Buddhadev Dasgupta: A musician’s musician

One of the last true giants of Indian classical music, sarod maestro Pt Buddhadev Dasgupta will live on through his ‘family’ of disciples

January 16, 2018 11:01 pm | Updated January 18, 2018 02:04 pm IST

 SCHOLARLY APPROACH: Pt Buddhadev Dasgupta (1933-2018)

SCHOLARLY APPROACH: Pt Buddhadev Dasgupta (1933-2018)

Sarod maestro Pt Buddhadev Dasgupta, who passed away yesterday in Kolkata at the age of 84, will be remembered for his scholarly approach to music without getting dourly regimented. The doyen of the Senia Shahjahanpur gharana was born in Bhagalpur in Bihar on 1st February, 1933.

Not belonging to a musical family, Dasgupta created a unique family whose members are bound by their ties to him and his Guru Pt Radhika Mohan Moitra’s music. These include over 20 practising and non practising musicians, spread all over the world. His disciples include Pt Nayan Ghosh, Pt Sugato Nag, Pt Joydeep Ghosh, Debashish Bhattacharya and his daughter Debsmita Bhattacharya, Prattyush Bannerji, Abir Hosain, Pushpen Dey, Atanu Rakshit and many more.

As veteran surbahar player Pt Santosh Bannerji, a close family friend and fellow musician from the Senia Rampur gharana, puts it, “He was a man of great taalim and wisdom, and while keeping his learning alive and intact and passing it on to the next generation, also developed his own signature style and added to the music he inherited.”

The Padma Bhushan awardee started his musical training at the age of 11 years, but throughout his life, pursued a parallel career in engineering. A meritorious mechanical engineer, he continued to learn, practice and play at concerts. As music was not the source of his bread and butter, he didn’t need to play to the gallery. In his words, “I don't really worry about whether each listener, qualified or not to hear classical music, is happy with my performance.”

Guarding the rare ragas

Therein lay the key to his ability to zealously guard the rare ragas and compositions he had inherited; not tamper in any way to make them sound more appealing, and to transmit them intact to the next generation of musicians. His “rabab ang” sarod playing, with emphasis on “bol kaari” (stroke work) combined with laya (rhythm) particularly bore the stamp of his gharana. Other than his Guru, he was deeply influenced by Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Ustad Vilayat Khan and Ustad Amir Khan.

It also allowed him to experiment and improvise. While his guru played taan-toda, he incorporated the percussion bolkari in his playing but he never allowed the temptation of creativity corrupt the purity of ragas.

He was interested, like his Guru before him, in the provenance of the rare and unusual compositions he played. Fellow Senia (Rampur) gharana sitariya, Pt Debu Chaudhari says, “Budhadev was a great scholar, very well conversant with the different gharanas of instrumental music.He had a vast knowledge of rare compositions; he collected “bandishes” (compositions) from all over and remembered who composed what. He will always be remembered as a master in this aspect. He also had a tremendous command over his instrument, and its special “baaj” (style) as played by Ustad Mohammed Amir Khan (Guru of Pt Radhika Mohan Moitra, and son of Ustad Abdullah Khan, state musician of Darbhanga). An authority on classical music, his lectures on ragas were very special. Another unique aspect was his non commercial approach to music. He played with integrity and did not compromise on his presentation. He was also a close personal friend, and his death is a huge loss.”

Dasgupta continued his musical career through his life, albeit, at times, it took a back seat to his job. In 1949, he became an All India Radio artist as well, and commendably recorded his first National Programme at the relatively young age of 28. Whenever he could, he travelled abroad too, to present his music. There are some recordings of his US tour with the great Ustad Zakir Hussain Khan in the early 1980s. After his retirement, he joined ITC SRA in Kolkata as the Guru for instrumental music, a post he held till his death.

Dasgupta was a man of few words, but had a great command over English. His dry wit and self deprecatory humour, stood out in every soiree. His devotion to his Guru was genuine despite their fall out for a few years before Radhu babu’s death; something he confessed he regretted deeply. He said he was not able to come up to his Guru’s expectations of him musically and so for a time used to avoid meeting him during his trips to Kolkata. But such was his life long devotion, that 30 years after his Guru’s death, when he unexpectedly heard the stroke of his “jawa”; he was transfixed and was unable to concentrate on anything else while the recording played.

Senior sarodists like Pt Tejendra Mazumdar, who doesn’t belong to his gharana, also acknowledges Dasgupta’s contribution to the world of music and sarod. “He has been an idol of mine since my childhood and had the generosity to commend my playing when I was considering pursuing a career other than music. His gesture stayed with me. He was the senior most sarodiya we had; it’s a huge loss.”

Pt Nayan Ghosh who was on his way to Kolkata to pay his last respects, put his demise into context when he said, “A massive storehouse of musical information, rare compositions and crystal clear understanding of the most complex ragas has left us. He was one of the last true musical giants.”

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