Ira: So you were still quite young?
Manilal: Yes. From then until now I've participated in so many music concerts such as National Program of All-India Radio, Radio Sangeet Sammelan, many, many radio programs all over India, and I've participated in most of all the major music conferences throughout India from 1954 up till now. And I've been accompanied by almost all the famous tabla players of India like Ustad Alla Rakha Khan, Pandit Shanta Prasad, Pandit Kishen Maharaj, Keramatullah Khan, Kanai Dutta, Mahapurush Mishra, Shankar Ghosh, and now the very young artists, Anindo Chatterjee, Ananda Gopal, Swapan Chaudhuri, so many artists. In 1973, I got the opportunity to tour abroad with the Cultural Delegation on behalf of the Ministry of Education, Government of India. I visited U.K. and other European countries, then came to the U.S. and Canada. After a few years I visited Australia on behalf of the Government of India, 1976 or 1978. I visited Japan in 1985 [with Mahapurush Mishra]. My father died in 1983, so I am the head of the household, and naturally, I have to look after all my home affairs and my programs-I have no secretary-I have to manage all the things, everything! This time I have come to the States sponsored by the Sangeet Research Academy as an invitee artist and now I'm very glad to visit this country, and I'm really very happy to see this country, and I'm very much pleased especially by the American people who really understand and love our Indian classical music. Now ask any other questions.
Before you mentioned when you were young, after your father began exposing you to other artists,
and you listed only vocalists; you did not mention one instrumentalist...
When I was a teen-ager, I heard many musicians for my own interest. Why? My father told me, "If you listen many times to vocal, you can play sitar nicely." Because every instrumentalist has to follow the vocal, especially in alap, and alap means dhrupad. During my college years in Calcutta, I often went to Ballygunje and heard Aminuddin Dagar and his elder brother, Moinuddin Dagar, stalwart specialists in dhrupad, constantly, every day for more than 2 hours! For 2 years, listening, listening, listening! Naturally, I got many ideas for alap. And then I heard many times Omkarnath Thakur, Vinayakrao Patwardhan, Narayanrao Vyas, Kumar Gandharva-just khyal. Khyal especially helped me with different taans, gamaks. And I really love vocal music, and to achieve better instrumental music I follow [vocal] at all times. Now I can't sing due to my voice-no practice, but I love to sing.
photo: Ira Landgarten
At the time did you listen to any instrumentalists, or particularly did any sitarists other than your father have any influence on you?
Yes, yes, yes. At that time, I didn't have the opportunity to listen to the old artists such as Enayat Khan or Barkatullah Khan, but I have listened many times to Ustad Allauddin Khan, Hafiz Ali Khan, and Faiyaz Khan, Bade Ghulam, many, many times. The instrumentalists I have listened to many, many times are Ali Akbar Khan, Ravi Shankar and then Nikhil Banerjee.
Nikhil Banerjee & Manilal Nag
I liked to listen to Nikhil Banerjee more, more, more, more!
I don't know why-but due to his art, his imagination I loved his
style very much. All these musicians-Ali Akbar Khan, his depth
on alap; Ravi Shankar's chhandas [rhythm] and everything; Nikhil
Banerjee's emotional mood; Vilayat Khan's sapat, fast taans-influenced
me much, Naturally, because I'm a music-lover-I love music!-from
all artists I took something, something, something! My father
told me, "You must listen to all the musicians and take the
best." I am an artist, I try to create, and incorporate the
Your grandfather was also a sitar player...
Let me say this now: I was very lucky that I was born in a musician's family. In my district town, Bankura, my grandfather, Govinda Nag was a great musician of that time, but he was not a professional musician. His father, Bauridas Nag, was also a very great musician. At that time my grandfather and great-grandfather learned from the Lucknow gharana and the Delhi gharana; many, many artists like Kasim Ali Khan, rabab, and the son of Mohammed Ali Khan. What happened? In my father's boyhood, Ramprasana Banerjee came to Bankura for some music concert, and at that concert my father played sitar. Ramprasana Banerjee listened and he was very happy, and he requested my grandfather, "Please, I will take your son to my house and I want to teach him." My grandfather agreed and allowed him, "Please, go with Ramprasana babu." Then my father went to Vishnupur with his guru, Ramprasana Banerjee. Ramprasana Banerjee was the son of Anantalal Banerjee-Anantalal Banerjee was the disciple of Jadu Bhatta, the great singer of the Vishnupur gharana. He has known as the 'Tansen of Bengal.' Anantalal Banerjee had four sons: Ramprasana, Gopeswar, Surendranath and I can't remember the fourth. All of them were very great musicians. Ramprasana Banerjee knew all the instruments and my father learned many, many instruments from him. Ramprasana Banerjee often went to Calcutta in those days, and in Calcutta were Raja Sourendra Mohan Tagore and Jotindra Mohan Tagore in Jorasanko; a very cultured family. Many musicians from all over the country came to Calcutta and stayed in their house-Imdad Khan, the grandfather of Vilayat Khan, and Sajjad Mohammed, the son of Ghulam Mohammed famous for Seni gharana sitar.
Manilal and Vilayat
The guru of my father, Ramprasana Banerjee, learned the rabab,
been, surbahar, sitar from Sajjad Mohammed at the court of Raja
Jotindra Mohan Tagore at Jorasanko. I heard from my father that
Ustad Allauddin Khan also came to Jorasanko, and Allauddin Khan
also learned sitar from the Vishnupur gharana, his name was Nityananda
Goswami, the nephew of Radhika Prasad Goswami. Radhika Prasad
Goswami was also a disciple of Jadu Bhatta and he went to Calcutta
and at that time Girijashankar Charkraborty learned dhrupad from
him. Girijashankar Charkraborty was the first man who popularized
vocal music in Calcutta. Tarapada Chakraborty, Sailendranath Banerjee
of Tansen Music Festival, Jamini Ganguly, and Ratindranath Chatterjee
of Shibpur, Howrah, were students of Girijashankar Charkraborty.
It was then that khyal was popularized in Calcutta-before then
there were no music festivals in Calcutta. The last nawab of Lucknow,
Wajid Ali Shah, was dethroned by the British [in 1856] and he
fled to Calcutta. Many musicians came to Calcutta with the nawab.
The guru of Ustad Allauddin Khan lived in Matia Burj, that nawab's
estate in Calcutta, as well as Sajjad Mohammed. Raja Sourendra
Mohan later invited Sajjad Mohammed to come to Jorasanko. So there
was an amalgamation of Lucknow and Vishnupur. Another person,
Dr. D.R. Bhattacharya, the vice-chancellor of Allahabad University,
was the first man who organized a music conference in Allahabad,
and he invited musicians from all over the country. He arranged
a music festival in which Ustad Allauddin Khan, Hafiz Ali Khan,
Faiyaz Khan and other ustads of this type, participated. After
that, in Calcutta two great men-Damodardas Kana Lala Babu and
Bhupendra Krishna Bose of Paturiagata jamindar-came to Allahabad,
attended the music festival and met with Dr. Bhattacharya. After
some discussion, Dr. Bhattacharya came to Calcutta and then they
organized a music circle and called it the All-Bengal Music Conference
in 1934; Rabindranath Tagore inaugurated this conference. Lala
Babu later also arranged another music circle, the All-India Music
Conference. Now both are finished but at that time these two were
very big music conferences.
So you basically got all of your sitar training from your father, Gokul Nag?
Yes, mostly I learned from Baba. Baba often asked me, "If you want to learn from anyone else, please go to Allauddin Khan in Maihar." Baba loved and respected Ustad Allauddin Khan, and Allauddin also regarded my father highly. While I was in school, maybe in 1951, '52, '53, Baba [Allauddin Khan] used to come to Calcutta then go to the jamindar house of Gouripur, Raja Brajendra Kishore Roy Chowdhury. He was the jamindar of Gouripur, in what is now Bangladesh, and his son, Birendra Kishore Roy Chowdhury was also a great musician, and his son, Binode Kishore Roy Chowdhury has learned sitar from my father. In my boyhood sometimes I visited his house with my father and one day I went to his house with my father-a big, palatial house. When I came to this house, I heard someone playing sarod very nicely, but at that young age I didn't understand that full alap...I loved the music very much, and asked, "Who is playing, who is playing?" As I was listening, Allauddin called to me, "Come to me, come to me, sit down here." And he took me on his knee and gave me some sweets, and said, "Listen, listen." I have listened many, many times to Allauddin Khan but that time I was young and didn't understand the reality of music. After that I wrote to Allauddin Khan, "I want to learn from you." But he replied, "Your father is a very great musician. You don't know about your father. Please, I request you to still learn from your father." Due to that reason I didn't go to Maihar to take lessons!
That's interesting, but you have your own style because of that. About the sitar styles: in your playing, you use the kharaj [bass] string. Ravi Shankar has said that he and [sitar maker] Kanai Lal developed the use of these bass strings. Vilayat Khan will say that use of kharaj strings on sitar is not the 'real sitar' tradition. What is your feeling about this type of style?
Yes. In ancient times, in the court of rajas and maharajas, they had much time to listen to music. In those times beena, surbahar played only alap, not gats. If they did play gat, it would be in slow laya [tempo] like dhamar dhrupad, chautal-but it can't be played fast. Due to that reason, Vilayat Khan doesn't use kharaj or kharaj pancham, so he can play fast. In the old days, they had too much time: the musician first took surbahar and played real alap for one or two hours, then stopped and took a break for half an hour for tea, and then again started with sitar. Nowadays men have no time, so naturally now on sitar we use kharaj, kharaj pancham and play alap and then gat, both together. Vilayat Khan has his own idea, he is correct. But our own idea is our own idea! I don't like to compare, this depends upon the public.
When do you think this modern type of sitar actually developed?
From my childhood I have seen my father's sitar which had kharaj and kharaj pancham. This style is dates from 'old age,' so why other musicians make claims on this, I don't know. Why? From my boyhood, I saw Baba playing sitar with kharaj, a Kanai Lal sitar.
When you were a boy, was your first sitar a small, child-size sitar?
Yes, when I started I had a small sized [sitar] because as a boy how could I hold a big sitar! I started with a 'single' sitar with only seven strings, no taraf. After a year or two I played my Baba's sitar, a Kanai Lal sitar, and I played many years on that sitar. Then Hiren Roy gave me a new sitar.
When did you first get the idea to get a sitar from Hiren Roy?
After the death of Kanai Lal, my father went to Hiren Roy for jawari [finely shaped bridge on a sitar, been or tanpura]-Hiren Roy at that time was the best maker and he did good jawari. I used to go to Hiren Roy and asked, "Hiren-da, please make one good sitar for me." And that he did.
When was that?
My sitar was made near about 28 years ago . Before that I was playing a Kanai Lal sitar.
Was Hiren Roy a disciple of Kanai Lal?
I've heard, I've heard, because Hiren Roy was a disciple of Kanai Lal in the sense that he used to go to his shop and work, watch and listen. Like this. I heard this from my father, but I don't know how much is true.
Hiren Roy has become probably the most famous sitar maker in India...
Why? Because he also was a musician-Hiren Roy learned sitar from Annapurna [Ustad Allauddin Khan's daughter] and he could play very nicely on sitar. Due to that reason he could make good sitars, he knew sitar technique. He could do very good jawari-without being a musician, you can't do good jawari, and jawari can't be done scientifically, it just depends upon your ear. Play, listen and then jawari, play, listen and then again jawari until satisfaction; when you're satisfied, then stop, OK. It's very difficult; there is no scientific way, no measurements.
The sound of your sitar is very special-it's a round, 'closed' sound, unlike some sitars which can tend to sound more loud and metallic. Did Hiren Roy suit the sound to your particular request?
As an artist, Hiren Roy 'caught' my ideas. He knew my stroke, he listened to my alap and naturally he got the idea, and he made the sitar according to my needs.
What do you do for jawari now that Hiren Roy has passed away?
Now Hiren Roy's son, Hemangshu, does it. He's not bad and gradually he's improving, and I think now maybe he's the best. Sometimes he's better than his father, sometimes. Just like sometimes my program is excellent and sometimes it's not good-it takes patience! Jawari is also like this; sometimes Hemangshu is better than Hiren Roy, and I think within a few years he will become a good maker.
Let's hope so because without a good jawari, sitar is nothing! It's very important.
Yes, it's a very important thing. next page....