THE LUMINARIES - Prabha Atre 0

Dr. Prabha Atre: a Multi-dimensional personality

  • Bhushan Toshniwal |

A person can be either a singer, a music critic, a guru, or an author on music. however, Padma Vibhushan Dr. Prabha Atre is among those rare artists, who do well in all the above-mentioned facades of music. she has performed all over the world, written books on music, composed over 550 songs in classical, semi-classical, and light music, and has trained many disciples through her Gurukul.

The unique way of approaching Ragas:

Prabhaji trained under Kirana Gharana giant Pandit Sureshbabu Mane. She says, “at our home, there was no music. however, one of my father’s friends told Sureshbabu Maneji about me. After listening to me, he decided to teach me. for 2 years I learned only raga Yaman. Then I learned Raga Bhairav. Most gurus would insist on repeating what they sing, but my guru was different. He would sing one Avartan (rhythmic cycle) and would tell me to improvise, based on what he sang in the next Avartan. Sureshbabu died very early due to heart failure. I was so close to him that, I could not accept anyone else as my guru. I accompanied Padma Bhushan Hirabai Badodekar on her concert tours, and learned a lot about how to perform in concerts, how to connect with the audience, etc. however, as regards musical training, I had to search my own path.

THE LUMINARIES - Prabha Atre 1My later musical training happened by listening to artists like Ustad Amir Khan, and Ustad Bade Gulam Ali Khan, among others. To become a good artist, one must become a good listener. A lot of Sadhana is required to become a good artist, but to be a good listener requires twice that Sadhana. one should be able to listen to anyone without any prejudice. One should be able to understand, the intricacies of how an artist develops a Raga. one should be able to pay attention to the minutest movements of notes, or the most subtle Layakari. Even though the notes of the Raga are the same, every artist’s perspective towards a Raga differs, due to his temperament, his own imagination, his style of rendition, and the speed of the Raga rendition. Every Raga has some prominent notes, there is a certain way to develop a Raga, but these are all safety Measures. What an artist feels within these safety measures decides his caliber.

The next part is, to analyze what you have listened and decide what new additions can be made to your own thoughts/music. I heard many great artists and developed my own perspective on Ragas.” Prabhaji heard not just Hindustani classical music, but also borrowed from other forms of music. the impact of Carnatic music can be seen, when she sings phrases in Ragas like Yaman, with typical Carnatic oscillations on the notes GA and Re. according to her, “when someone borrows something, it should be merged into one’s music. the listener should not feel its separate existence. I listen not only to Hindustani, and Carnatic music but other forms of music like Arabian music, film music, light music, etc. I have borrowed a lot from all these forms, but the listener will not know what I borrowed from where, as it’s merged into my own music.”

Prabhaji rose to fame through her record of Ragas Maru bihag and Kalavati. She removed the shuddha Madhyam in Maru bihag because it is used sparingly. Another of her contribution to Raga rendition (especially in Maharashtra) is her own style of Sargam. “I was highly influenced by Sargam of Ustad Amir Khan. I would keep on singing sargam the whole day. For some reason, Sargam was not that much accepted in Maharashtra. but I developed my own style of rendering the same, which was highly influenced by Ustadji, yet different from him. Sargam has musical meaning, but no poetic meaning. So, an artist can show various emotions like love, playfulness, aggressiveness through it.” Prabhaji later did her Ph.D. in Sargam.

Raga name, and its treatment

Prabhaji says, “in raga Shyam Kalyan, I sing phrases, which reflect Kalyan Ang, as Raga name has Kalyan. Similarly, in Jogkauns, phrases that reflect Jog, and Kauns should be rendered, and phrases like Pa Dha NI (Ni being Komal) should not be used. There are some Raga names, that should be changed. Since Gorakh Kalyan does not show any Kalyan Ang, Kalyan should be removed from its name. The same is the case with Basant Mukhari. It can be named Mukhari Bhairav, as it reflects Bhairav Ang. At present, there are many forms of the same Raga, which are in vogue. Efforts should be made to standardize the Raga format, and if there is disagreement among artists, various formats should be numbered as format 1, format 2, etc. this will avoid student’s confusion, as to the authenticity of the Raga format.”

THE LUMINARIES - Prabha Atre 3As Composer

Prabhaji composed Khayals, Bandishes, and Taranas in 90-od Ragas. her first foray into composing came, when she composed an opera, while she was posted at All India Radio Ranchi. Her first classical composition was Jaagun Main Sari Raina in Maru bihag, with which, she rose to fame. Prabhaji did various experiments in her compositions. Normally Bandishes in Ektal start from the 1 st or the 7th beat, but the above-mentioned Maru bihag Bandish, or the Bandish in Gaud Malhar Chaaye Badara, start from the 8th beat. Her Lalat Bandish Mana sumirat starts from the 9th beat, while another of her famous Bandish Tan Man Dhan (Raga Kalavati) starts from the 12fth beat of the Tala. The same can be said about her Bandishes in Rupak Tala. Rupak has the rhythmic structure of 3+2+2. However, Prabhaji’s Bandishes like He-Man Tore Sharana (Raga Durga), He Shiva Shankar (Raga Shankara), Devo Mohe Daras (Raga Malkauns), start from the 4th beat, and so have the structure of 2+2+3. Her composition Sundar Shyam (Raga Bhimpalas, Tal Jhaptal) starts between the 8th and 9th beat of the Tala.

Prabhaji was also conscious about what subjects should be taken up, in which Raga. for example, in Bhairav, and its various types, or in Raga Shankara, she composed poetry on Lord Shiva. In Durga, she composed on Goddess Durga. Because Shuddha Sarang is an afternoon Raga, she composed the Khayal Tapan Lagi Chahu Aur, which describes the afternoon atmosphere. Some of her compositions express a non-traditional shade of a Raga. Usually, pieces in Madhuvanti have their Sam on Re, but Prabhaji’s Khayal Manmohana Shyam has their Sam on Ni.

Inspired by the form Raagam Taanam Pallavi of Carnatic music, she composed a one-line composition: Om Namo Shivaya, (Raga Bhairav, Tal Jhaptal), which is rendered as both Asthayi and Antara. Her Taranas showed the impact of Swarams rendered in Carnatic music. Prabhaji believed that there should be separate compositions for male and female singers. She says, “I do not like when a man sings compositions like Jhan Jhan Payal Baaje, or Saas Nanand Mohe Degi Gali. So I made separate compositions for males. For example, if the composition has the word Piya Ghar Nahi, then the male singer should sing it as Sakhi Ghar nahi.”

About composing Bandishes, she says, “to compose Bandish in a Raga, one should be well-versed with it. if you want to know a person, you have to spend a lot of time with him. Just like that, to master a Raga, takes many years. Raga is an abstract format and is very difficult to learn/appreciate. However, when we compose Bandish in it, this abstract format becomes easier to understand. To compose a good Bandish, along with the Raga knowledge, one must have a good command of the language. the words should have musicality and should be easily understood by one and all. When the composition is pronounced with a correct accent and emotively presented, the meaning of the words and the Raga Bhava merges and enhances the performance. People often ask me why the same subjects like love, devotion, longing, or seasonal descriptions are taken over and over for composing. I feel that some things remain constant, and the above emotions will always remain the same. Moreover, an ordinary person can easily relate to these subjects, and once he gets the composition, his focus can again shift to the Raga rendition. The purpose of any classical
composition is to bring out the Raga to the forefront, and not its poetic content. Another important thing is to have good knowledge of Laya. The composer should be able to use cross-beats in a subtle manner. each word need not fall on the beat itself. My compositions are short, because, in my opinion, too many words drag the listener’s attention, away from the raga rendition. In earlier days, there was Prabandh singing, which contends many stanzas. It was necessary because since there was no recording technology, people could remember Raga through the composition. Now we have recordings, so there is no need for long compositions. People often criticize me for not singing Antara of Khayal. But I feel that, if the Asthayi of the composition is such that, I can show complete Raga development through it, there is no need to sing Antara.”

Thoughts on music, and music education

THE LUMINARIES - Prabha Atre 2

Prabhaji believed that new books should be written on music, that will reflect the current way of its rendition. “just because Indian classical music is traditional, we should not stick to mere tradition itself. We should refine it, as time changes. For example, things like Waadi Samwaadi or Pakad of a Raga is not needed. Instead, students should be told what notes in raga are prominent in ascent, and what notes are prominent in descent. I have opened my own Gurukul, which tries to combine the strengths of both Gurukul and college education. In universities, there should be special courses for classical music, film music, folk music, light music, music composing, and recording, as each of the above requires different types of training.” She is also against the concept of Raga Samay, and Raga Rasa. “when Raga Samay concept was formed, people used to live more in the natural environment. Now we live in closed homes, so there is no way we can understand, whether there is morning, afternoon, or evening. The only criteria for performance should be, whether an artist’s raga rendition has had the desired impact or not. Every Raga has its own Laya, and its own temperament, but it has no particular Rasa or mood. The mood of the artist and the listener’s mood decide the Raga Rasa for that point in time. Often words of the composition also decide the Raga Rasa.”

Prabhaji has created many new Ragas like Shivkali, Shivani, Madhurkauns, etc. according to her, “while practicing, some new phrase comes to my mind, which is not in the Raga that I am practicing. This results in the creation of new Ragas.”


With her gifted voice and brilliance, open-minded attitude, esthetic approach, and objective way to look at music, Padma Vibhushan Dr. Prabha Atre has made a great contribution to Indian classical music.

Note- the focus of this article is only on the contribution of Dr. Prabha Atre to classical music. she has also contributed to semi-classical and light music, through her unique approach, and compositions.

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Comments (2)


    Very educative article.
    Please also write such on Dr.Prabhji’s contributions in semi-classical and light music and other genres.

    15 January 2024 at 8:08 am
  • dinesh mundra Reply


    15 January 2024 at 10:13 am

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