Veena is like an elephant: Ustad Mohi Bahauddin Dagar

His sage-like demeanour on stage gives way to an erudite conversationalist as Ustad Mohi Bahauddin Dagar opens up on his rich lineage and experiments with Rudraveena

On a concert stage, with his Brahminical looks accentuated by his tall, slim, fair frame, broad forehead, back-brushed and pony-tailed long hair and thoughtful eyes, Rudraveena maestro Mohi Bahauddin Dagar seems to belong to the era of sages. But off-stage, he is a good conversationalist, pretty well-informed, modern and suave. Within seconds, his fluent English and Hindustani left an impression of his dispassionate yet intellectual approach towards life, which, apparently, is full of paradoxes; because – far from the madding crowd in a Gurukul established by his father Ustad Zia Mohiuddin Dagar in 1981, he does live in a mystic, mythical world; despite himself.


Did you take to Rudraveena like fish to water?

No. As a small child, I wanted to be a painter. I was not interested in music or veena and. my father never forced me to music though I would play my mother’s sitar. Till the age of 16, I was exposed to pop culture of Bombay due to my public school grooming. My room was a den of full-blast rock, jazz. I never missed Indian music because it was a part of our day to day life at home but I did not understand what alaap is! And by the time I was 20, my father was no more. My uncle Ustad Fariduddin Dagar mentored me ever since.

Tell us about the environment you grew up in?

My father was like the Pacific Ocean and my uncle was a fireball. Filmmaker Mani Kaul was one of their senior disciples. He used to say, ‘If God comes, Bade Ustad would bow down and offer his seat; Chhote Ustad would bark, ‘sit down if you want to’.’ Their approach to music was different too. Though my father took Rudraveena to the concert stage, he always enjoyed ‘ghar ki mehfil.’ I remember one such sit-in where due to his rare treatment of Malkauns every listener was feeling ‘kahin suna hai lekin pehchana nahi’ and after some time he played one note and the raga emerged out all at once! He loved to do this just to share the enjoyment.

He was an amazing face and palm reader, mathematician, astrologer; whatever he said – came true. He could play different talas simultaneously, was in total command of entire merukhand and could foretell a performer’s musical predicaments. I vividly remember, once his disciple started playing Bhimpalasi. Papa said, ‘She will get stuck on Nishad,’ and she did! On another occasion I was playing Yaman for him and did not notice that he had left for the market after I played two phrases; but on his return he reviewed the entire alaap with minutest details. His logic was, ‘Poot ke lakshan paalne me dikhte hai (cradled baby shows the traits).’

What does this instrument demand?

Gradually, I realised that all the stories associated with the Rudraveena and my ancestors’ experiences, some of whom were tantra-saadhaks, are not myths. Veena being a ‘yantra’ demands sincerity, stability and cleanliness; much more strongly – be it mental or physical. Even Ustad Asad Ali Khan would say so. Veena makers also admit, ‘Bhookhe mar jayenge magar isske niyam maan kar chalna hai (we cannot compromise with its rituals even if we die of hunger). Mangala Prasadji makes sitar like a job. But when he makes veena, it is a different story. When Papaji modified the veena with the help of Nitaibabu of Kolkata, he carved dragon and peacock on it but all this was carried out on its own!

Moreover, you cannot play everything that you want to play. One can whack it out on sitar and sarod. Veena is like an elephant. Even if one moves according to its character, it refuses you to take liberties. Being able to play veena is just the beginning; then its shows what to do. You have to listen to its commands. Ye wo baja hai jo kalakar se bajwata hai. Kalakar isse nahi bajata’, Asad Ali Khan would say. Then ragas command the course of action right from their distinctly flavoured tonic. Once the veena is tuned in keeping with the chosen raga’s features, there is no going back. The microtones start issuing orders. I am neither a religious person, nor an atheist, but I have seen this happening. Veena demands total surrender. Suddenly, I realised that I am an alien to the show business.

Dagar Brothers with young Bahauddin: (From left) Zia Fariduddin, N. Zahiruddin, R. Fahimuddin, N. Aminuddin, Zia Mohiuddin, N. Faiyazuddin and H. Sayiduddin Dagar

Dagar Brothers with young Bahauddin: (From left) Zia Fariduddin, N. Zahiruddin, R. Fahimuddin, N. Aminuddin, Zia Mohiuddin, N. Faiyazuddin and H. Sayiduddin Dagar  

What about the practical side of of life?

Spiritualism apart, one has to be very practical regarding dal-atta-chawal. But this is also true that the more you resolve issues of life, it gives clarity of mind. Any kind of labour infuses confidence and a purpose of life. After twenty five years of hard work, I am now able to tell people: ‘listen to what veena is saying.’ I am luckier than my father. People listen to me through veena; and then go back to listen to my father’s immortal music.

Tell us about the characteristics of Rudraveena and the changes that you have brought to it

Structurally, Rudraveena is different from Saraswativeena which is made to adapt Vegaswara, alap nahi hoga, its wood also complements that. In Vichitraveena (gotu vadya or battabeen), strings are tighter and meant for more strokes. Rudraveena is made of rakta-chandan or sandalwood with its tumbas made out of fine-skin gourds from either East Bengal or Maharashtra’s Sholapur with thicker skin. But Zanzibar (Africa) gourd is the best.

My father hailed from great beenkars’ family and preferred to do a lot of very fine tantrakari on purpose. Also, since all the beenkars had been learned singers, we incorporated ten lakshanas of gayaki, of course except heavy gamak and hudak. But Veena is extremely capable in etching the shades of a note (swar ka bhed) and elaborate detailing in alaap. Veena tells you this is Bhairav’s tonic, this is Malkauns or Todi’s shadaj. We have taken this aspect more seriously than the technique. Those who are away from Veena, often adopt percussion-like nuances, and go for bol padhant or ladant. Earlier this was a speciality of Darbhanga and Bettiah. My father did not believe in this. Also, he did not follow successful musicians of his generation. He would say, ‘Phir Veena ki chhavi kaise banegi? Veena kis liye bani thi? (What about Venna’s image and its purpose?)’

I am hooked by his logic. I have two sincere students. I have learnt a lot while teaching. We look at it what veena can do despite the drastic changes brought in by the latest amplifiers. At present, I am not happy with what I am doing. Something is missing. I need to change everything; don’t know how. But I know there is a possibility.

You also play Carnatic ragas...

In our family we treat all geetis (Shuddha, Bhinna, Vegaswra, etc) with equal respect. After treating a raga with Sadharani, it is an interesting experiment to convert in Vegaswara. Elephants and horses have different gaits. The change of gait does not apply to all ragas. Carnatic way of treating ragas is uniquely different from that of Hindustani. Our ragas have a different DNA. Here, two halves keep striking dialogue, not so in Carnatic; and that draws me to it. Southern temples bear a different ornate look, northern temple have straight line. The colour of Marigold flower is different in every part of India because the petals are treated differently.

Music is also a visual art. Swar sunne se zyada dikhne chahiye. Nritta (pure dance) is also a part of music. Shuddha-mudra (neat body postures) and facial expressions are part of music. Doing music is equal to being totally aware of everything around us. You need to absorb its essence, only then you can express.

Piyal Bhattacharya

Piyal Bhattacharya  

Natyashastra scholar Piyal Bhattacharya on Bahauddin

My subject demands a fairly good idea of veena. After learning the basics from Pandit Asit Banerjee, I sought Bahauddinji’s guidance and went to Panvel (Mumbai). Though he does not like to be called ‘Ustad’, he is one in every respect. Away from television and laptop, he practises what he preaches. After early morning bath, he offers prayers to Goddess Saraswati and Gurus in the aesthetically decorated music room. The day-long learning sessions including interesting music-discussions, guided-listening etc. were punctuated by good helpings of delicious food – all at the Ustad’s expenses. He strongly believes, ‘vidya’ is meant for sharing with the like-minded!

Down the Dagar lane

Gopal Das Pandey, a Brahmin dhrupad singer who’s music pleased Mohammad Shah Rangeele, embraced Islam. His son Behram Khan was trained by Kalidas Paramhansa Dagur of Benaras as an erudite musician and Sanskrit scholar. In his long life of 120 years, Baba Behram Khan handed down the Dagaurvani to his sons, nephews and a host of others including his grandsons and his nephews’ sons Zakiruddin Khan and Allabande Khan who shot to fame for their duets and were referred to as Ram-Lakshman ki jodi. Pleased by their musicality, the legendary Bande Ali Khan gave away his talented daughters in marriage to the brothers.

Seeped in devotion Ustad Mohi Bahauddin Dagar in performance

Seeped in devotion Ustad Mohi Bahauddin Dagar in performance   | Photo Credit: A_M_Faruqui


Allabande Khan’s sons (Nasiruddin, Rahimuddin, Imamuddin and Husseinuddin) were great dhrupad exponents. Nasiruddin Khan became the court musician of Indore and his four sons shot to fame as the elder Dagar Brothers (Moinuddin and Aminuddin) and the junior Dagar Brothers (Zahiruddin and Faiyazuddin). Since then the name ‘Dagar’ became their identity. Padma Bhushan awardee dhrupad maestro Rahimuddin Khan was also well-versed in Sanskrit and Persian. His son Fahimuddin became a legend in his own right. Imamuddin Khan was the court musician of Udaipur. Husseinuddin, court musician at Alwar, became famous as Tansen Pandey. His illustrious son Sayeeduddin groomed his two sons Aneesuddin and Nafeesuddin, as dhrupad singers. Wasifuddin Dagar, son of Faiyazuddin, is fast emerging as the worthy torchbearer of the gharana now.

Allabande Khan’s elder brother Zakiruddin Khan was a vocalist and Rudraveena exponent par excellence. His wife Umrao was a veena player too. Their son Ziauddin excelled in both singing and playing Rudraveena. His sons Mohiuddin and Fariduddin followed suit; but Fariduddin preferred to sing only while Mohiuddin took Rudraveena as his mode of melodic expression. Despite his father’s apprehensions, he took it to the concert platforms and to suit his requirements, also incorporated changes to its structure. He handed down the legacy to his disciples that include his only son Bahauddin Dagar.

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Printable version | Aug 5, 2020 3:31:49 AM |

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