Giving the lie to the Shiv Sainiks' provincial view of Maharashtra is the young Carnatic vocal duo, Ranjani-Gayatri, who will receive the Sanskriti Award 2008 with other achievers at a ceremony in New Delhi on Friday from chief guest Aruna Roy, eminent social activist and Magsaysay Award winner. Both under 30, the sisters are true-blue Mumbaikars, born and brought up in the 'South Indian' area of Mumbai, Matunga. "We have relocated a few years ago to Chennai for professional reasons, but Mumbaikars always remain loyal to their city," they told HT. Mumbai's cosmopolitan character exposed them to a big canvas on which to paint their music: "We heard Western symphonies at the National Centre for the Performing Arts, the best of Hindustani music, like Mallikarjun Mansur, Bhimsen Joshi, Kishori Amonkarji, and all visiting Carnatic stalwarts. Especially, we were exposed to the devotional music of Maharashtra, which we deeply love," they said.
The sisters are known in Carnatic circles for their devout rendering of Marathi abhangs (bhajans) by Sant Tukaram and other saint-composers of the Marathi bhakti canon. "We grew up watching the varkaris (pilgrims to the Maharashtrian temple town of Pandharpur) walk singing in procession through our street in Matunga," said Ranjani, the elder of the duo. "An abhang lasts about eight minutes. But even its short span is loved in Chennai, people wait for these songs. We are confident of our pronunciation after Manik Bhide, mother of the Hindustani classical singer Ashwini Bhide Deshpande remarked on its correctness," said Gayatri.
The sisters went to Pune to add to their repertoire from Appa Saheb Deshpande, disciple of the legendary singer Bal Gandharva. Their signature abhang is in Raga Chandrakauns, "Pandaritsa bhoot motthe". They are expanding the range of abhangs beyond traditional ragas like Maand, Bhimpalasi and Maru Bihag, to unconventional choices like Bhatiyar and Pilu: "Mumbai has given us many epiphanies," they said.