September 24, 2009
Mangaloreans are known for their multifarious talents and have excelled in all walks of life be it entrepreneurship, education, literature, science, banking, sports or fine arts at national and international arena. The world has been like a huge canvass for these talented lot and they used it to exhibit their innate talent wherever they went. While many of them are well known to us there are many others lesser known in their own motherland shunning publicity, accolades, glitter and glamour but have left an indelible mark in their chosen fields with their unmatched talents and distinct contribution.
Little known in this part of coastal area Amembal Dinakar Rao is a rare gem of a musician whose contribution to the Indian classical music as a Vocalist, Harmonist, Flutist, music director, founder of Indian Orchestra and pioneer in music broadcasting, is unrivalled to say the least. September 24th marks the centenary of this rare musicologist, considered to be a rare treasure that blooms once in ten thousand years and it would be befitting to recall the services of this great man and pay due respect for the yeoman’s services he has rendered in the music field.
Merging his identity with Radio
Popularly known by his acronym D Amel he was a stalwart whose name is rightly associated with the music section of All India Radio, Mumbai, with which he was associated for over 4 decades. AIR Mumbai in those days represented entire India and D Amel was responsible for inspiring a generation of musicians all over the country by his distinct style of pure Indian music. Flutist Venkatesh Godkhindi, former Station Director of AIR Mangalore and Dharwad recalls “D Amel was a musician par excellence known for his traditional way of composing. Orchestration, composing and providing tunes was his forte. He had great respect for Indian music and his orchestration was based on pure Indian ragas. During my younger days I was greatly mesmerized listening to his flute and compositions. He was a role model to many flutists and musicians. Though I could not meet him I consider him as my guru. He had individuality as far as music is considered and he brought dignity to Indian music”.
His stint in AIR Mumbai can be considered as the golden period of music of All India Radio Mumbai as music connoisseurs were treated to a bonanza of some of the rarest and trendsetting musical master pieces that emanated from Akashavani studios under the genius of D Amel. He was the innovator of more than 500 vocal and musical compositions, which were a rage among radio listeners those days. Regular Listeners of radio in Mumbai would recall his innumerable compositions which are still being used as signature tunes by AIR Mumbai in many of its programmes. His contributions encompassed orchestral pieces based on Hindustani and Carnatic ragas to operas. Credit goes to him for immortalizing some of the operas like “Karna”, “Badkanche Gupeet” and “Nata Shreshta” on radio scripted by B S Mardhekar, one of the most celebrated names in modern Marathi poetry.
Dinakar was a stalwart in the field of music who stood head and shoulders above his colleagues in talent, innovation, commitment and humility. As a pioneer in broadcasting and innovator of musical experiments he has carved out a special niche in the music history of Indian broadcasting. Internationally acclaimed Sitar maestro Pt. Aravind Parikh says “talking about D’Amel brings nostalgic memories to me. As a student of music I was an avid radio listener. I was simply fascinated by the wonderful structure of the composition he created and also the ensemble. It would be prudent and perhaps not an exaggeration to say that his orchestral composition in a sense formulated the basis of my training in raga swaroop”.
Roots in Dakshina Kannada
Born on September 24, 1909, Dinakar Rao belongs to the cultured and well to do Chitrapur Saraswat family of South Kanara. The Amembal family is well-known for its love of music and performing arts and learning music was a joyous pursuit for the family members. After completing his matriculation from Ganapathi High School in Mangalore Rao went to Mumbai following in the footsteps of his family members who had migrated to Mumbai. He was a self taught musician and was so taken away by it he even forsook his final year BSc examination from Fergusson College Pune to satiate his musical thirst. In college he excelled in singing and regaled his audiences with his voice modeled on that of eminent vocalist late Master Krishna Rao. By this time he had also acquired thorough command over Harmonium. In fact it still remains a mystery why he gave up a highly promising career as a vocalist in favour of harmonium.
Leaving college half way through he joined the then privately owned Indian Broadcasting Company in 1927 initially as a casual artist and harmonist and subsequently as its staff. When the government of India assumed charge of the Broadcasting Corporation Dinakar Rao was absorbed as a Programmme Executive in charge of Indian music. A man of few words, he preferred keeping a low profile and completely merged his identity with AIR Mumbai with which he was associated before retiring as Assistant Station Director in 1967.
Senior broadcaster of AIR Mumbai (retd) Bal Kudtarkar who joined AIR Mumbai in 1939 and had the opportunity of working with this music genius states “Dinakar Rao’s music sensibility was of highest order. He was not bound by any specific gharana and treated everyone equally. Musicians generally belong to particular ‘gharanas’. Dinakar Rao’s overriding concern was to hand-pick the best possible prospective artistes for Akashavani. He never belittled anyone or never uttered a single derogatory remark about anyone. His music, his music arrangements, his compositions were very popular with the listeners. Especially his orchestra was simply amazing.
Soon after India’s independence there was an official ban on the harmonium as it was considered as a foreign instrument with French reeds. Though this was a setback, it did not dissuade this great maestro who tried his hand with metal flute and violin with aplomb. For the rest of his life he concentrated on the flute giving vent to his creativity through the instrument. He is said to be the first and the only flutist in the history of Indian music to have rendered classical music on vertical metal flute and to have opted for a more difficult challenge of creating sonority on a shrill metallic sounding instrument with unparalleled success.
Gift to Posterity
D Amel’s charisma and his rare talent drew a galaxy of unapproachable but talented masters to Akashavani studios. Dinakar Rao along with G N Joshi, the then Director of HMV, was instrumental in persuading the old maestros to become disc and radio artistes. But for their singular efforts much of the great music of yesteryears would have been lost for posterity for ever. His greatness also lay in the fact his musical talent transcended all barriers inspiriting musicians all over the country.
Dinakar Rao under pseudonym D’Amel was the forerunner of Indian orchestra on AIR way back in 1935. Initially named as VUB Indian Orchestra it was later known as Bambai Akashavani Vadya Vrinda, the only one its kind in the ‘gayaki’ style of Hindustani classical music. It is a great tribute to the musical genius of this music maestro that on the New Year’s Eve December 31st 1936 it was relayed by National Broadcasting Company New York at midnight. A repertoire of over 500 orchestral works created by this genius gives us a glimpse of the marvelous range & variety of ragas & light classical tunes. Dinakar Rao has composed two ragas ‘Ameli Todi’ & ‘Ameleshwari’ & popularized them through his orchestra.
When it comes to simplicity of D Amel none could match the passion and dynamism which was a unique part of his personality. Though the glamour world of cinema beckoned an innovative genius like him he eschewed limelight and glitter and preferred to work in total anonymity. Simplicity was his hallmark. He was soft spoken and mild mannered. Despite being an exceptional genius he was unassuming and was always accommodative and encouraging to other artistes.
Another greatness of D Amel was in simplifying raga music enabling even a novice to understand it. A whole new generation of independent India which brought up on his music could easily differentiate Raga music from one melody to another. Keeping in tune with the motto of Akashavani he propagated good music to common listeners. Credit goes to him for the fusion of Indian classical music with western school of orchestration in the 1940’s in collaboration with Walter Kaufman, the composer who has immortalized the signature tune of AIR.
Beethovan of India
Despite the extraordinary talent D Amel kept a very low profile. The only recognition he received was in the form of the prestigious Sangeet Research Academy of Kolkotta, just three years before his death in 1990 at the age of 81. Since his retirement he led a quiet life completely withdrawing from the outside world. Soft spoken and deeply religious he remained immersed in contemplation, reading and music being his top priority. He was deeply involved in spiritual matters since 1936 when he became the follower of Sufi saint Ashraf Khan.
As fate would have it D Amel was a little hard of hearing and in his later years he turned stone-deaf. This trait prompted Dr. V.K. Narayana Menon, a musicologist, Indian Dance expert, former Director General of All India Radio, to nickname him as the ‘Beethoven of India”. A man of firm convictions he remained true to his commitment to Akashavani, All India radio and music lovers salute the yeoman’s services rendered by this great musicologist, whose contributions to Indian music remain unparalleled. A man of his talent and genius is born but rarely. Music lovers who savored those musical moments that flew from his creative genius would certainly vouch for his greatness. He will sure to be an inspiration for generations of musicians to come.
Pt Bal Kudtarkar’s sums up “When the memory of Dinakar Rao looms in my mind I simply fold my hands in respectful obeisance. I am thoroughly convinced that Akashavani will not get such a great musicologist like him in the next ten thousand years”.
D Amel is indeed a rare gem that blooms rarely. He is a gift of this coastal belt to the music world. On his centenary here is a tribute to D Amel and his exceptional genius which has enriched Indian music.