Sawai Gandharva was born as Rambhau Kundgolkar in 1886 in a town named Kundgol in Karnataka. Although he did not belong to a musical family, he showed deep interest in music from his early days. Entranced by the soulful music of Ustad Abdul Karim Khan at a mehfil, he was brought to the notice of the Ustad who, impressed by the singing talent of the young boy started the arduous task of teaching him the nuances of Indian classical music. After his intense training, he got married and returned to his native Kundgol. With his handsome personality, musical and acting accomplishments, Rambhau Kundgolkar was drawn to the Marathi stage where he excelled in many leading female roles and won praise. He became a popular singer in the company and earned the title of Sawai Gandharva after the doyen of the Marathi stage, Bal Gandharva.
Though Sawai Gandharva maintained the melting melodious vocalism and the meditative mood of his ustad’s vocal style, he kept his mind open to absorb influences and impressions from the styles of stalwarts from other gharanas , like Nissar Hussain Khan of Gwalior, Bhaskerbuva Bakhale, Ramakrishnabuva Vaze and many others. His prime disciples were the likes of Bhimsen Joshi, Basavaraj Rajguru, Feroze Dastur and Gangubai Hangal who in turn, moulded their training in accordance their own vocal capacities and musical temperament.
Sawai Gandharva eventually gave up his acting career and devoted his whole time to concert singing and grooming his shishyas, but the raga based Marathi stage songs he popularized became part of his repertoire along with khayals, thumris, bhajans etc.
Tragically, paralytic infirmities abruptly ended his concert career in 1942, when he was only 56. But he continued to teach his protégés till his death ten years later. After his death, his disciples led by Pandit Bhimsen Joshi started the famous annual Sawai Gandharva Sangeet festival in Pune.