Strings that stir the soul

A confessed admirer of the legendary Pandit Nikhil BanerjeePandit Kushal Das

A confessed admirer of the legendary Pandit Nikhil BanerjeePandit Kushal Das  

Monday started like any other day of the week, complete with the blues associated with it. However before the day ended, its hue had turned to a romantic red in the soft evening as I sat enraptured for nearly an hour by Raga Yaman, played seamlessly by Pandit Kushal Das, in the auditorium of Rashtriya Military School in Bangalore.

The evening mood with the crimson sun was augmented to its glory as he unravelled one of the most fundamental ragas of Hindustani music. Pandit Kushal Das, one of the noted exponents of sitar and surbahar was in Bangalore on the occasion of SPICMACAY’s VIRASAT 2012. Born to a family of musicians — his father Sailen Das and uncle Santanu Das were reputed sitarists while his grandfather Bimal Das was a renowned Esraj player — Pandit Kushal Das, being the youngest had both the privilege of having his elders as his initial gurus as well as the challenge of outshining them.

“I started to play Sitar at the age of four. Although I did not have enough knowledge on the ragas, I was playing film tunes on the sitar. My parents, though disapproving of that, did not stop me from playing the film songs. Instead, in a subtle manner they educated me about the shallowness of playing only film music without proper knowledge of classical music. One day they took me to a music concert by Shujaat Khan, son of Ustad Vilayat Khan, who was as young as I. It astonished me that a boy of my age could play intricate ragas of classical music, while I was stringing mere film songs on the sitar. I then requested my father to buy me a sitar of my own, and thus began my official training under the tutelage of my father and my Uncle.” Kushalda’s father was a disciple of Pandit Ravi Shankar and his uncle was a disciple of the late Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, and he thus was inducted to the Maihar Gharana.

He later continued his pursuit of music under Prof. Sanjoy Bandopadhyay who was a maestro from the Imdadkhani Gharana.

Having trained under two different schools of music, Kushalda had to work on developing his own unique style of rendition that could showcase the best of both traditions. A confessed admirer of the legendary Pandit Nikhil Banerjee, Pandit Kushal Das candidly admits his initial days of following the style of Pandit Nikhil Banerjee. “Around 1991, during one of the performances, I had the privilege of having Pandit Swapan Choudhry in the audience. In that performance I played in a manner similar to Pandit Nikhilda. After the performance Swapanji advised me on the importance of developing my own style of rendition and create an identity for myself in the music world. He chided me gently saying if people wanted to hear Nikhilda’s style they would buy his records and did not necessarily have to come to my concert!”

Kushalda, refrained from listening to instrumental music for a long time after this, instead chose vocal music and developed his own charismatic techniques in Hindustani classical music, eventually earning the prestige of being recognised as the rightful successor to Pandit Nikhil Banerjee. Although well trained and established as a sitar soloist, the evergreen urge to learn never

ebbed in Kushalda. Enamoured by a recording of Annapurna Devi, Kushalda went on to learn sur bahar. Sur Bahar is a bass sitar more suited for the lower tones of Hindustani music. “Sitar is a romantic instrument, and sur bahar is very devotional in its sound. I find it really tough to play sitar, on a day that I would’ve performed on sur bahar!” confesses Kushalda.

An grade “A” artist of All India Radio, Pandit Kushal Das, has earned worldwide recognition through his performances in many leading music festivals in different countries. Nevertheless, one of his passions has been to spread the fervour towards Indian Classical music amongst the younger generation. “Organisations like SPIC-MACAY are doing a great service to Indian classical music by organising such events.

While I do encourage fusion and related experiments with music, such efforts would be meaningful and worthwhile when the performers have established a strong foothold on the nuances of classical music,” opinions Kushalda. However, it is a challenging task unless music becomes a part of the curriculum for the students.

Pandit Kushal Das is a unique musician whose humble demeanour hides behind it a burning passion for

music that has encouraged him to learn different instruments as well as different schools of music. One of the lesser-known facts holding mirror to his creativity is his discovery of the Madhu-palasi raag, a combination of Madhuvanti and Bhimpalasi ragas, both of which are late afternoon ragas. Music is a sublime art that holds the power of unravelling the deepest emotions hidden in a listener’s heart. As the deft fingers of Pandit Kushal Das explored the beauty of Raga Yaman, the tunes seemed to dance in abandon on the canvas of the sky before seeping into the horizon with the setting sun.

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