Pandit Omkarnath Thakur (24 Jun 1897 – 29 Dec 1967), was an influential Indian educator, musicologist, and Hindustani classical singer. He is famously known as "Pranav Rang", his pen-name. A disciple of classical singer Vishnu Digambar Paluskar of Gwalior gharana, he became the principal of Gandharva Mahavidyalaya, Lahore, and later went on become the first dean of the music faculty at Banaras Hindu University.
Early life and training
Thakur was born 1897 in a Jahaj village in the Princely State of Baroda, into a poor military family. His grandfather Mahashankar Thakur was had fought in the Indian Rebellion of 1857 for Nanasaheb Peshwa. His father, Gaurishankar Thakur was also in the military, employed by Maharani Jamnabai of Baroda, where he commanded 200 cavalrymen. The family moved to Bharuch in 1900, though soon the family faced financial difficulties, as his father left the military to became a renunciate (sanyasi), leaving his wife to run the household, thus by the age of five Thakur started helping her out by doing various odd jobs, in mills, Ramlila troupe and even as a domestic help. When he was fourteen his father died.
Impressed by his singing Thakur and his younger brother Ramesh Chandra were sponsored by a wealthy Parsi philanthropist Shahpurji Mancherji Dungaji in circa 1909 to train in Hindustani classical music in the Gandharva Mahavidyalaya, a music school in Bombay, under classical singer Vishnu Digambar Paluskar. Thakur soon became an accomplished singer in the style of the Gwalior gharana started accompanying his guru and other musicians. Though later on in his career, he developed his own distinct style. Eventually, he made his concert debut in 1918, though continued his training under his guru, Paluskar, until his death in 1931.
Thakur was made the principal of a Lahore branch of Paluskar's Gandharva Mahavidyalaya in 1916. Here he became acquainted with the Patiala gharana singers like Ali Baksh and Kale Khan, paternal uncle of Bade Ghulam Ali Khan. In 1919, he returned to Bharuch and started his own music school, Gandharva Niketan. During the 1920s, Thakur worked for the non-cooperation movement of Mahatma Gandhi on a local level, as he became the President of Bharuch District Congress Committee of Indian National Congress. His performances of patriotic song Vande Mataram were a regular feature of annual sessions of the Indian National Congress. Thakur toured Europe in 1933 and became one of the first Indian musicians to perform in Europe. During this tour, he performed privately for Benito Mussolini. Thakur's wife Indira Devi died the same year and he began to concentrate exclusively on music.
Thakur's work as a performer and musicologist led to the creation of a music college at Banaras Hindu University that emphasized both, here he was first dean of the music faculty. He wrote books on Indian classical music and its history. Thakur performed in Europe until 1954 and received the Padma Shri in 1955 and the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1963. He retired in 1963 and was awarded honorary doctorates from Banaras Hindu University in 1963 and Rabindra Bharati University in 1964.