Understanding a raga is no less than understanding a person: Tejendra Narayan Majumdar

In a meditative mood: Pandit Tejendra Narayan Mjumdar in performance.

In a meditative mood: Pandit Tejendra Narayan Mjumdar in performance.

Pandit Tejendra Narayan Majumdar, one of the best-known sarod players of his generation belonging to Senia Maihar Gharana, won the prestigious ITC SRA Award (2017) recently. Almost all the Kolkata-soirees this winter saw him cast his spell with the mellow, emotion-charged melody of his sarod, steeped in the essence of the raga and spiced up with thrillingly intelligent mathematical permutations of rhythm-play. Undoubtedly, he possesses an uncanny ability to take the listeners from all walks of life along with him; both on and off the stage.

He is also a very successful composer with several films in his kitty; very well informed musician with a large following (some of whom call him ‘the BBC of music world’); successful organiser (of the annual super-star-studded Swar Samrat Music Festival) and a dedicated Guru; albeit most of the time he is seen on the concert platforms, in novel fusion circuits and in recording studios all over the globe.

An extremely good conversationalist, he spoke about his eventful musical journey. Excerpts:

On Maihar Gharana

Many say that Maihar cannot claim a gharana status; because Baba Alauddin Khan learnt from Wazir Khan, direct descendent of Miyan Tansen, who hailed from Rampur, not Maihar. But frankly, Baba came from Bangladesh, stayed in Calcutta and learnt several instruments from several maestros. He assimilated all and groomed generations of disciples from all over India in Maihar, his abode as Maharaja of Maihar’s court musician. His sons Ali Akbar, Bahadur along with Ravi Shankar, Nikhil Banerjee, all were trained there. That is why this successful school is known as Senia Maihar Gharana.

16dfr Tejendra Narayan Majumdar1

16dfr Tejendra Narayan Majumdar1


On his style

My style is both dhrupad centric and khayal centric. It is difficult to segregate. Earlier khayal compositions were played as gat-bandish replete with khayal vocalism. Baba was a percussionist par excellence; his compositions changed the complexion by infusing instrumentalism and rhythm in tantrakari-based gats. There are compositions that begin from 12th beat, some drut bandish patterns cover more than one tala-cycle, some are domuha or sam-visham and some are chaumuha. My tabla-grooming helps me to see the micro beats with bird’s eye view and enjoy the rhythm-play. In fact, ever since I was told that my music leans heavily on emotions, I consciously include these brain-teasers.

On ragas

Ali Akbar Khansaheb would often say, ‘This vilambit vistar in alaap is out of rhythm,’ because rhythm is everywhere. While in conversation, you and I speak in different speed.

A raga too has its own laya of opening up. Hansdhwani will lose its character if played at Yaman’s pace. The 32” chest cannot be displayed as 56”. While handling a raga blended out of two/three ragas such as Kausi Kanada, Puria Kalyan, Shuddh Kalyan, we need to take permission from all ragas concerned, gradually seek entry in their integrated domain; and then get intimate with their persona’s hidden features. Among the sthayi, antara, sanchari and abhog, the last is the most demanding.

There are two ways of ripening a fruitful relationship: natural or through carbide like method. Natural process takes its time while pre-composed music produces photo finish.

Both work differently with different types of audiences/connoisseurs. Understanding a raga is no less than understanding a person. One can tell by touching the nail of an intimately known person. Similarly, a single note gives away the identity of a raga. Once this done, the raga leads the way!

16dfr Tejendra Narayan and Ustad Alla Rakha

16dfr Tejendra Narayan and Ustad Alla Rakha


On lighter genres

My vocalist wife Manasi’s Guruma Appaji (Girija Devi) had taught me that no music can be termed as ‘light’. Moreover, my father, a good composer, made me play in his recordings. That early exposure made my sarod mic-friendly and also tickled my imagination. I became aware of different instruments’ diverse plus and minus points. Later I joined AIR as casual staff in 1984. One of their productions, arranged by me, was heard by Ajoy (Chakrabarty) da. He asked me to arrange his recordings then onwards. That opened the floodgates. Then in 2001, the Sufiana ‘Naina Piya Se’ happened in Rashid Khan’s voice. Several films fell on my lap. All enriched my relationship with raga music.

On teaching

The hand-placement is of utmost importance, because in sarod 25 strings jostle within a very small space. Feather-light movement of the wrist-joint and equally light hold on jawa (plectrum), to ensure a gentle stroke only on one string, demands well-mastered precision. In this regard Ustad Amjad Ali Khan’s playing technique of da and diri are matchless. Diridiri entails modulating the volume of sound from soft to loud while playing taan-like fine-grained phrases.

Like sitar, sarod has its own language with ‘ra’ offering different effects from various spots of the instrument. Note-sustenance is its strong point.

The space between Ma and Pa can be both swift and deliberately stretched. Ali Akbar Khan saheb’s technique in this aspect is inimitable. He could reduce the volume of a longish meend and then again increase the volume. One can bring vocalism through such technical brilliance and feel.

I had been teaching for years but got associated with Bengal Foundation of Bangladesh two years back. Unlike Indians, the young talents are not quality conscious there; because there are several TV channels chasing them. Now, they are beginning to understand the importance of good grooming.

For beginners my first step is tuneful palta playing; next, palta-based different ragas, then rhythm-bound palta to understand the micro beats; and finally, composition that encapsulates the raga structure. The questions that I asked as a student, I discuss those at length in my class. Theory apart, flexibility and retention are god’s gifts. For some, music and rhythm comes easily while others slog for hours to get to that point. Technical prowess is a very important tool especially for instrumentalists. With that one can translate one’s thought process into action. Mental practice can continue ceaselessly in a musical environment.

This had helped me and this is helping my budding sarod-player son Indrayudh as well. We know that sarod has immense possibilities in the arena of sound production. There is plenty to do!

16dfr Tejendra Narayan Majumdar6

16dfr Tejendra Narayan Majumdar6


That indomitable spirit...

The sarod maestro on his benevolent gurus and his intense training

I hail from a passion driven musicians’ family but without the chip on my shoulders. In fact, my sitarist father Ranjan Majumdar did not want me to become a professional musician; because he had to struggle a lot to make ends meet as the eldest son of the family that got uprooted during Partition. Despite his excellent grooming under Ustad Dabir Khan (of Tansen’s lineage) and Maharaja Birendra Kishore Roychowdhury, my father had to find a quick solution to financial problems. As a member of the ballet unit of the legendary Uday Shankar he toured extensively, and, when in town, accompanied dancers, arranged music for recordings.

My doting grandfather Bibhuti Ranjan Majumdar, an amateur violinist, introduced me to studies and play and all genres of music, even Western music! My uncle learnt sarod under Ustad Bahadur Khan. Seeing my interest in music, they allowed me to play mandolin, but sent me to Pandit Amaresh Chowdhury for vocal training and Balaram De and Anil Palit introduced me to the world of rhythm and its varied tempi (tala and laya).

All these factors scripted my life’s story. I was exposed to all facets of music making – in the studios and on the concert stage as accompanists; even before I went to Bahadur Kaka. An extremely busy musician, he took six months to decide whether or not to accept me as his disciple. Since then sarod became my inseparable identity and very soon we became very close. Despite my preoccupation with Physics as major subject in BSc, rewards like the first position in All India Radio competition and President’s Gold Medal etc. encouraged my folks to allow me to remain focused on this path. The untimely death of my Ustad led me to Pandit Ajay Sinha Roy and finally to Ustad Ali Akbar Khan.

On taleem

Bahadur Kaka would give one composition with several palta (sequenced phrases), taan and vistar phrases. There was no recorder in those days. What I couldn’t memorise was lost for the time being; but what I retained then, remains with me till date and the so-called ‘lost’ phrases arrive with them, like shadows. He gave me taaleem for eighteen years during which he taught one raga several times for six to nine months, with sister ragas’s similarities and differences. He gave me rare things culled out of Baba Alauddin Khan’s diary. During the last lesson of Yaman, a raga that he taught me six times, he gave a special palta and said, ‘With this in your armor, you cannot go wrong in Yaman.’

Such sessions would continue for six hours at times. Apart from raagdaari, focus on playing technique was another important arena. He taught me even those techniques what he didn’t play himself! Those lessons gave my playing a different character that is closer to his legendary brother’s. He would also take me to senior musicians to teach tameez, tehzeeb and make me learn compositions from several gharanas. This intense and integrated grooming helped me immensely when I went to Ali Akbar Khansaheb who would ask me to tread on seemingly impossible tracks of playing technique with a scientist’s conviction ‘Eta hobey’ (this is possible)! That indomitable spirit guides me relentlessly.

On being a foodie

I am an unabashed foodie; my gurus knew it and pampered me; especially Ali Akbar Khan saheb who was a good cook as well and who never missed a chance to tease me! In 1997, we were in Mumbai for some work. We went to pay a visit to Pishima (Annapurna Devi). From there Khan saheb wanted to go to a vegetarian restaurant in Churchgate where he had eaten sometime in 1956-57. He did locate the place without much problem; such was his memory; but unfortunately the place was under renovation. So we went to another place of my choice which is known for its non-vegetarian spread. Albeit fond of vegetarian food, Khan saheb also relished Indian cuisine like kebabs and biryani. He kept ordering dishes to feed me till I threw my hands up.

On another occasion (tabla maestro) Swapan (Chaudhuri) da was interviewing Khan saheb for Doordarshan and asked him, ‘How do you manage to arrive at sam so easily as one sips water from his palm?’ In reply, he said, ‘When hungry, we eat but once satiated we stop eating and drink water. My arrival at sam is like the latter (sam hocche jal khaowar moton). Of course, if I eat like Tejen, this seemingly easy thing will be difficult!’ This is how he explained Time and Space!

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Printable version | Sep 30, 2022 2:47:41 pm |