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‘My family has preserved the Bettiah legacy’

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Pt. Indra Kishore Mishra
Pt. Indra Kishore Mishra

My childhood was marked by great hardship due to poverty. Yet, my father, a taskmaster, ensured that my sadhana was uninterrupted.

His musician ancestors adorned the court of Emperor Shah Jahan. His family has safeguarded the pristine glory of the Bettiah Gharana’s famed dhrupad tradition for generations against all odds. Meet Pt. Indra Kishore Mishra who shared his perceptions during his first visit to Chennai to collaborate on a teaching project.

About your parampara…

My forefathers were court musicians patronised by the Maharajahs of Bettiah. Among them, two brothers, one a Dhrupad singer and the other a Binkar, belonging to Seniya Gharana as per family lore, were musicians in Shah Jahan’s durbar. They were sent by Shah Jahan to Gaj Singh, Raja of Bettiah, thus establishing the beginnings of the gharana. My great grandfather Mahavir Mullick and grandfather Shyama Prasad Mullick were eminent artists and composers as well. My father and I have continued the tradition. In a bhojpatra I possess, there are many padas written by the Bettiah Rajahs for which only the lyric is given along with the name of the raga and taal. My family has tuned these compositions.

Your musical journey…

My grandfather, the legendary musician Shyama Prasad Mullick, initiated me into music but my guru was my father, Mahant Mullick (Mishra). With the dissolution of the Raj, many paramparas disappeared. But my family preserved the Bettiah legacy. My childhood was marked by great hardship due to poverty – there were days when we struggled for a single meal. Yet, my father, a taskmaster, ensured that my sadhana was uninterrupted. Such discipline has helped me stay true to my art.

The Dhrupad banis and distinguishing features of your bani…

There are four banis in Dhrupad. In my parampara, we sing Gaudhar Bani and Khandar Bani. Gaudhar Bani padas are based mostly on bhakti rasa. This bani is characterised by long complicated meends; every swara is taken with sruti. Only occasionally, for contrast, do we hit swaras directly. Otherwise, the compositions are seedha (straight), without breaks. We use the breath to build pressure — the long meends create hyper pressure. The combination of words and meend is so majestic that it requires immense practice. There is no room for ornamentation such as khatka or murkhi. Khandar Bani is characterised by gamak ka prayog. Veera rasa predominates. It too has complicated meends, typically accompanied by gamak, quite different from the meend of Gaudhar Bani.

The hallmark of Dhrupad in the Bettiah Gharana…

The composition is exquisitely set and pre-eminent. Consequently, alaapchari is short. We avoid layakari since it would distort the melodic effect. The priority is to convey the emotion and meaning of the composition. Hence, we scrupulously avoid pada cheda (splitting of words).

Your first performance and some memorable concerts…

I first performed at the Bettiah Dhrupad Samaraoh in 1988. The audience included eminent musicians such as Ustad Fariduddin Dagar and Pt. Ram Chatur Mullick. In 1991, Ustad Faridduddin Dagar Saheb invited me to perform in Bhopal. He requested the senior pakhawaj artist, Pt.Arjun Sejwal to accompany me. Initially Pt. Sejwal was sceptical as I was very young. But, after the concert, both Dagar Saheb and Sejwal ji were all praise for me.

Those who encouraged you…

By God’s grace and my father’s tapasya, I continue the work of my ancestors. For this, I am grateful to my well-wisher Gajendara Narain Simha who got me my first concert, and the Dagar family, especially Fariduddin Dagar Saheb, who has contributed greatly to my career.

Your disciples…

I teach my children as it is their inheritance. I have groomed one disciple in Bettiah who sings well, and another from Spain. Of two disciples in Chennai, one’s gayaki is similar to mine. I believe their dedication will take this gharana forward.

Your impression of Chennai…

I have been here 10 days. Everybody in Chennai appears to have a little bit of music in him or her! I find the preoccupation with Carnatic music, srutis and anuswaras, very familiar as this trait characterises the Bettiah style. I would be happy to work with vidwans in South India, and teach students here about the Bettiah bani and to learn more about the Carnatic style.

LALITHAA KRISHNAN


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