A Leading Sitar Player of the Present Days
The terracotta temple town of Bishnupur which presently lies in the district of Bankura of West Bengal,, was previously known as Mallabhum. A sub divisional town of Bankura, Bishnupur, the kingdom of the Malla kings , was renowned for its cultural supremacy much before the Islamic invasion and the reign of the Mughal emperors. The Malla Kings, who started the worship of Lord Krishna after their initiation into Vaishnavism by their religious Guru Acharya Srinivas,, renamed their territory, Bishnupur, the city of Lord Bishnu, the other name for Lord Krishna.
The Malla rulers showed their loyalty to the Mughal emperors and paid revenue as feudal lords to maintain the sovereignty of their kingdom. Historical records show that the Mallah kings appointed court singers in their royal house which eventually led to a tradition of music evolving down the ages from the thirteenth century onwards. A few compositions extant, belonging to the period of Veer Hamveer’s reign bear evidence of the beginning of a new style of song and music under the patronage of the king, and deeply influenced by the Vaishnavite tradition.
When Emperor Aurangzeb strictly banned any kind of cultural activity in the Mughal occupied territories, the fifty fourth ruler of the Malla Dynasty, Raja Raghunath Singha Dev II (reign 1702-1712), undaunted by the Emperor’s red tape, invited Bahadur Sen, a descendant of Tansen, from Delhi along with the eminent Pakhwaj player Peer Bux to settle in Bishnupur. The musicians, whose livelihood was at stake in the emperor’s regime, sought for employment elsewhere and the invitation from Vishnupur seemed a golden opportunity which they readily accepted.
Raghunath Singha Dev II made arrangements for the musicians to be brought to his court. It was immediately announce in the kingdom that any one with a sweet voice and showing eagerness to learn would be accepted as a disciple by these learned masters of music and such disciples would receive training for free. This is how a new line of grooming in the art of singing originated in the small town of Bishnupur in Bengal. The King even promised financial aid to eager disciples who were poor.
Acharya Ramprasanna Bandopadhyay in his seminal document Sangeet Manjari, a collection of the lyrics and compositions of Bishnupur Gharana has cited a composition by Bahadur Sen in Raga Sahana, Chautala, sung in praise of Raghunath Singha Dev II.The song , composed in Dhrupad style, was found by Ramprasanna babu in a manuscript belonging to his father Anantalal Bandopadhyay.Ramprasanna babu’s other book Mridanga Darpan mentions the name of Peer Bux. It may thus be inferred that a new tradition of song and music began in Bishnupur around this period only.
It is equally interesting that the location of this town and its spiritually emotional culture steeped in singing and dancing to the glory of Lord Krishna, attracted many pilgrims, saints, singers and drummers who used to travel from Mathura and Brindavan to Lord Jagannath’s abode at Puri. These musicians received the hospitality of the Malla ruler while resting in Bishnupur before they resumed their onward journey towards Puri. Naturally the original style of the Seni gharana, as propounded by Bahadur Sen and his accompanist Peer Bux were influenced by styles hailing from these regions of North India. The music of these pilgrim and itinerant musicians were more devotional and lyrical in appeal in comparison to the rigid and pure form of Dhrupad that was practiced in the Western part of India,as well as in the followers of Lord Krishna in Mathura and Brindavan.
The tradition of the Bishnupur school of Music is distinguished by its extreme open mindedness to any forms of classical and regional art that flourished across the country and would be accessible to the contemporary local musicians through any resourceful avenue.A passing musician, a new lyric, a devotional hymn, the court musicians of reputed gharans, any available source that would enrich the musical knowledge of this town’s melophiles was greeted with open arms and undisputedly added to the collection of the disciples, the would- be gurus in later years. The insatiable thirst for knowledge and musical scholarship led to the formation of a well defined lineage of musicians who passed on their expertise to their able disciples and their heirs. The gharana had a two directional expansion along the line of the sons, daughters and relations within the family and along the line of the disciples.
Gadadhar Chakraborty, a name that appears as the foremost disciple of Bahadur Sen is supposed to have taught Ramshankar Bhattacharya, who is believed to be the founder of Bishnupur Gharana’s tradition . Ramshankar seems to have been trained also by Krishna Mohan Goswami, disciple of Gadadhar Chakraborty.However, one has to depend on hearsays in the absence of authentic documents.Since Ramshankar Bhattacharya’s time the lineage of musical scholarship can be traced through sufficient resources that have been traced and documented . Ramshankar Bhattacharya’s most prominent disciple was Jadunath Bhattacharya, popularly known as Jadubhatta.Jadubhatta’s early training started with his father who tutored him in both Dhrupad and Sitar alongwith some lessons in Mridanga. However the boy’s amazing tenacity and passion soon pursuaded his father to find a most appropriate teacher for him. Ramshankar Bhattacharya was then residing beside the Malleswar Temple at Bishnupur.The young boy’s talent and earnest quest for music impressed Acharya Ramshankar who lovingly accepted young Jadubhatta as his disciple. Unfortunately, Ramshankar’s early demise when Jadubhatta was only about 13 years old, was a setback for the young learner who decided not to give up his training . He learnt for a while under Anantalal Bandopadhyaya and Dinabandhu Goswami at Bishnupur. Jadunath then moved to Kolkata to continue his discipleship under eminent Dhrupad singer Ganganarayan Bandopadhyay who followed the Khandarbani style.His assimilation of the original style of Bishnupur with that of the Khandarbani school reveals the liberal attitude of the musicians of the then Bishnupur who were open to new form and styles, then flooding Bengal’s cultural renaissance. Jadubhatta’s expertise was quite evident in his demonstrations in Ragas Darbari, Tilak Kamod, Bahar and Khamaj, where he mastered many complex compositions.
Over the years Jadubhatta acquired considerable skill in playing surbahar, sitar, pakhwaj and mridanga.His compositions in Dhrupad were much appreciated by Jyotirindranath Tagore and by novelist Bankimchandra Chatterjee . It was from Jadubhatta’s song only that Bankimchandra had drawn his inspiration for Bandemataram. For a while Jadubhatta had adorned the court of Maharaja Radhaballav Singha Dev of Kuchiakol in Bankura district. Jadubhatta’s versatility drew the attention of the then aristocrats of Kolkata who invited him to perform at their mansions; Keshav Chndra Mitra of Bhawanipore, Digambar Mitra of Jhamapukur, Haraprasad Bandopadhyay of Pathuriaghata, Nawab Wazid Ali shah at Metiaburuj. In 1875, Maharshi Debendranath Tagore finally appointed Jadubhatta as the music tutor in his family at Jorasanko, when Rabindranath Tagore was still a boy. The compositions of Jadubhatta enticed Rabindranath since his boyhood days and in his later compositions he remained indebted to Jadubhatta for the mood and strains of his songs.. Mention may be made of one such song, shunyo haatey firi he naath, pathey pathey which is almost a transposed version of Jadubhatta’s room jhoom barakhe aaju badrooa piya bidesh mori tharo tharata chitiyan. Among the many disciples of Ramshankar Bhattacharya, his son Ramkeshab Bhattacharya (1809-1850) was rather enthusiastic in promoting his gharana outside his hometown. Tha Maharaja of Cooch Bihar was much impressed by his Dhrupad recital and had rewarded him with an elephant and a sum of five thousand rupees ( one can surely imagine the value of this amount at that time) . Ramkeshab had also introduced the application of Esraj as an instrument to accompany songs as well as to be played in solo recitals.
Kshetramohan Goswami(1823-1850), another prominent disciple of Ramshankar Bhattacharya was a scholar musician who, in his early years was drawn to Kathakata or ballad style folk songs describing the feats of heroes and gods, but later on dedicated himself to Dhrupad singing under the tutelage of his master.
He also learnt Veena and Dhrupad from renowned veenkar Lakshmiprasad Mishra of Beneras. H was invited by Raja Jatindramohan Tagore and Raja Sourindramohan Tagore of Pathuriaghata, near Jorasanko, Kolkata, as their music teacher . He devoted his entire life to enlightening and enriching his musical talent under the royal patronage of the Tagore family. His passion for scholarship induced him to learning star, violin and Esraj during his residing in Kolkata. When Sourindramohan established the first music institution in Bengal ‘Banga Sangeet Vidyalaya’ , Kshetramohan acted as its mentor .He was also the first musician to introduce the concept of Western orchestration in 1858 at a theatre house in Belgachhia, North Kolkata, during the staging of the play ‘Ratnabali’, in which he had directed the orchestra. He also introduced the Dandamatrik Notation System, the first attempt ever in North Indian Classical music to standardize a notation system for songs. He also penned some resourceful books on music ,Aikatanik Swaralipi, Geetgovinder Swaralipi, Kanthakaumudi, a few to mention.
Kshetramohan Goswami was the Guru of Raja Sourindramohan Tagote of the royal family of Pathuriaghata of North Kolkata. Sourindramohan was an exceptional disciple of Kshetramohan who paid his humble tribute to his guru through his seminal work ‘Jantakshetradeepika’ an illustrious volume compling 202 melodic compositions in sitar. This invaluable book, now extant, was first published in 1878 by Kaliprasanna Bandopadhyay, J. M. Vidyaratna, 38, Shyampukur Street. 500 copies of this book, with extensive commentary on the art of sitar making and elementary sitar training for beginners, were sold out immediately on publishing. The second edition required on demand publishing in 1979. The book contains notations of compositions in many obsolete ragas like imni bhoopali, loom jhinjhoti, soorat khamaj, jhinjhoti khamaj, brihannat, malsri, iman puriya, belabali, kafi-sindhu, jangla – khamaj, arun-malhar and many more.It is worth mentioning that the authors of Bishnupur Gharana used translated versions in their mother tongue Bengali for the musical terminology, deriving a number of musical terms from Sanskrit.
Most of the disciples of Ramshankar had, in course of time, left Bishnupur to settle in other towns for their livelihood. The only exception was Anantalal Bandopadhyay, son of eminent scholar Ganganarayan Bandopadhyay of Bishnupur. In his young days he shone as a brilliant scholar in Sanskrit and had mastered the entire Bhagavad Gita which he could recite and explain. However, his meeting with Ramshankar radically altered his course of life and he vowed to dedicate his life to music. When Ramkrishna Singha,, son of Maharaja Gopal Singha of Bishnupur established a music school in the town, Anantalal was appointed the music teacher of this institution. He was the most beloved disciple of Ramshankar. The then ruler of Bishnupur, Maharaja Gopal Singha, awe struck by the magnanimity of Anantalal’s musical prowess , had conferred the title ‘Sangeet Keshari’ upon him.Anantalal had trained a number of worthy disciples, Radhikaprasad Goswami, Haradhan Chakraborty, Bipin Chandra Chakraborty, Ambikacharan Bandopadhyay, Ramkumar Bandopadhyay, including his sons Ramprasanna, Gopeswar and Surendranath Bandopadhyay.
Anantalal Bandopadhyay’s eldest son Ramprasanna was a versatile talent who was trained not only in dhrupad song but also played Surbahar, Sitar, Nyastarang, Jaltarang, Pakhwaj, Tabla, Esraj, Veena with much virtuosity. He was the court musician of Koochiakol, later on, upon the demise of his dear disciple Prince Vasantakumar of Narajol, he became a court musician at Narajol. It was here that Raja Nareshchandra’s patronization and support enabled him to bring out his remarkable anthology Sangeet Manjari, an amazing collection of Dhrupad, Khayal and Thumri from numerous noted exponents.
Ramprasannababu also learnt Surbahar from Ustad Sayaad Muhammad of Lucknow Gharana, who was the court musician of Nawab Wazid Ali Shah .Wazid Ali was then residing at Metiaburuz in Kolkata as a captive of the British rulers.His court musicians Gulam Muhammad and his son Sayaad Muhammad who travelled to Kolkata along with the nawab, were invited to the house of Raja Jatindramohan Tagore and Sourindramohan Tagore at Jorasanko.This is where the exponents from Bishnupur, Ramprasanna Bandopadhyay, Gopeswar Bandopadhyay, Nilmadhav Chakraborty had the opportunity of associating themselves with Sayyad Muhammad from whom they collected compositions of the Surbahar and Veena of Lucknow Gharana. This substantiates the fact that the musicians of Bishnupur were open to all styles of vocal and instrumental rendition that were available and popular in the contemporary music scenario, making the best possible effort to master them and pass on the rich lagacy to their disciples.
Ramprasanna himself had composed a few lyrics in Hindi and Bengali. He was author of some other texts on music, Esraj Taranga, Mridanga Darpan and Tabla Tarang.One may undoubtedly realize the value and significance of these texts on practical music when books on instrumental music were hardly available ;when disciples residing far away from these centres of training had no means to access their gurus regularly, but such books , as first hand guides, would cater to their urgency and enthusiasm for learning; an age when digital tutorials and online training from preferred teachers were all but a dream!
While reminiscing his eldest uncle, Satyakinkar Banerjee remembers Ramprasanna Banerjee as being addressed as ‘Ustadji’ by his contemporaries for his profound scholarship in music. The king of Mayurbhanj who took training in sitar once requested Ramprasanna to teach him some more compositions in Raga Yaman as the former’s tutorial consisted of four compositions only. Ramprasanna replied, “ If you are willing to learn Yaman gats only throughout your tutelage, it would hardly be challenging for me!”It is a pity that no recordings of this musician survives in the absence of recording facilities in those times.
Ramprasanna Bandopadhyay’s second brother Gopeswar Bandopadhyay (1880-1963) was gifted with equal talent in music,both vocal and instrumental. Having received his initial training from his father Anantalal and elder brother Ramprasanna had learnt under Pandit Guruprasad Mishra of Betia Gharana. He was equally well versed in Dhrupad and Dhamar, Khayal, Tappa and Thumri.He was also a deft player of Surbahar, sitar , Jaltarang, Esraj and pakhwaj.His contemporary musicians regarded him with utmost awe and veneration owing to his profound knowledge both in the etymology and aesthetics of music. An author of several books on music in Bengali, Gopeswar Bandopadhyay’s seminal work Sangeet Chandrika is a priceless anthology of the compositions of noted musicians since the time of Baiju Bawra. Gopeswarbabu firmly believed that, the compositions, unless they were written down with notations, would suffer distortions and deviations in the process of being passed on from one generation to the other. His profundity in music was deeply acknowledged by Rabindranath Tagore who conferred upon him the title of ‘Swar Saraswati’.Even Ustad Alauddin Khan had showed his deep reverence for this prodigy of Bishnupur Gharana when the two met at Lucknow Music Conference in 1925. Alauddin Khan acknowledged that the Dhrupad songs compiled in Sangeet Chandrika had helped him greatly in shaping his knowledge about raga forms and their treatment.
Radhikaprasad Goswami (1863-1924) another torchbearer of Bishnupur Gharana,was the son of Jagatchand Goswami, a Mridanga Player.Radhikprasad, initiated into Dhrupad singing under the tutelage of Jadubhatta, later learnt under the guidance of Anantalal Bandopadhyay and Pandit Guruprasad Mishra and Shivnarayan Mishra of Betia Gharana. He had equal command over Dhrupad and Khayal singing. Maharshi Debendranath Tagore, father of Rabindranath Tagore had appointed him as the teacher of the Tagore household. Under Rabindranath’s generous patronage Radhikaprasad composed the notation for many of his lyrics. Radhikaprasad travelled to Bahrampore in North Bengal to adorn the court of the Maharaja of Kashimbazar as his court musician. This was when Girijashankar Chakraborty also started learning from him. A whole galaxy of singers including Jnanendraprasad Goswami , Dhirendranath Bhattacharya, Yogindrakishore bandopadhyay were trained under the guidance of Radhikaprasad. An p interesting episode goes that Radhikaprasad had challenged sarodist Keramatullah upon being criticized at one of his recitals that he could prove his command on any variant of the ‘nat’ group of Ragas. He then demonstrated nine variants of the ‘nat’ ragas :-- Suddha nat, chhayanat, hamvirnat, nat bihag, natnnarayan, nat kedar, natnkamod and nat malhar.
Anantalal Bandopadhyay’s third son Surendranath, (1886-1972) was gifted with incredible technical prowess to master as many instruments as esraj sitar, surbahar, byanjo, nyastarang, jaltarang, rabab. His training in Dhrupad and Dhamar commenced under the tutelage of his elder brothers, Ramprasanna and Gopeswar Bandopadhyay. Rabindranath’s wonderment knew no bounds when he came to know Surendranath at the age of eighteen years. The teenager was sent by Gopeswar to compose the notations for Tagore’s lyrics, a task that Surendranath accomplished with perfection. He composed the notations for six volumes of Geetalipi ofoTagore and remained his close associate till Tagore’s last days. Surendranath had established a music institution named ‘Sura Bharati’ in Kolkata.
Surendranath’s daughter Bindhyabasini resided all along in Bishnupur.She had mastered the art of playing surbahar, sitar and byanja from her father.Till her ripe old age she taught music to the local residents of Bishnupur at the Ramshankar College of Music.
A scholar musician of immense knowledge, Surendranath was honoured with the title ‘Rabindratattva Acharya’ by Tagore Research Institute and received the ‘PPadmashree in1972. He also penned some notable texts like the Esraj Mukul, Navapaddhati Setar Shiksha.
Among Ramprasanna Bandopadhyay’s sons, Ashesh Bandopadhyay (1920-1992,the youngest, outshone his brothers in mastering the Dhrupad tradition of Bengal. Besides singing, he also excelled in playing the esraj and the sitar. When Ustad Alauddin Khan visited Santiniketan he was amazed to have met Ashesh Bandopadhyay and expressed his desire of making Ashesh Chandra his disciple and a peer of Pandit Ravishankar had he chanced to meet him earlier.
In his reminiscence on Ashesh Bandopadhyay, Satyajit Ray says, “ One of my lasting memories of Santinikatan where I was a student…….is of an unassuming young man of almost diminutive stature playing the Esraj as I have not heard of played before or since. This instrument , so closely linked with Bengal and the Bengali song, is a smaller version of the Dilruba. Having fewer sympathetic strings than its elder brother, the Esraj produces a softer and mellower tone. As such it comes into its own only in the hands of a master whose command of the melodic line can make up for the instrument’s lack of tonal colour. I doubt if the Esraj has been heard to better advantage in our time than in the hands of Ashesh Bandopadhyay. When I heard him in Santiniketan Ashesh Bandopadhyay was not much in evidence as a soloist, but he was always on hand to provide the accompaniment to recitals of Rabindrasangeet. Such was his command of the instrument , and so deep and true his feeling for the songs, that one often found oneself listening to the instrument rather than the singer.” It was Ray who had taken the initiative for publishing a record of Ashesh Bandopadhyay. Esraj was not a common instrument in the scenario of Indian Music. It was Ashesh Chandra who made it a popular instrument, which is in practice even to this day to accompany Rabindrasangeet as well as a solo instrument to perform Raga music. For his immense contribution to Indian Music, particularly to Tagore’s music, Ashesh Bandopadhyay was honoured with the Deshikottam award by Viswa Bharati .
Most of these versatile musicians of Bishnupur who were also composers, acknowledged that the lyricism of the composition was of no less importance than its melody. This produced some of the best lyrics in Bengali Khayal, a genre that acquired regional popularity in Bengal and Kolkata where most of the musicians had settled down under the patronage of elite Bengali sponsors, mostly from the royal and feudal families. The lyrics of Bishnupur were mostly addressed to the benevolent rulers of the Malla dynasty, or invocations to the deities worshipped: Madan Mohan or Lord Krishna, Goddess Kali and Lord Shiva. Some of the lyrics also followed the kirtan form of Jaydev;s Geetgovinda which was quite popular among the Vaishnavite population in Bishnupur.
Bengali Khayal, as a regional variant of its North Indian counterpart, attracted the Babus of Kolkata whose generosity provided a secure future to these musicians who could remain absorbed in their music and teaching without worrying much about their livelihood. Raja Sourindra Mohan Tagore of Pathuriaghata who invited the great Jnanendraprasad Goswami, pioneer of Bengali Khayal and Ragapradhan, to adorn his residence as the court musician.
Jnanendraprasad’s tutelage under his guru and paternal uncle Radhikaprasad Goswami, bore the stamp of the rich legacy of Bishnupur Gharana. While he mastered Dhrupad, Khayal, Tappa and Thumri his performances were never undermined with excessive technical embellishment. In his Bengali songs he never allowed alamkaars to overshadow the meaning of the song. Jnanendraprasad had enjoyed the company of B. D. Paluskar and Ustad Faiyaaz Khan. He had assimilated the best and the highest in a most selective way, the styles of other gharanas, thus empoweing his rendition with remarkable distinctiveness.He fused the gravity of Dhrupad with the gamak of Tappa and the lyrical grace and sublimity of Kirtan along the line of his predecessors whose open mindedness made it possible for Bishnupur Gharana to emerge as a rich repository of traditions.
Two other eminent musicians of Bishnupur Gharana who dominated the music scenarion of Kolkata in the twentieth century were Sangeetacharya Satyakinkar Bandopadhyay and Sangeetacharya Gokul Nag ( my grandfather).
Born in Bishnupur in 1899 Satyakinkar Bandopadhyay lost his father at the tender age of ten years and was tutored by his uncle Gopeswar Bandopadhyay whom Tagore had honoured with the title “Swar Saraswati”.Satyakinkar Bandopadhyay, a talent of unusual potential had mastered the art of both vocal and instrumental music.He could play with ease instruments like the surbahar, sitar, esraj, nyastaranga.He was looked upon with much veneration by his contemporary musicians including Ustad Alauddin Khan .During the visit of the Prince of Wales in India in 1921 six musicians were invited to present six ragas representing each season. Of these musicians, three were from the Bishnupur Gharana Satyakinkar Bandopadhyay was one among them, the others being Radhikaprasad Goswami and Gopeswar Bandopadhyay.At the age of 15 years Satyakinkar adorned the court of Velaidiha estate as its court musician. Besides being a performer he had also penned some important books . To name a few: Raga Abhigyan, Sangeet Gyanprakash and Bishnupur Gharanar prakrita Itihas O Ragarooper Sathik Parichay.An eminent musician and Guru Satyakinkar Bandopadhyay spent the later years of his life at his North Kolkata residence , performing regularly at All India Radio. When All India Radio started its broadcasting service from Kolkata, The inaugural session commenced with the recital of Sangeetacharya Satyakinkar Bandopadhyay. His uncompromising personality is evident in the incident when All India Radio disallowed him to perform Bengali Khayal in Raga Multani, against his wishes, a humiliation Satyakinkar refused to yield to. His stern refusal to perform further at All India Radio despite his financial limitations exemplifies his true love for his native tongue. It was in 1978, just two years before his passing away that the Broadcasting Corporation approved his performance of Bengali Khayal. In 1973 he had performed Bengali Khayal at Viswa Bharati ( Santiniketan ) for about two and a half hours, to the enchantment of the audience. Some of his famous compositions in his mother tongue include eso madanmohan beshe nandadulal in Raga Malkauns, jhulane jhulichhe shyamarai shravane in Raga Darbari. Satyakinkar Bandopadhyay had composed numerous khayal songs in both Bengali and Hindi.He was nominated as visiting professor of Benaras Hindu University, Rabindra Bharati University and Viswa Bharati.He received special honour fron WestBengal State Academy of Dance and Drama and also from ITC Sangeet Research Acedemy.Many elite families of Kolkata preferred the tutelage of their sons and daughters under Satyakinkar Bandopadhyay for his erudition and towering personality. My grandfather, Sangeetacharya Gokul Nag, a rare talent who spent his later years as professor of Rabindra Bharati University, was a close neighbour of Satyakinkar Bandopadhyay . Both the stalwarts of Bishnupur Gharana enjoyed their mutual company in their ripe old years. Gokul Nag, junior to Satyakinkar was born in Bankura in 1907 . His aptitude for music was evident at an early age. He was accepted by Ramprasanna Bandopadhyay as his disciple, the latter being much impressed by the eagerness of his would be disciple. In Later years Gokul Nag was appointed court musician of the Maharaja of Chanchar in Bankura district of Bengal. He was invited to Uttarpara by the Bandopadhyay family of zamindars in this Northern suburb of Kokata on the other side of the Ganges, to impart musical training th the children of the Bandopadhyay family. Proficient in singing and playing various instruments , similar to Satyakinkar Bandopadhyay, Gokul Nag was invited by danseuse Udayshankar to join his dance troupe as a musician where Gokul Nag composed and directed instrumental music between the years 1934-36. It was a short lived contract as Gokul Nag did not wish to travel abroad at a time when India was under the British subjugation. Gokul Nag used to broadcast live from All India Radio in both Khayal and Sitar though later on he focussed only on sitar music to emerge as one of the most outstanding sitarists of his time whose recital Pandit Janan Prakash Ghosh had compared in his book Tehzeeb I mausiki with that of Ustad Inayat Khan.
In his volume ‘My Music My Life’ Pandit Ravi Shankar mentions Gokul Nag: “other events concurred to bring me closer to the sitar in that year towards the end of 1934, a wonderful sitar player Gokul Nag, joined our troupefor a short time and very much impressed me with his artistry. He was another who did much to reinforce my growing interest in the sitar”. Whether Pandit Ravi Shankar was initiated into sitar learning by Gokul Nag still remains a controversy owing to the fact that Pandit Ravishankar never admitted it personally, but it is unanimously accepted that Sangeetacharya Gokul Nag was one of the inspirational forces behind the legendary sitarist’s taking to this instrument as the crucial decision of his life.
Satyakinkar babu’s worthiest sons Sangeetacharya Amiyaranjan Bandopadhyay and Nihar Ranjan Bandopadhyay, my father Pandit Manilal Nag are living exponents of this gharana who have borne the torch of this ancient Gharana of Bengal far and wide across the globe and who have been training up innumerable students along the path of one of the richest musical traditions of our country.
The music of Bishnupur Gharana stands apart from other schools and traditions of music by virtue of its innovativeness, its distinctive interpretation of certain raga forms like Bibhas, Vrindavani Sarang, Poorvi Kalyan,Rajvijay and such others.The Dhrupad exponents loved to experiment with diverse rhythm cycles like Rudratala, Veerpanchak, Brahmatala, Daubahar, Lakshmitala , incorporating intricate rhythm patterns in their recitals.
The Pakhwaj and Tabla players of Bishnupur followed a tradition which began as early as Peer Bux’s arrival at the town during the regime of Malla king Raghunath Singh II. Jagatchand Goswami, Sripati Adhikari, Durlabh Bhattachrya, Anantalal Mukhopadhyay were among the noted Pakhwaj players from Bishnupur. Subodh Nandi, an accomplished tabla player of the Gharana was appointed as Professor of the Academy of Dance, Drama and Music, later Rabindra Bharati University of Kolkata.His nephew Lalmohan Nandi was also an accomplished tabla player of Bishnupur style.
The teracotta temples of Bishnupur with their remarkable relief work depict the cultural and musical heritage of this ancient town in splendid architectural motifs while the Acharya Jogeshchandra Purakriti Bhavan, the heritage museum at Bishnupur, preserves documents and manuscripts of the literary and musical heritage.The museum requires a thorough renovation and modern scientific methods of cataloguing and preserving . It is unfortunate that much of the glorious tradition of India’s once-upon Second Delhi has never received its deserved attention either from the State or the Centre. Bishnupur has earned its status of heritage town , yet much restoration work remains to be done to attract global attention so that the world grows even more familiar with the rich cultural heritage of a town of Bengal that had once thrown a challenge before the Mughal monarchy to flourish by virtue of its solidarity of cultural assimilation.