Musicians’ musician

Biswajit Roy Chowdhury. Photo: Rajeev Bhatt   | Photo Credit: Rajeev Bhatt

You call him Pandit and he blushes. This is how well-known sitar player Debu Choudhury had described sarod maestro Biswajit Roy Chowdhury at Delhi University Music Faculty's Malhar Festival two years ago. Biswajit is a unique sarod player because he has been able to create his own individual style of sarod playing, his baaj as it were, by effecting a creative assimilation of various instrumental styles as well as diverse strands of musical traditions and outlooks. Little wonder that over the years, he has come to be greatly respected because of his deep knowledge and unswerving loyalty to the chaste musical values.

He is perhaps the only sarod player in the country who has received systematic training in both the dominant styles of playing this fretless instrument – the Maihar baaj of the legendary Allauddin Khan and his equally illustrious son Ali Akbar Khan, and the Gwalior style symbolised by the great Hafiz Ali Khan and his worthy successor Amjad Ali Khan. He also happens to be the only instrumentalist who has learnt the secrets of raga-vidya and khayal singing from a great vocalist like Mallikarjun Mansur and renowned music scholars such as Balasaheb Poochhwale and Sumati Mutatkar.

Born in Deogarh in 1956, Biswajit was initiated into sarod playing by his father Ranjit Roy Chowdhury, a student of Hafiz Ali Khan, who taught Chemistry at a post-graduate college. A graduate in Biology with a gold medal, Biswajit became a disciple of sitar maestro Indranil Bhattacharya, a shagird of Allauddin Khan. From him he learnt the “intricacies of the Maihar style” – paltas, sargams and various facets of alap and jod—in the typical dhrupad idiom.

“I tried to imbibe the poise of Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, the presentation style of Pandit Ravi Shankar and the knowledge of Ustad Allauddin Khan,” Biswajit recalls.

He recounts his chance encounter with Ali Akbar Khan and how the great musician taught him raga Lalit. “One morning I was learning from Pandit Indranil Bhattacharya at his house when suddenly Ali Akbar Khan dropped in. When he saw me with a sarod in hand, he immediately started enquiring about my background. And, while tea was being prepared for him, he began teaching me Lalit and, oblivious of everything, went on explaining it to me by singing and playing for hours. This experience was repeated only once but I can never forget it,” he says. By 1978, he had become so proficient that he was invited to perform at the famed Tansen Festival. This was also the year when Amjad Ali Khan accepted him as a gandabandh disciple and he came to Delhi to learn from him.

The Mansur phase

It was Amjad Ali Khan who introduced Biswajit to Mallikarjun Mansur, the doyen of Jaipur-Atrauli gharana. As he was moulding himself in the Amjad Ali Khan style by incorporating khayal vocalisms in his sarod playing, Biswajit felt the urge to learn from a great master like Mansur. He started learning from him but was formally accepted as a gandabandh disciple only in 1985. “Till he died in September 1992, Pandit Mallikarjun Mansur taught me the Jaipur style of khayal singing with absolute seriousness. He drilled into me that music was not merely for entertainment. It was a most serious art form and one had to devote one's entire life to it,” Biswajit recalls in an emotion-filled voice. Biswajit's Mansur phase has been quite controversial. Knowledgeable critics found it distasteful that he should shun the language of traditional sarod and replace it by vocal flourishes of the Jaipur gayaki. However, Biswajit persisted in his creative project and emerged within a few years with flying colours. While the Sangeet Natak Akademi considers him too young for its award, the French government had no such inhibitions. In 2006, he was conferred, along with theatre personality Habib Tanvir and painter Anjolie Ela Menon, France's third highest civilian award for arts and literature l' Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (Order of Arts and Letters).

(Biswajit Roy Chowdhury is performing at the Shankarlal Music Festival this coming Sunday.)

Our code of editorial values

Related Topics
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Jan 17, 2022 6:40:43 PM |

Next Story