Veteran sarod player Buddhadev Dasgupta gave a taste of his talent to Delhi’s music lovers recently
Buddhadev Dasgupta is a veteran sarod player who is valiantly carrying on the style of the famed Shahjahanpur gharana with great dedication although times and popular tastes have changed to a great extent, threatening the extinction of this primarily instrumental style reminiscent of the old masters.
The Shahjahanpur gharana descends from the Afghan rabab players of the Bangash clan who introduced changes in the structure of the Afghani rabab that was quite different from the rabab in the courts of the Mughal emperors. Impressed by the music played by Tansen’s descendants on the veena, they attempted to bring their rabab in tune with the ancient Indian instrument so as to be able to produce meends and gamaks that are so essential to our music. Ghulam Ali Khan’s name figures prominently in this story as he shaped the rabab into what gradually became the modern-day sarod.
Ghulam Ali Khan had three sons — Husain Ali Khan, Murad Ali Khan and Nanhe Khan. Of them, Murad Ali was considered to be the most talented. He is said to have imparted the basic training in sarod playing to his brother Nanhe Khan’s son Hafiz Ali Khan who later emerged as one of the greatest sarod players of the 20th Century and whose son Amjad Ali Khan is presently the widely acknowledged maestro of the instrument.
As Murad Ali Khan was childless, he adopted a boy from Shahjahanpur and took him to Darbhanga where he joined the court of the local ruler. This boy, Abdullah Khan, became a legendary sarod player of his time. His son Amir Khan too was an excellent musician and was invited by a wealthy landlord of Rajashahi (now in Bangladesh) Lalit Mohan Moitra to join his court. His grandson Radhika Mohan Maitra learnt from Amir Khan and emerged as a unique sarod player in the last century. After the partition of the country in 1947, he came to Calcutta (now Kolkata) as a virtual refugee.
Although regarded as one of the top sarod players of the country, he could not reconcile his mindset of a benevolent patron with the demands of a cruel music market. Commercially not all that successful, he remained a darling of the cognoscenti who admired his musicianship as well as superb command of his instrument. Buddhadev Dasgupta is the prime disciple of the one and only Radhika Mohan Moitra.
A recipient of Padma Bhushan, Buddhadev Dasgupta has always fought his circumstances otherwise he could not have reached the top as a musician despite having spent a lifetime as a power engineer, a position that he retired from in 1988.
Last Saturday, at a concert organised by the India Habitat Centre in New Delhi as part of its HCL Concert Series, he again displayed his indefatigable spirit by defying the infirmity brought about by crippling arthritis as well as advancing age.
When he began to play a leisurely alap in Jaijaiwanti, soon it became obvious that age or ailments couldn’t keep a determined artiste like him down. Such well-conceived and unhurried alaps are becoming a rarity in this age of fast life where both the listener as well as the performer is in a tearing hurry. The Shahjahanpur gharana still retains many characteristics of the rababiya style where plectrum is used with a heavy hand producing sound with a somewhat staccato effect.
Keeping with the flavour of the rainy season, he played the Des-ang Jaijaiwanti with delectable leaps from the mandra pancham to rishabh. His jod and jhala sections with a glimpse of the typical ladant of his gharana were a joy to listen to. After the alap-jod-jhala, he played an enchanting gat where Utpal Ghoshal too joined him on tabla and regaled the audience.
After presenting a detailed exposition of Jaijaiwanti for more than an hour, the maestro went to play two beautiful gats in Des that were replete with bol-taans using the phrases of percussion instruments as well as ekhara taans. In this era when instrumentalists are vying with one another to incorporate khayal vocalisms into their styles, it was truly heartening to listen to Dasgupta who transported the audience to a bygone age. His disciple Malhar Rakshit provided competent yet restrained accompaniment.