Rajan Sajan Mishra: The brothers from Benaras

Foremost exponents of the Benaras Gharana Rajan Sajan Mishra at Kalakshetra in Chennai during their performance in December, 2018   | Photo Credit: K_V_Srinivasan

“Please join in our prayer. We are blessed to be sitting in this seat of arts and perform our puja,” said Rajan and Sajan Mishra before their concert at Kalakshetra’s Rukmini Arangham. Dressed in immaculate Benares silk dhotis and kurtas, they gently explored every nuance of raga Shree, their refined musical sensibilities and sublime singing creating a truly immersive experience.

“Surrender and bhakti is the essence of Benaras from where we hail. Also, we belong to a 300-year-old legacy of the Benaras gharana. Hamare sangit mein Benaras ki sehajta toh honi hi hai (our music has to have the intrinsic qualities of this ancient city),” say the brothers during an interview on the morning of the performance.

Clad in T-shirts and track suits, they show no sign of fatigue, despite flying from Jalandhar to New Delhi and then, to Chennai. In fact, over the past year, they have been travelling across the country and criss-crossing the globe with the conceptual musical creation ‘Bhairav se Bhairavi tak – a journey through ragas’. They have performed more than 55 concerts in a span of 12 months and have a few more to go.

“It’s a way of sharing with music lovers all that we have assimilated over the years, through our learning, performances and interactions with legends. The purpose is to unravel the distinctive features of different ragas, understand why they are sung at a particular time of the day and their tonal structure. Bhairav is usually the beginning piece in a concert and Bhairavi, the final. The raga-time cycle has an inherent affinity for Nature, human mind and emotions. At this point of time in our life, we want to look deeper into the tradition we have inherited from our gurus — granduncle Bade Ramdas Ji Mishra, father Pt. Hanuman Prasad Mishra and uncle Pt. Gopal Mishra.

Rajan Sajan Mishra: The brothers from Benaras

“It wasn’t easy living upto the high musical standards set by them. Apart from keeping alive a vibrant legacy, we had to create our own space in the music world. And we decided to go through the ups and downs of this journey together,” explains the duo.

The brothers first performed at a haazri (a musical ritual at temples) in 1967 at the famous Sankat Mochan temple in Benaras. Rajan was 10 and Sajan five. They soon became regular performers at temples. “That is how we developed a spiritual connect with our music, since the performances were an offering to God. We also spent a lot of time listening to stalwarts; Benaras had so many. Together they built up the stylistic features of the gharana. Gaayan, vaadan and nritya are embedded in the city’s culture.”

The narrow lanes of the Kabir Chaura in Benaras prove this. Popularly known as the ‘mohalla of kalaakars’, it once reverberated with swars and the sounds of tabla, sarangi and ghunghroo. The maestros of music and dance such as Sitara Devi, Kishan Maharaj and the Mishras lived here. Many of their descendants continue to stay here and are taking forward the legacy. The lanes and the old houses have now been beautified and heritage walks are conducted regularly.

As you enter the street, the ancestral house of Rajan-Sajan Mishra is situated on the left. It has symbols of music painted on its walls. During a visit to Benaras in November 2018, I was fortunate to meet them outside the house where the brothers and their musical journey were born. They were leaving for Banaras Hindu University to receive an honorary doctorate, conferred upon them as part of the institution’s centenary celebrations.

“The city has become crowded and the traffic, chaotic, yet there is sukoon (peace). I still hear the strains of my father’s sarangi when I step into this lane. We often walk along the ghats singing to the Ganga or sipping chai from a kulhad. The river has been our constant companion; with her we have shared our dreams and woes. There cannot be a better milieu for an artiste,” says Sajan.

Rajan Sajan.. Gurukul Viraam

Rajan Sajan.. Gurukul Viraam   | Photo Credit: video grab

Technology, points out Rajan, may have made things easier and faster. “But rasanubhava in classical music comes from its traditional values, guru-shishya parampara is one such. No technological tool can help you master music. Yeh kala sirf aamne saamne baithkar seekhi ja sakthi hai (you have to sit face-to-face to train in the art). So we started Viraam, our gurukul in Dehradun. What is also important is to learn at a pace that offers you the time to internalise every detail. Only when an artiste experiences the joy, can he or she share it with the listeners. We were never in a rush to reach the top. These days, youngsters think they are concert-ready with just a set of taans. We were taught to render a musical phrase in 50 different ways. It helps develop the imagination, so that you do not turn into a clone of your guru.”

Though Benaras gharana is known for dhrupad, dhamar, khayal, chand, prabandh, thumri, chaiti and kajri, the different elements of Hindustani music — Rajan and Sajan Mishra chose to focus on khayal and are among its foremost exponents.

“We also sing bhajans, taranas and thumris. But it is a beautiful exercise to bring alive poetry musically in khayal; it’s quite like the feeling when sailing across the serene waters of the Ganga,” say the maestros, who are always in the khayal (thought) of Kashi.

Documenting a legacy

Adwait Sangeet – Two Voices One Soul, the documentary by Makarand Brahme is a heart-warming narration of the brothers’ musical story. The film, released in 2011, opened the Indian Panorama at that year’s International Film Festival of India in Goa. It was also screened at other Indian film festival and around the world.

A theatre artiste and filmmaker, Makarand first heard Rajan and Sajan Mishra sing at the famous Sawai Gandharav Festival in Pune. “I was 21, passionate about classical music and was a volunteer at the festival. I was fascinated by the way their voices and thoughts melded. After the celebrated Ustad Nazakat Ali Khan and Salamat Ali Khan, they are the only successful vocalist duo of Hindustani music,” says he.

The film has been shot in Delhi, Dehradun and Benaras. It takes you through their concerts, interviews, riyaaz sessions, classes at their gurukul and family time.

“It was not easy for a filmmaker, who is more an ardent admirer, to edit the 45-hour footage to a 90-minute film. There are some moments in Adwait Sangeet that are a personal favourite, such as their singing of the rare bandishes of Benaras and a thumri popularised by the Kathak legend Bindadin Maharaj to which Pt. Birju Maharaj (whose daughter is married to Sajan’s son) dances. I had a great time shooting the film, since the brothers are one of the most unassuming and warm musicians I have ever met,” says Makarand.

A day with ragas

The ‘Bhairav Se Bhairavi Tak’ tour commenced in November 2017 on the banks of the Ganga. After which it was performed at four other cities before travelling to South East Asia, the U.K., North America and Europe. Curated by Saloni Gandhi, it presents the spectrum of morning to evening ragas, through morning, afternoon, evening and late night concerts.

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Printable version | Sep 16, 2021 5:59:02 PM |

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