photo: Ira Landgarten

by Ira Landgarten

Ira Landgarten: First, I'd like to know where and when you were born?

Buddhadev Das Gupta: I was born in the town of Bhagalpur in Bihar in 1933, on the first of February.

Were you born into a family of musicians?

I should say not. My father was a civil servant; my grandfather was also a non-musician, he was an advocate. Some sort of a streak of musicality came into our family with my father and mother, both of whom were fond of music. My father wanted to learn music but my grandfather was a totally unmusical gentleman. In fact, he regarded music as the easiest path to hell and damnation! And he very often thrashed my poor father within an inch of his life when he heard that my father had indulged in either singing or hearing music! But my father had it in him somehow or other; he was greatly fond of music, he used to sing a little, and my mother was also a good singer although she never professionally sang. She was not singing classical music of course, she was singing Tagore songs and a lighter variety of songs. At one stage, when I was about 6 or 8 years old, my mother started learning sitar. This did not proceed very far but I got an opportunity to tinker with the instrument. It was roughly my eleventh year of age when my father was transferred to the north Bengal town of Rajshahi which is now in BangIadesh. In prepartition India, Rajshahi was in north Bengal, and there my guru used to live. They had been landowners of a very high order, they had extensive estates and actually they were living in the town of Rajshahi, but their estates were farther up in the rural areas, in a place called Talanda. Radhika Mohan Maitra was barely 26-27 at that time. In spite of being a great big landowner and a great musician, he was extremely unassuming and my father's only qualification to his friendship was that my father was a music lover. My guru used to come to our house and play on many occasions. I don't know whether you have seen my guru, particularly in his prime days. He was one of the most handsome young men you can think of. He was literally a prince in all senses of the term. And that instrument, its tonality, and that man sitting down and playing it; all this drove me to some sort of hero worship. I wanted to become one like that!

So you met him when you were 11?

And I immediately fell for the instrument and also for the guru. That's how my music started. Soon after I started learning, my father was transferred to another place, so I took the sarod and everything over there. My guru came to our residence twice or thrice on a visit and taught me there. In this way I was very lucky with him. After the independence of India, with which came the partition of Bengal, my guru lost his ancestral properties in East Pakistan. Being a Hindu, he came over to Calcutta and settled down there. We also were in Calcutta, so we were in constant contact from then onwards.

At the point when he was a landowner, was he performing professionally?

He was not. In his home, all the big professional musicians used to come and they used to perform not only on important occasions or celebrations, also during music conferences, full-fledged music conferences which he used to organize at Rajshahi. In this place, during these music conferences, I first of all could see and hear personalities like Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, 0mkarnath Thakur, Kesarbai Kerkar, Ustad Hafiz Ali Khan. Ustad Ali Akbar Khan came and played there when he was 17 years old, a very young man. Plenty of other Ustads performed. This is a very good story: When Radhu-babu's marriage took place-Radhika Mohan Maitra used to be generally called Radhu-babu-Bismillah Khan was invited to play. Now in our marriages, shehnai is an important instrument that has got to be played. Right in front of the ancestral gates of his house there were some special places made for the shehnai to play. As Bismillah Khan was entering Radhu-babu's house, he found right at the gate two special perches. These were domelike structures where usually some poor shehnai-wallah from the rural regions who is part of the entire ceremony sits and plays practically over 24 hours with very little gaps. Because shehnai must be playing all the time. So Bismillah Khan asked Radhu-babu whether this dome was meant for him. Radhu-babu gasped and said no, this is not a dome meant for a man of his status to play in. Some poor chap will come who makes his livelihood at this, and he will have to play shehnai because this is part of our rituals. Bismillah said, "This is the marriage of my friend, if I don't play shehnai over there who else will play? Call that poor man, don't deprive him of his bread but I will play several hours sitting in that dome!" This gives you an inkling of the type of outlook and heart musicians sometimes have and particularly used to have in those days. Whoever can think of Bismillah sitting on the dome of a gate and playing? But he willingly suggested it and in spite of Radhika Mohan Maitra's protestations, he did it. This gives you a picture of Rajshahi in those days and it was a great pity when my guru who had so long been a patron of professional musicians had to step down and join them in the profession. As usual, professional jealousies and other things are there; he had to face them. He had really a very tough struggle in his life because he was out and out a great purist and he never cared for the pleasures or enjoyment of the lighter-minded audience. He played exactly what the dictates of his conscience or musical taleem asked him to play. And he seldom deviated from the traditional path therefore in the name of romanticism, or playing to the galleries, whatever you call it, he had very little to give the audience. He was respected all over India but he was not a so-called "listener's craze."

Could you discuss Radhu-babu's musical lineage and background?

Let us start from some figure who you know, and who the present musical world knows: Amjad Ali Khan. Amjad's father was Hafiz Ali Khan, and his father was Nanhe Khan. There were three brothers, Nanhe Khan, Murad Ali Khan, and I think Asgar Ali Khan or Hussain Ali Khan. The third brother I don't remember exactly. But Murad Ali Khan was one of the three brothers; their father had settled down at Rewa and later on at Gwalior. Murad Ali Khan had some sort of a disagreement with the rest of his family. He was childless, and he said, "I am leaving you, I am childless, I have got nobody to impart my training to but I'll pick-up somebody from the streets and I'll impart my training to him, and you will see the results." So he went over to a place called Shahjehanpur which was another seat of sarod players. The three mainstreams of sarod players of Pathan lineage, they had all come from Afghanistan, were rabab players and also soldiers. In fact, the Afghan rabab used to be played as a martial instrument playing martial tunes at the time of marching into battle. Most of the generals and captains played rabab, and it was 3 or 4 of them who eventually came and settled down in India in the employ of the Indian maharajas. Ustad Hafiz Ali Khan's ancestry was started by Ghulam Bandegi Khan Banghash, who settled with the Maharaja of Rewa in Madhya Pradesh. Another was Nazaf Ali; his lineage settled-down in Shahjehanpur The third was the ancestor of Ustad Keramatullah Khan, not the tabla player Keramatullah Khan. Keramatullah Khan's father was Niamatullah Khan; they were very great sarod players. In Shahjehanpur, the descendents of the sarod players proliferated, in fact, there was a whole township of sarod or rabab players. Rabab was later developed into sarod. Coming back to Murad Ali Khan, he picked an orphan from Shahjehanpur and trained him into one of the most, what should I say-he was a dread for all sarod players of India! His name was Abdullah Khan. In fact, both Ustad Allauddin Khan and Ustad Hafiz Ali Khan used to reverently put their hands to their ears as a mark of respect whenever Abdullah Khan's name was mentioned. Abdullah Khan settled down in Bihar, Dharbanga, as a state musician. He had two sons: Mohammed Ameer Khan and Wazir Khan-but don't confuse this Wazir Khan with the Rampur Wazir Khan. Mohammed Ameer Khan came to Bengal and settled there; he had taught quite a few persons. His first remarkable disciple was Timir Baran, who later went to Allauddin Khan. Another disciple was Birendra Kishore Roy Chowdhury, and many others. Eventually, his youngest remarkable disciple was Radhika Mohan Maitra. He was commissioned by Radhika Mohan's grandfather, Lalit Mohan Maitra, who was a pakhawaj player. He was a landowner alright, but he was also a very good pakhawaj player. Ameer Khan-sahib stayed in their household to accompany him on sarod, and he became literally a member of the family. When Radhika Mohan Maitra was born, Ameer Khan-sahib was in the household already. He had seen Radhika Mohan Maitra grow up and at a very young age, somehow or other the Ustad discovered Radhika Mohan's talents, took permission from his father and started teaching him. This is Radhika Mohan's background. He got sarod taleem from Mohammed Ameer Khan but the period of his training was rather short, about 11 or 12 years after which Ameer Khan-sahib died. But within this 12 years he had chiselled out the shape of Radhika Mohan Maitra in an unmistakable form, and Radhika Mohan Maitra later on supplemented his training with taleem from Mohammed Dabir Khan. Dabir Khan is the grandson of Wazir Khan of Rampur. Thereby he took Senia taleem from Dabir Khan also: rags, raginis, methods of alap, veena ang, everything. But sarod has as its forte one great legacy handed down by the rabab. The rabab used to have cat-gut strings and the fingerboard was made of wood. So long glides to emulate the alap in vocal music, the slow movements of vocal music, were not possible at all. Therefore the left hand had merely to pick the strings and place the nails in different places to get staccato notes out. You didn't have much chance to improve the work of the left hand so all attention fell to the right hand which plucked the strings. A host of vocabulary of pluckings of different kinds, cross pluckings, complex pluckings, developed. And that together with the short gaseet-gaseet means you can perhaps not stroke once and go over 5 or 6 notes, but you can for the very little period that the vibration sustains jump from one note to another. The gaseets have a peculiar flavor. These two constitute the basic baj, or the basic technique of the rabab. Human ingenuity fashioned many beautiful things with these two materials. Sarod has got that as its fundamental basis. Of course it is improved, it can play long glides, therefore for the veena-based alaps, so much so good, but its own territory is rabab. This rabab style playing and whatever could be done with it was Radhika Mohan's forte. He was an extremely witty person and this wit also played in his music, particularly in his jors and tans. The selection of 'da diri da ra' and their complex patterns, the change of directions of the tans would always be unexpected and giving you a series of pleasant surprises. That was the forte of his playing, and that was in fact the type of playing which distinguished him from other sarod players who had their good points, their own excellences. But this was one field where Radhika Mohan Maitra was unmistakably himself, and anybody who had heard him could recognize him after say three or four seconds of hearing this part of his playing. "This is Radhika Mohan Maitra and nobody else!
Radhika Mohan Maitra collection John Campana

You seemed to have answered my question about his particular contributions to Indian classical music and sarod playing.

That answers most of the question, but not merely that, he was a good composer and compositions of various types and natures.

Did he compose any original ragas?

He had composed quite a few but he was not particularly keen on going on composing ragas because his idea was that over the last few centuries everybody had gone on trying to make new ragas. But only those ragas which really, truly reflect human emotions and stir up your musical being, only those ragas have survived. Many other unimportant ragas have died their natural deaths. He composed quite a few but he said, "I'm not sure whether these will be living throughout the ages or not."

What were some of his rag specialties or favorites?

He loved shuddh rishab more than he loved komal ri. Therefore his morning ragas were largely Bilawal group and Sarang group. His evening ragas were largely Kalyan and Nat group, Kamod, Kedar, Bihag, Chayanat, and all that. But he played other ragas alright. His next favorite was komal gandhar and madhyam, so he went in for Bageshree, Kaushi Kanara and ragas of this nature.
Ustad Wazir Khan collection John Campana

Could you perhaps discuss some of the stylistic similarities and differences between Radhu-babu's style and those of Allauddin Khan and Hafiz Ali Khan?

Allauddin Khan-sahib was an omnibus sarod player; he had imbibed the total repertoire of our gharana because he learned from a gentleman of our gharana, and he was a voracious learner. He then went on to Wazir Khan and learned extensively from him. Allauddin Khan-sahib's playing was over such an extensive area that in none of his single concerts could he cover all of them. So he sometimes concentrated on one particular aspect, concentrated on another particular aspect-that was the type of playing he had. Hafiz Ali's territory in spite of his being a great sarod player was somewhat shorter, and his playing was more inclined and had a slant to the rabab style. Allauddin Khan-sahib, because he learned veena ang very extensively, his playing had generally a larger dose of vocal music in it. Radhu-babu resembles both Allauddin Khan-sahib when he played the rabab ang, and of course, Hafiz Ali Khan-sahib playing rabab ang. The main thing is that in spite of this, his tans, jors and patterns were distinctively his. His musical personality was unique and it did not really remind you of any other predecessor. That was the greatest thing about him.

So how did you actually become his disciple; you just decided that you wanted to study with him when you were 11?

That's all, and I was allowed to study with him.

Did you have any other musical influences? You mentioned you heard many of the Ustads and Pandits.

Yes, yes, I shaped up quite a lot in my Ustad's fashion, or technique, but I was overwhelmed by the intense musicality and melodiousness of Ali Akbar Khan. But while other sarod players were practically swamped by it, they started emulating his style, even his personal idioms, that I didn't do. I'm definitely indebted to him because he has shown the way to intense musicality in sarod playing. He has taken sarod playing to one particular aspect which was hitherto unprecedented. That is to what extent he has influenced me. I have been influenced by Ustad Bade Ghulam Khan's singing a lot; Ustad Vilayat Khan's sitar playing-some particular types of tans; Ameer Khan-his vocal music in alaps and other things, and I think I have unhesitatingly taken whatever good points that struck me from any other musician that I came by.

I read in the brief biodata program notes that you started performing on All-India Radio at the age of 16. That's quite unusual; you only had...

Five years training. In 1949 I was, of course, taken in as a very junior grade-the lowest grade-but I became an artist of All-India Radio, Calcutta. Then my first National Program was in 1961, twelve years afterwards at the age of 28.

During all this time you were studying with Radhu-babu?

Right through!

What about the rest of your education; in the meantime you also pursued a completely different career?

I was having that career side-by-side. My guru and my father conspired together to use music as a lever, threatening to stop my musical pursuits if I did badly in the university exams. So that egged me on! I stood second in the school leaving examinations in the entire Bengal, Calcutta University, and then I went for intermediate science examination and finally for the mechanical engineering graduation from Bengal Engineering College. I graduated from there in 1954 with First Class Honors. So my music all this time was going along side but it was not a full time musical pursuit. I had my studies and my college career; in between my music went on.

And you were performing in concerts and such all along?

Wherever I could.

At this point, do you consider yourself a professional musician or an amateur?

You see, in the true sense of the term, amateurism always has a stigma with it that is perhaps not the best in quality.

Yet the meaning of amateur is 'lover-someone who does something for the love or pleasure, rather than for money.

I understand, I understand. But particularly in our country the word amateur has some sort of a stigma associated with it. I was practically, and I'm still, you can say, a non-professional musician largely-most of the time I play after my work and everything; I don't earn all my bread from music. But if you call me an amateur, naturally that comes to my mind that amateurs are not sufficiently good players-if somebody can pursue some other profession and yet reach the professional standard of playing you ought to devise some third term for him. Otherwise, calling somebody an amateur immediately puts in mind, "Oh, he's also an engineer and he's also playing-he's half of both!" and all that.

Do you feel that having another career frees your music; you don't have to worry as much about the whims of the audience, and can keep your music pure?

That's it, that's it. I'm largely a purist after my guru's style. But I don't really worry about whether each and every listener, qualified or not to hear classical music, is happy with my performance. That is for the full professionals to worry about.

Have you been abroad previous to this Festival of India tour?

My real profession intervened most of the time. I had offers to come to the USA on quite a few occasions, but each of the offers wanted me to stay 3 to 6 months. Such long leaves were not possible while working in an engineering profession; that's why I had to forgo it. I went to England and stayed there 3 years immediately after my graduating in Engineering. At that time I played for the BBC. In those days, of course, in Great Britain also, there was not much enthusiasm about our music so I didn't have many performances except in Indian associations in various cities. That's how it's gone; nearly 30 years ago a spell of 3 years in England and then this Festival of India. I could come over this time because of the Festival. My company and my boss were very happy that I was selected for this. They made a special effort to give me 2 months leave, and here I am.

How do you find the American audience?

They are people who mean business. If they are really interested, they really dig into it, they can go very far, as I could understand by the questions put to me after concerts and other things. At least a good proportion of people who attended my concerts were music lovers, and lovers of classical music. What I tried to do is, rather than suddenly starting, playing before them, announcing that this is the raga I am playing, I tried to point out in brief what our musical system was, how our ragas were generated, what they meant. I don't know how effective I was but I hope that's what made them try and understand my music, or our music, in a better way. In most cases the reaction of the audience has been very favorable. I wish I had more time to illustrate and explain to them; in fact I would very much like to have a tour where it would be principally illustrated lectures on appreciation of Indian music.

You mentioned that you just recently made your first LP recordings in India.

Yes, yes, I made 3 or 4 recordings. The main thing in our country is that classical music records don't sell much, and they inevitably die out 3, 4, 5 years after their appearance on the market. The record companies, because they mint money on pop songs and other things, are not very much interested. So it becomes some sort of a jostling or elbowing between artists to secure a place in the LP disc market. I didn't really bother about it, I was approached eventually by EMI and I said, "Well, I can go and play," and that's how it came about. My guru was never recorded for an LP, you'll be surprised to hear because his music would never have brought much royalty either to the recording company or to him.

I believe there was one LP on which he played one side; it's probably out of print.

There was, yes. That's the only LP he had.

Are there any other recordings or tapes in existence?

I have many non-commercial tapes in India, and my Ustad also had many. Some of them are in a well-preserved condition but a series of his playings in the prime of his form when he played during the 1950s and 60s were with All-India Radio and I don't know where they have disappeared-they cannot be traced. Many of our musical treasures have perished like this because of neglect, absolute neglect I should say. I can't today figure out how Mohammed Ameer Khan played. I have heard Hafiz Ali Khan, I have heard Allauddin Khan but the younger generation after some time will have no inklings of the playing of these two maestros! Allauddin Khan was recorded only practically-his LPs came out after he died, and those are compilations of short recordings and All-India Radio recordings from various places.
Ustad Hafiz Ali Khan collection John Campana

Do you teach at all; do you have students in India?

I have students; after my guru's death quite a few of his students came to me and asked me to take them up because they said otherwise they would have to go to somebody of a different gharana, which they didn't like. I didn't have time to take all of them, I graded the whole thing, took 6 or 7 advanced students and I gave them instructions to train the younger ones. So the lineage is being maintained to some extent and I think if America has place for younger boys, you will hear a few good sarod players.

Let's discuss the development of the modern sarod and its ancestry.

Let us start right from the beginning: we have all our researches and explorations pointing to primitive man's bow and arrow as the first stringed instrument. Then bows sometimes had 2 strings, sometimes different bows of different sizes emitted different sounds which triggered the science of pitch, octave, the difference in notes, and all that. The next important discovery was that the stem of the instrument was in 2 parts basically: One was a piece of wood, strong enough to hold the tension of the string, and the other was the string itself. When this frame, or yoke, or the stem of the instrument accidentally was a hollow one, or was placed on some hollow object, the vibrations of the strings were magnified, the sound increased in volume. From here started the science of the air chamber of the instrument. Sometimes the stem itself was hollow, which itself was the air chamber; sometimes a specially big air chamber was introduced at the end of the hollow stem which gives you the sitar, tanpura and this family. And sometimes the air chamber was extended partially down the stem or right down the length of the stem, being the biggest and broadest at the base and tapering away; this gives you the sarod, the guitar, the lute also to some extent and a few other instruments. Quite a few instruments all over the world have similar shapes and sizes with minor variations. Now coming to the Indian instruments, all stringed instruments, whatever their shapes and sizes, were generally termed as veenas. Depending on the shapes, sizes and other things they acquired different names: Saraswati veena, Rudra veena, this veena, that veena, Tritantri veena. Two or three names stand-out in particular which have relevance to the sarod: one was the Sharadiya veena, the other was the Rudra veena. I have some slides of these instruments taken from the Calcutta Museum; I do not know the actual age of the specimens shown there but some of them might have been made up from descriptions received from old books and other things. However, the Sharadiya veena and the Rudra veena were much alike and nearly three or four hundred years ago, or even earlier, they had travelled to Afghanistan and been adapted for their own special purpose. Side by side, there was an evolution of the Indian rabab. The Indian rabab was somewhat like the Afghan rabab but much larger in size. Instead of steel strings there were cat-guts; instead of a steel plate there was a polished wooden fingerboard. This rabab also had its limitation in the same way as the Afghan rabab-it could not have long glides, but it had some glide which was utilized to the best advantage. Tansen's descendents streamed out into two basic branches of rababiya plus dhrupadiya, and beenkar plus dhrupadiya. Tansen's daughter, Saraswati, was married-off to one beenkar named Misri Singh, or Nabat Khan-their descendents played veena, and of course, sang dhrupad. Tansen's son, Bilas Khan, and his descendents were rababiyas plus dhrupadiyas. Dhrupad was common to each. Now come over to Afghanistan; the Rudra veena, Sharadiya veena or whatever it was, or even the Indian rabab-there were frequent exchanges of these instruments across the boarder-the derivative in Afghanistan was the small Afghan rabab, and it was played in the martial way. Martial tunes or compositions were played on it while marching into battle. We had three or four of these Afghan equestrians coming over and settling down in India. One was Ghulam Bandegi Khan Banghash; his grandson was Ghulam Ali Khan. Ghulam Ali Khan had three sons: Hussain Ali, Murad Ali and Nanhe Khan. Hussain Ali's son was Asgar Ali Khan. Murad Ali's son was Mohammed Abdullah Khan; and his sons were Ameer Khan and Wazir Khan. From Nanhe Khan descended Hafiz Ali, Amjad and his brothers. Likewise there were two others, one settled in Shahjehanpur and the other settled somewhere near Lucknow. The earlier rabab players in each of these families were inducted into Tansen's musical training particularly through their discipleships with two or three important Ustads of Tansen's family-Zaffar Khan, Barsat Khan, Chhaddu Khan, and so on and so forth. They were rababiyas, beenkars, and when these people learned dhrupad, they naturally wanted to translate dhrupad into their instrument but the instrument was not obliging, which was what lead to the exploration for a better instrument. Eventually, the sarod evolved from here, not merely the sarod but through another channel the sursringar also evolved; before that the rabab was there. Do you know how the sursringar was invented? Either Barsat Khan or Zaffar Khan, he played rabab, and because the rabab drum has got a hide on it-and is a very big drum-during the rainy season the hide got damp and the vibrations were shorter lived. He replaced the hide with the top of a sitar or surbahar, and replaced the wooden fingerboard with a steel plate. This instrument was no longer vulnerable to the rains or damp. Sarod was likewise developed in all these three families; each family claims that they were the originators of the modern sarod but the latest finishing touches to the sarod were given by somebody belonging to a totally different gharana, Ustad Allauddin Khan. He made the drum bigger and rounder, and added four extra strings, which were called tanpura strings. The tonality of the instrument improved, and the mirs, the glides were longer sustained and all that.

Then this is a relatively recent improvement?

This improvement is about 60 years old. This was done totally by Allauddin and his brother, Ayet Ali who was an expert instrument maker also.

So that point marks the modern sarod?

I must admit that. Even our sarods-we belong to a different school, the Hafiz Ali school. My Ustad stuck to the old form totally but somehow or other I fell for this round drum but not for the extra strings, the second little bridge and all that; I don't have that. Anyway, I fell for this round drum, and practically every sarod player in our school including, I think, Amjad Ali Khan, has reshaped his drum into a rounder one than existed previously.

What type of woods are currently being used for sarod construction?

Teak and another variety called toon. That's all. I don't have any other coming to my notice. Previously there two or three other varieties of wood mentioned in our books and shastras, one was gambhar wood.

What are the differences in character of sarods made of teak or toon?

Toon generally gives a softer sound; teak gives you a harder sound so that the bols are more crisp and sharp-edged with a teak instrument. Some of the teak instruments, particularly my instrument, has turned out to be a combination of both which is rarely available. That is, it can be very sharp so as to pierce your ears, and it can be absolutely round and fluffy, soft.

Is there a preference within the gharanas as to the type of wood used?

You can roughly classify it as Allauddin Khan-sahib's gharana prefers toon wood, and rest of our old gharana prefer teak.

Who made your instrument?

I had some of my instruments made by Hemen, and the latest one-latest two I should say-by a very young man called Dulal. He's a beautiful instrument maker.

How does Asadullah Khan fit into sarod history?

Asadullah Khan belongs to that Lucknow gharana of sarodiya. He was also called Kokuv Khan; he was the blood-brother of Ustad Keramatullah Khan, also a sarod player. Their father was Niamatullah Khan. Ah, now I come to it! Karimullah Haqdad, Niamatullah, then the brothers Kokuv Khan and Keramatullah Khan. Kokuv Khan didn't have a son, but his daughter was married-off to somebody. The lineage was lost. Keramatullah Khan's son was Ishtiaq Ahmed Khan, a very good sarodiya who died in his prime at the age of 46 or 47; he was attached to All-India Radio. So that lineage was lost but Kokuv Khan's daughter was married to the other lineage, the lineage that settled at Shahjehanpur, and the name of that gentleman was Saqawat Hussain. He lived in Lucknow; he was a good sarod player and he had two sons, Omar Khan and Ilias Khan. Ilias Khan plays sitar, he's still alive; Omar Khan expired a few years ago. Their lineage still remains. These two, Shahjehanpur and Lucknow, have now merged into one stream.

I've read that Asadullah Khan introduced the sarod to Bengal more than a century ago, and that Bengal became noted for the manufacture and popularization of sarod.

Yes, true. It would be rather uncertain whether Asadullah Khan was the only person responsible for the introduction of sarod into Bengal but he was to a large extent that. And after Asadullah Khan the man who really made the sarodiyas of Bengal proliferate was Mohammed Ameer Khan. Keramatullah Khan-sahib was also there, he lived in Calcutta for quite some time. Asadullah Khan was very famous for fast gats and fast tans but don't make a mistake-not sitar based tans, but sarod based tans, diri diri diri da ra, on rabab ang. He was more popular by the name of Kokuv Khan.

How have the actual playing styles evolved in this century; was the introduction of the modern sarod especially noteworthy in effecting change?

Very good question, and very pertinent question. Yes, with the introduction of the modern sarod more veena has penetrated into sarod. Before that sarod had the left hand side the style of playing sarod was mostly like the short-breathed rabab. Very short glides, more staccato notes, more bols. Even during slow alap, it could not really sustain a very slow alap because glides were not there. After one particular sound has died out you can't just have any amount of silence to make it slow, you have to start the next phrase almost immediately after. So it is automatically made to follow a faster tempo. With the advent of the modern sarod and longer glides, slower alap and very slow alap in fact has become feasible.

Is it then possible that what we are hearing in this century is the zenith of sarod playing?

I should not say that-you are definitely hearing the merger of two styles. But because of the absence of proper recordings you can't really know the extent of playing of the old Ustads.

But we can interpolate; the potential of the instrument was different, the depth of the alap, for instance could not have been previously achieved.

Definitely, I quite understand that, yes. To some extent it must be so.

Something else I'm curious about is a term referring to older playing styles: bandishi gat. What exactly is bandishi gat?

Bandish is a composition which unfolds all the principle facets or features of the raga, and there lies the beauty of the bandish. You start from a particular feature, somebody may start here, somebody may start there, and eventually draw the entire face of the raga. How distinctly and how exhaustively you have been able to portray the raga, that is one ground of excellence of the bandish. There were various kinds of bandishes, of course. Some bandishes were made where the composers took pleasure in starting from a relatively unimportant part of the raga and landing the first sum in such a manner that the people were left in doubt as to what sort of a raga it is. Gradually the rest of the raga unfolded; it was sort of a surprise. Then there were rhythmic variations. Sometimes the first line of the bandish used come from all sorts of unconventional sources; the call of the cuckoo-that has become transformed into an immortal bandish. I heard it from Radhika Mohan Maitra first, I don't know whether he was the composer or somebody else. And then again short phrases were repeated; these phrases didn't have an even number or symmetrical number of beats. They were odd beat phrases and the first phrase was spelled out, the next phrase followed but with relation to the beats, the next phrase was totally off-beat for surprise. The second part of the composition followed another phrase that was repeated twice; it was called "dopali gat" or "dodara gat." Sometimes the stress was on various rhythmic variations; sometimes the stress was on proper portrayal of the basic features of the raga and many others.

Is this style still in fashion?

No, it's dying out because we are concentrating more on fast tans and other improvisations. There are certain bandishes which in themselves were, so to say, a complete playing. You did not need many tans to elaborate. But of late, particularly in our anxiety to follow the drut kheyals of the vocal music, we have drastically shortened our bandishes and they're just not the same anymore.

Was Radhu-babu a repository of these old bandishi gats?

Yes, of course. He was a great repository. Doubtless.

-Jersey City, October 30th, 1985 Copyright Ira Landgarten

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