Passing by Pandit Mani Prasad of Kirana Gharana is upbeat about the legacy of classical music being carried by Gen Next. Prabalika M. Borah

“When the boy sang ‘Ae mere watan ke logon’ I stopped him right away. I told him this song was sung by Lata Mangeskar in a context which is irrelevant now, so instead why don’t you sing ‘Ae mere watan ki logon, zara ghar mein bhar lo pani, yahan bijli paani nahin hai, yaad aati hai nani,” laughs Pandit Mani Prasad. If that doesn’t sound like a classical Hindustani artiste’s response, it’s because this eminent exponent of Kirana Gharana retains his sense of humour and optimism about music and society in general.

In town to perform at aconcert to mark the 71st birthday of his student Nirmala, Pandit Mani Prasad spoke to Friday Review. Exuding optimism about the future of classical music, he says, “There are more followers and lovers of my music than I can expect. Sashtriya sangeet isn’t put to rest; it cannot be put to rest. The younger generation will uphold it and will take care to carry the tradition forward.”

Though best known for his purity in rendering khayal style of music, Pandit Mani Prasad has invented new ragas and given new dimensions to several existing ones and composed several bandishes under his collection Dhyan Rang Piya. He is equally popular for his bhajans and abhangs.

“Our family has been following the Kirana Gharana not from hundreds, but thousands of years. My father was the renowned vocalist Pandit Sukhdev Prasad who had received his training from Ustad Abdul Karim Khan and Ustad Abdul Wahid Khan, the founders of the Kirana Gharana. My father hailed from Bikaner in Rajasthan. Pandit Dinanath Mangeshkar, father of Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle, was my father’s student,” he reveals. Mani Prasad gained his knowledge in music by accompanying his father on all his tours and performances from an early age and was trained by his father, grandfather Pandit Shakti Lal and later by his uncles Pandit Shankar Lal and Pandit Gopal Prasad.

When asked about his views on singing for Hindi films, Mani Prasad asserts that there is nothing wrong if one chooses to sing in movies. “But the foundation should be in sashtriya sangeet to let the music appeal to all listeners. I somehow find it amusing when the bol of a song can be ‘gandi baat’,” he giggles, once again revelling in his youthful approach. He has also composed a bhajan, Sunio Ji Araj Mhari in Raga Vihanginee, sung by Lata Mangeshkar, in the movie Lekin. He also composed Raga Dhyan Kalyan, Raga Dhyani Todi, Raga Shivkauns, Raga Ahiri Todi and Raga Bhoopeshwari. No wonder he has been honoured by prestigious music circles and says, “Music is developing and growing in leaps and bounds.”

Abreast with the latest songs and happenings around the world, Mani Prasad laces his conversations with amusing anecdotes and can keep listeners enthralled for hours. “I get students with unusual requests. One student came to me with her parents who said, ‘All we need is the base, because she wants to sing in movies.’ I was puzzled because I live in an apartment in Delhi. So, I told them I don’t have a house with a basement. You will find many other gurus with a house and a basement who will teach her the base,” he quips. Having learnt music at an early age, does he consider age as a yardstick to learn music? “Never. Ibadat can be at any age. It is better to learn by choice than by force. If learning comes from the love of an art, that learning will be like a diamond — valuable. Music is a bhakti not a business,” he assures.

In a nutshell

Some of the ragas composed by Panditji are raga Dhyan Kalyan, Raga Dhyani Todi, Raga Vihanginee, Raga Shivkauns, Raga Ahiri Todi and Raga Bhoopeshwari.

He is also credited to have written and composed various Bandishes for many ragas which are his contributions not only to Indian Classical Music but also to Indian Literature.

He was the guru at the Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Academy of Music in Mumbai where he trained the up and coming singers.

He also trained the participants at musical talent hunts like Star Voice of India.

Currently he teaches at the Gangubai Hangal Gurukul in Hubli, at the invitation of Government of Karnataka.