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Sunanda Patnaik, A Life In Music

By
Kedar Mishra

Once in an interview, she told me, “My boy, Sur is life herself! You can’t simply sing her, you need to live her”.   True to her words, her music was a pure flow of life.  She was passionate as an artiste and aggressive as a performer. Always she remained soaked in her passion. She lived music and died leaving a rich legacy of her extraordinary compositions. Timber in her voice was something out of this world. Her renditions are unusual and unique. She jumps from low notes to high notes like a tide.  She was Sunanda Patnaik  (November 7, 1934-January 19, 2020, born in Puri), the first and foremost national icon of Hindustani classical music from Odisha.

She was the daughter of Baikunthnath Patnaik, the iconic Odia poet. It’s hard to say, between the father and daughter duo, who are famous for whom. In Sunanda’s voice, the poet Baikunthnath’s poem attained immortality. Sunanda’s voice captured the most sensible, humane and mystical spirit of her father’s poem and consequently Baikunthanath is alive in every Odia heart as his daughter’s song.

We Odias love to remember her as the singer of Jibana Patra Mo Bharicha Kete Mate (My life is so full, O my lord, why do I complain about not getting anything), the timeless poem of her father.  Once I asked her, is it not the ultimate song of life? Annoyed and agitated, she answered, “That’s one of my songs, not the ultimate.” She had an impressive line of records of Khayal, Thumri, Tarana and Bhajans.   Her mellifluous singing in ‘Jaunpuri Tarana’ or ‘Raaga Ramkali’ or her own compositions of  ‘Raaga Neelmadhava’ or ‘Subarnamukhi’, bore the signature of her genius.

A musical life from the scratches

Sunanda Patnaik knew nothing other than music in her life, but no one in her family was ever a singer or a musician. Her  Grandfather and father wanted her to excel in higher studies and get a good job. In her childhood, Sunanda was known to be a Geeta Bayani or crazy for music girl. Looking at her passion for music, she was sent to Pandit Kundal Adi Narayan, who was teaching Hindustani music in Cuttack.  In 1952, Sunanda was invited to perform before the first President of India Dr Rajendra Prasad at the Governor’s House. Impressed by the singing of this little girl, Dr Rajendra Prasad facilitated her with a scholarship to learn music in Pune. She shifted to Pune and there she learnt music from Pandit Binayak Pattavardhan.

Raaga Neelmadhava, cry of the soul

Sunanda marked her presence as a singer and innovator in the ambit of Gwalior Gharana. She contributed and enriched her Gharana by adding six new Raagas. Among them, two of her original compositions – Raaga Neelamadhaba and Raaga Suvarnamukhi – stood out as timeless gems.   The bol in Raaga Neelamadhava ‘Ram Gaye Banabas, Abadha Puri Ke Sab Naranari Bhaye Bikal Udas’ makes you cry.

Father and daughter

Sunanda was a renowned singer in Odia films and All India Radio. As a classical singer, she got critical acclaim but as a popular voice, she earned her best recognition in the hearts of his own people. Her father Baikunthnath Patnaik’s poetry had always been the identity of her musical self in Odisha. Some songs like Jeevan Patra Mo Bharichhi Kete Mate, Nishabada Sharat Prate, Jeevan Bandhu Jai Jai Hai and Jebe Deba Ehi  Diksha are all-time classics in Odia musical tradition.  In her voice, we felt the melody of devotion and surrender of the greatest of our poets like Kabir, Mira Bai, Nanak, Salabega, Surdas and many more. However, Adi  Shankaracharya’s ‘Sri Jagannathastakam’ and ‘Bhaja Govindam’ are two of Sunanda’s compositions that stood out to be the most influential songs of the last century.

Kedar Mishra

Writer, Journalist & Critic

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