gangubai Hangal has kept her place in the male-dominated world of Hindustani music for almost a century, writes LAKSHMI VISWANATHAN.

ON March 5, Gangubai Hangal, the renowned Hindustani vocalist, celebrated her 93rd birthday. A news item informed her rasikas that her grandson planned to open a cultural centre, designating the Hangal home as a museum for music as a tribute to this grand lady.

Gangubai is one of the four Kannadiga celebrities of Hindustani music. The others are Mallikarjun Mansur, Kumar Gandharva and Bhimsen Joshi. She may not have a high profile like the men in this pantheon. Nevertheless she has held her own and has dedicated her life to the arduous cultivation of her style of expression. Her followers know her emotional involvement with music and appreciate her personal commitment to creative endeavour.

These qualities have earned her a pride of place among the great musicians of our time. She always did justice to the Khayal in all its intricacy, taking her time over the alaap in slow tempo, and thundering her way through the fast swaras. She gave new dimensions to raga Khamaj. Durbari Kanada, which Gangubai usually began in the lower octaves, was also a raga suited to her majestic style.