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A link to the Senia tradition is broken

Pt. Debu Chaudhury   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Renowned sitarist Pt. Debabrata Chaudhury, disciple of Ustad Mushtaq Ali Khan of Senia Gharana, who passed away recently, was affectionately called Debu da by the music fraternity. A well-known musicologist, author and academician, Prof. Debu Chaudhury retired as the Dean, Faculty of Music and Fine Arts, Delhi University.

An authentic representative of the Senia Baaj, he maintained its purity, adhering to the practice of using just a 17 frets sitar in performance and teaching, resisting the convenience of more. Groomed by a guru who belonged to the lineage of Masit Sen, the originator of the Masit-Khani Baaj, Pt. Debu believed in innovating within the strict guidelines of the raga system, the hallmark of Senia Gharana. The practitioners of this gharana follow the purity of the raga with ‘Dhrupad style’ treatment, avoiding lighter adornments like ‘murki’ and ‘fanda’, and stick to the meend-like deeper embellishments.

Talking about the principles of his gharana, Debu da would recall how his guru would say, “Senias are ‘yukti-vadi’, who follow the logic of any musical elaboration related to raga. Musical compositions flow from musical principles grounded in the fundamentals of the raga system”. He emphasised the importance of logical treatment of the raga. The application of a particular note in a raga, for instance, should be maintained throughout the presentation, without diluting the purity of traditional Indian classical music, especially of the gharana.

So many instances of his unassuming nature and warmth come to mind. He was delighted when UMAK Centre for Culture, established in memory of his guru, Ustad Mushtaq Ali Khan, was launched in1990. The congregation of artistes and art lovers at the inauguration got to watch excerpts of a film based on an interview of his guru by Pt. Dilip Chandra Bedi from Doordarshan’s archival recordings.

On the occasion, Debu da had shared poignant moments from his guru’s life. “My guru suffered a lot of pain during the last stages of his cancer. He called me to Kolkata, held my hand and said, ‘The pain is not only physical, it’s also about my music which will end with me’. With tears in my eyes, I assured him that I will not let it die. Ustad passed away the next day. I pledged to establish a gurukul in his name and carry forward the musical tradition.”

Debu da fulfilled his guru’s dream despite his wife’s untimely demise to cancer, which left him heartbroken.

That evening, the audience was in tears when he concluded with the Bangla geet, ‘Ki pai na…’, which can be translated as ‘I will not talk about what I lost, but will express my gratitude for what god has bestowed upon me in the form of friends and well-wishers’.

With equal command over shastra (theory) and prayog (practice), Pt. Debu Chaudhury wrote many books on music. He also created eight new raags — Vishweshwari, Kalyani Bilawal, Ashiqui Lalit, Palas Sarang, Anuranjani, Shiva-Manjari, Swanandeshwari and Prabhati-Manjari.

A firm believer in the gharana system that has carried forward the tradition of Hindustani music through guru-sishya parampara, he dealt with the subject in one of his books, Sitar and its Music. The gharana discipline, according to him, was not just about various schools of music but about intensity of training and continuity of great traditions. One chapter deals with sitar gharanas and the specialities of Senia Gharana.

He continued teaching and writing books despite his failing vision. His last book, Raagatma, a collection of his own compositions, based on the traditional compositions of Hindustani music, was released on the occasion of his 84th birthday celebration. Explaining the title of the book, he had said then that traditional compositions are the atma or soul of the ragas. He believed that an instrumentalist should have command over these, especially a profound knowledge of ragas. To understand a raag completely, one needs to understand the raag ang, encapsulated in these compositions, he said.

During a conversation later that evening, he said, “The seed of this book was planted 20 years ago with a UGC project. It encouraged me to compile traditional compositions and compose sitar bandishes based on them. I collected traditional vocal compositions from scholars like Dr. Sumati Mutatkar, who was a ‘Chaumukhi Gavaiya’ trained in dhrupad, khayal and thumri, D.T. Joshi, Shubhra Guha, and even from Pt. Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande, who had collected compositions from famous musicians from different gharanas and documented them in his Kramik Pustak-Malika.”

He had planned to add dhrupad compositions also to the book, but could not do so due to his deteriorating eyesight. “My guru always referred to dhrupad compositions to verify the authenticity of a raag. While playing sitar, he avoided ‘murki’ and used meend instead, as in dhrupad. It’s a pity that people these days use ‘murki’ even in contemplative ragas like Darbari Kanhada,” he had rued.

“We use ‘murki’ only in the Thumri Ang Raags. My ustad composed a beautiful sitar bandish based on the popular Thumri Ang Bandish, ‘Na manungi…’ in raag Khamaj. It is important that sitar compositions should only be based on vocal composition and must not be their exact replica. Thus, these compositions have sitar ‘bols’ based on the Raag Ang, depicted in that specific vocal bandish. Raagatma is a documented guideline for coming generations of musicians who want to follow my principles even when I am not around,” the veteran sitarist had said.

The Delhi-based writer is a Hindustani music critic.

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Printable version | Jun 14, 2021 5:19:25 PM |

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