Nikhil Banerjee with Manilal, sixties. Collection Manilal Nag.
Gharana, as the word suggests, is a school of thought or a particular system or a style in music. Presentation of the same raga with stylistic variations led to the origin of these gharanas or schools of music. These gharanas formed the nucleus of demonstrative art. The glorious heritage of Hindustani music, as we find it to this day, has been preserved by great musicians of the past who have handed down their rich resources in the classic tradition of guru-shishya parampara, maintaining in each case the individual trends of their gharanas.
The Vishnupur Gharana of Bengal has a prestigious past, the history of which has little been revealed. Vishnupur, the town of Lord Vishnu, is at present a subdivision town of Bankura district in West Bengal. The historic name of the Rarh region of West Bengal is Mallabhum. Though not vast in area, the region holds a significant position in matters such as political vigour, civilization and culture. Historians suggest that Mallabhum had once been the cultural centre of Eastern India. Among its cultural achievements, music had the highest honour. Here I am to discuss some features of the Vishnupur Gharana, along with a few major historical references, that have left indelible impressions upon the music of Bengal.
In the later part of the eighteenth century and towards the early and mid-nineteenth century, when music of different gharanas were gradually having their assimilation in the city-centre of Calcutta, the dhrupad style flourished among the musicians of Vishnupur. To recapitulate history, the Maharaja of Vishnupur was a contemporary of Emperor Aurangzeb. The Senia Gharana was then in full bloom and its reputation spread throughout India. Its influence on the music of Vishnupur was enormous. It was around this time that the famous dhrupad singer Bahadur Khan of the Senia Gharana, descendant of Tansen, came at Vishnupur and made his gharana popular. The next Maharaja of Vishnupur, Raghunath Singh Deo II, steered his attention towards popularizing Bahadur Khan. At this time, the Ustad expressed his desire to settle down in Vishnupur and the Maharaja made all arrangements to honour him as his court singer. The Maharaja also announced that anyone having a sweet voice and interested in music could learn from Bahadur Khan without any fees. He also bore the financial liability for the poor students. In time, a good number of students became the disciples of Bahadur Khan.
Manilal's father, Gokul Nag Photo: Ira Landgarten
Among the disciples of Bahadur Khan, the name of Gadadhar Chakravorty is noteworthy. Bahadur Khan was not only a vocalist but could also efficiently play on such instruments as the veena, the rabab and the sursringar. Gadadhar Chakravorty learned from his master both vocal and instrumental music. Among his worthy disciples were such talents as Ram Shankar Bhattacharya and Jadu Bhatta, whose name spread throughout India.
Most of the exponents of Vishnupur learned dhrupad song and instrumental music simultaneously. Vishnupur was at that time the cultural capital of India.
Shri Anantalal Banerjee of Vishnupur was an illustrious musician who had his training from Shri Ramshankar Bhattacharya in both vocal and instrumental music. Anantalal's sons, Shri Ramprasanna Banerjee, Shri Gopeswar Banerjee and Shri Surendranath Banerjee, were prodigies of this gharana. Shri Radhika Prosad Goswami, disciple of Anantalal Banerjee, earned great fame as a dhrupad singer. Among the students of Shri Radhika Prosad were Shri Girijashankar Chakravorty, Jogendra Nath Banerjee and Dhirendra Nath Bhattacharya who won their acclamation in the early conferences of Calcutta. Sangeetacharya Tarapada Chakravorty, Jamini Ganguli, Sailen Banerjee and many others learned from Girijashankar Chakravorty. Our great poet, Rabindranath Tagore had his trainings in the dhrupad style from Radhika Prosad Goswami and Jadu Bhakti of Vishnupur. The dhrupad style of Vishnupur had a good deal of influence on many of the songs composed by Tagore.
Shri Ramprasanna Banerjee, the guru of my father the late Gokul Nag, also received his training from Sajjad Muhammed, son of Gulam Muhammed. Sajjad Muhammed was then staying at Jorasanko Rajbati of Raja Sourendra Mohan Tagore of Calcutta. During that time Shri Nilmadhab Chakravorty, the grandson of Gadadhar Chakravorty was teaching Raja Jotindra Mohan Tagore. Ustad Allauddin Khan of Maihar took his lessons in surbahar from Shri Nilmadhab Chakravorty. Shri Ganendra Prosad Goswami, the nephew of Radhika Prosad Goswami was a very famous musician. He recorded many songs for the Gramophone Company of India.
I have mentioned before the name of Shri Gopeswar Banerjee, a great pioneer of the music of Vishnupur. He was the court musician of the Maharaja of Burdwan, Narajol and Mayurbhanj. He wrote a number of books on musicology as Sangeet Chandrika, Geet-Darpan, Geet-Praveshika, Sangeet Lahari and others. Shri K. C. Dey, the uncle of Manna Dey, the popular light music singer of Bengal, also learned dhrupad from Shri Gopeswar Banerjee. Kshetramohan Goswami, another maestro in this area, was a disciple of Ramshankar Bhattacharya. It was he who invented the Dandamatrik system of notation in Bengal.
Until a few years ago the name of the late Satyakinkar Banerjee was well-known among the music lovers of Calcutta. Besides vocal music, he was adept in surbahar and sitar: the late Pandit Nikhil Banerjee and myself, have listened to his playing in his house at Calcutta. His sons, Shri Amiya Ranjan Banerjee, ex-professor of Rabindra Bharati University, Shri Nihar Ranjan Banerjee, Professor of Rabindra Bharati University and Shri Monoranjan Banerjee, are now representing the Vishnupur Gharana, almost in its twilight days, bearing just a few glimpses from its age-old tradition.
Manilal's sitars Photos by Ira Landgarten
I would like to draw the conclusion of my discussion with this opinion that, although every gharana has its own distinctive style of presentation, no creative art can develop within any rigorous binding. Music is the highest among fine arts. Every individual has his own build-up of the mind, his own environmental influences that will leave remarkable traces upon his music. Through his creation the artist, in a sense, manifests his soul - the Atma. While presenting his art, he is in a state of emotional exaltation. Hence, two artistes, belonging to the same gharana, need not necessarily have the same way of presentation. Variations must be accepted, otherwise creative music would have become identical with composed music. The artiste's quest should not be after what genre he belongs to but after what he is. -- A paper presented by Pandit Manilal Nag at the Seminar on Sitar organized by the Sangeet Research Academy, 23 September 1990, Bombay.