Tuesday, 22 September 2009

The Bishnupur Gharana: An Interview with Pandit Sujit Gangopadhyay - III

[Continued from Part II]

AM: You are the principal of the Ramsharan Music College of Bishnupur, which is a very well-known institution. Can you tell us about this college?

SG: To begin with, let me tell you that it is the oldest institution of higher learning in India, and more than likely in all of Asia.[24] This college is more than 125 years old. It was started by Anantalal Bandhopadhyay, who is the father of Gopeshwar Babu and inspired by Ramkrishna Singha Dev. The situation at present is that the college building, property and lands are in good working order, but it has never gotten any significant support or grants or recognition from the government. The government sent inspectors from Rabindra Bharati University to investigate the situation. The team from Rabindra Bharati reported back that it was absolutely of immediate importance that the college be elevated to a fine arts honors degree college. But nothing was done by the government subsequently. Our present chief minister is again interested in seeing what can be done. But nothing has happened yet. At present, the Bishnupur municipality looks after the college, and what little is required is accounted for by the municipality.[25]

AM: What kind of recognition does the college award? Is there a degree that the student can receive after studying at the college?

SG: We award a diploma. A degree cannot be awarded by a non-university institution. The diploma recognizes a student’s achievement in the Bishnupur gayaki. It takes six years to finish work for this diploma.

AM: And what are qualifications of the teachers at this college?

SG: I personally hold an M.A. from Rabindra Bharati University. I had started my Ph.D. and had finished two years of work on it, but was unable to complete work. I just had too many students to teach at home. Of the remaining teaching staff, there are some who have been here for a very long time. Of the new staff, three have graduated from Rabindra Bharati. In total we have 16 staff members. Four are non-teaching staff, and twelve are teachers.

AM: Have any of your students joined the staff?

SG: At the music college? Yes. The three new staff that I mentioned, who have graduated Rabindra Bharati are my students. Two received the gold medal from Rabindra Bharati. They have learned for a long time from me, 16-18 years from me.

AM: At present, are the students who join the college interested in music as a profession or is it just something they learn as a hobby?

SG: In the past, people who graduated from the music college were qualified to teach in high schools. This was by law. But the rules have changed. Now without a degree from Rabindra Bharati University, the School Service Commission doesn’t allow a graduate to teach in high schools. So it is not possible to make a career out of this.[26]

AM: But have there been any students who have graduated from the college and gone on to concert careers?

SG: Yes, there are many students like that. But they are not proficient enough to carry on a full career. This is after all a six year diploma. Six years is not enough time to become a proficient performer. Those who graduate from here must go on to Rabindra Bharati to become further proficient as performers, or to become qualified as teachers. In the old days, people worked hard and became proficient in their field. Nothing else was required. These days you need a degree. Of course competence is still required, but without the degree many things are not possible.

AM: A little while ago you described how you received talim in the guru-shishya parampara style. Is that how you teach your students as well?

SG: Yes, that is how I teach as well. However, I only take group classes. To keep this music alive, one has to not only teach and impart talim, but also give oneself the space to do riyaz. This is only possible if you teach in groups. See, in this music, if you don’t have talim and riyaz, it is difficult to teach or practice. The same note in Marwa, Puriya and Sohani is totally distinct. If you don’t have talim how will you show this? Asavari, Jaunpuri, Adana, Darbari Kanada all have nearly identical notes. So if you don’t have proper talim, how will you decipher the different chalans of these ragas? How will you teach these things when you have to teach? So getting the right kind of talim from a guru is very important. Each group class has 12-14 students. It is a large number of students, but I just take some extra care and time, and make sure the students understand what is being taught. I enjoy teaching this way, and it also gives me the time to do my riyaz as well.

AM: How do you differentiate between Asavari and Jaunpuri?

SG: First there are two types of Asavari: Komal Asavari or Komal Rishabh Asavari, and Shuddha Asavari. To differentiate between Shuddha Asavari and Jaunpuri, a big factor is the ascent from Re to Ma. In Jaunpuri this is a straight movement, whereas the climb to Ma in Asavari has a strong aas of Re. Also in Jaunpuri, the movements find a resting point in Pa, not in Ma. In Asavari, Ma is much stronger. Jaunpuri has an ascending Pa Dha Ni Sa, whereas Asavari does not use Ni in the ascent. Aside from these, there is also Komal Asavari and Komal Asavari Todi. These two are distinct. Asavari Todi uses Ma Pa Dha Ma, Re Ga Re Sa, where the Re Ga Re Sa has a very strong flavor of Todi.[27]

AM: Does anyone sit with you when you do riyaz, for example senior students?

SG: No, no. In fact, when I do riyaz, I don’t let even a percussionist sit with me. My riyaz is just for me. At that time, no one else is allowed to sit with me.

AM: Finally, what do you think is the future of the gharana? Will it grow and become strong again, or will it recede?

SG: All through my childhood and well into my adulthood, I saw the Bishnupur Gharana decline. But at present, whether it is teaching increasing numbers of students, performing in front of growing audiences, working with people outside of the milieu to promote the standing of the gharana, I see a surge in interest and enthusiasm. And this is exactly what we were looking for. As people outside the gharana take more interest, the enthusiasm amongst students of music to learn this gharana’s music will grow. They’ll also get more opportunities to sing and show their competence and command over the medium. So to me it seems that the gharana’s dark days are behind it, and that its future is quite bright.


24. This statement requires proper research and vetting before it can be acknowledged to be true. It is sufficient to say the college is very old, by any standards. [back]

25. Again, SG would not describe it thus, but one couldn’t help but feel that some bureaucrats in Kolkata were preventing the college from being elevated sufficiently to be commensurate with its status as a landmark institution of India. [back]

26. Here is further evidence of the bureaucratic machinery. It appears as if external sources have taken decisions to favor Rabindra Bharati over a non-Kolkata based institution like Ramsharan Music College. [back]

27. The intent of the question was to get SG to say a few things about the music that might prove to be distinct from normal ragadari. And such proved to be the case! The description of Shuddh Asavari as having a strong aas of Re on Ma, and of the raga having a defined nyaas on Ma was quite illuminating. Finally, the Bhatkhande favored version of a differing ascent between Jaunpuri and Asavari (m P d S’ as opposed to m P d n S’) didn’t need to be the defining difference between the two. He followed up with a few lines, sung to illustrate, and the differences stood out clearly. Also, the clear and egregious misrepresentation of Komal Rishabh Asavari Todi as nothing but Komal Rishabh Asavari by certain members of the Kirana Gharana, was dispelled efficiently with a few hummed lines of Asavari Todi. The very distinct r g r S, a la Todi clearly set the raga apart from Komal Rishabh Asavari, and placed it squarely in the “Hanumat Todi” side of the Thaat. [back]


Abhik Majumdar said...

Terrific work, Arijit! One of the most balanced, comprehensive interviews I've come across. Especially liked the annotations. Very effective in presenting Pt Gangopadhyay's views in their context.

Kalyan Mukherjea said...

I really enjoyed the interview with Sujit Gangopadhyaya that has just appeared. I'd like to post a few observations.

1.Definitely a lot of Rabindranath's songs are based on dhrupads. In fact, Radhubabu had told me that the song: "Alpo layiya thhaki tai, mor jaha jay taha jaay" was set to tune by Radhika Prasad Goswami and Rabindranath liked the tune and adopted it as the official version of this song.

2. Ramesh Chandra Bandopadhyay sang ragashrayee Rabindrasangeet after his dhrupads. Can't recall him singing dhamar. But RCB would not restrict himself to dhrupad based songs like: aamaarey karo jeeban daan a song in Shankara based on a dhrupad "Yaa jaga jhoot". I have heard him sing a totally khayal style song like "Kothaa je udhaao". This was actually a total flop accentuated by the fact that he was being accompanied on the harmonium by George (Debabrata) Biswas who used to render this particular song with magical effect.

3. My memories of the Bishnupur dhrupadiyas is the beauty of their compositions. Unlike the fashionable Dagar style, they sang their dhrupads for perhaps 10 minutes; only the first item was an alap. A typical concert might be:

Alap and Dhrupad in Puriya
Dhrupad in Kedar
Ditto in Desh
Ditto in Hamir
Dhamar in Sindhura

Actually I heard this sequence in 1960 at the Bhawanipur Sangeet Sabha (opposite Purna cinema) but sadly cannot recall the name of the elderly gentleman who presented this charming concert.

Arijit Mahalanabis said...

Abhik, thanks!

Kalyan-da, thank you for your comments and reminisces. I would really be curious to know who that elderly gentleman was in 1960. The Rabindranath connection is not well-researched I understand. Something that probably ought to be looked at more thoroughly.