The Maihar gharana’s sarod connect

Abhisek Lahiri and Pt. Tejendra Narayan Mazumdar brought the gharana alive with their sensitive playing and choice of raags

With more than 100 performing artistes today, Maihar continues to be one of the most popular gharanas. Besides its identity as a sarod gharana (founder Ustad Allaudin Khan was a sarodiya), it is known for purity of raag, introduction of new raags, dhrupad alap, rigorous stroke work, and strong bhava content. The differences in the playing style of its past masters, such as Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, Pt. Ravi Shankar and Pt. Nikhil Bannerji, are testimony to the vast musical canvas the gharana offers.

 

It was a pleasure to hear two of the finest Maihar sarod players on the same day recently. Representing two generations, the concerts of both artistes are available online.

Abhisek Lahiri performed for the U.S.-based Cadence Entertainment; he was accompanied on the tabla by old friend Anubrata Chatterji with whom he last “performed some 7-8 years ago”. Abhisek stuck to the Maihar tradition of playing some unusual raags by choosing Jog Kauns, a recent invention of vocalist Pt. Jagannath Bua Purohit (Gunidas). This raag is a combination of Jog and Kauns. He played the raag with both the ‘nikhads’, which is the more common version. His alap was phrase-based, the jor was conventionally structured, and ended with a beautiful jhala in which he created a wonderful lau. The Rupak taal gat, composed by him, focused more on laya khel; Anubrata’s sangat was very effective.

Abhisek’s forte is cleanly executed wazandar (powerful) strokes, and smooth bolkari. The concluding, ati drut jhaala, in Teen taal with crystal clear strokes, was exhilarating. The next raag was Jaijaiwanti; Abhisek headed straight to his father’s vilambit jhaptaal composition. Showcasing the various aspects of the raag, he concluded with a teen taal drut gat. Sadly, it was a very brief concert, as it was beamed live from Kolkata, where night curfew continues.

Pt. Tejendra Narayan Mazumdar.
 

Pt. Tejendra Narayan Mazumdar, disciple of Ustad Bahadur Khan (nephew of Ustad Allaudin Khan) and Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, is a senior representative of the gharana, and one of the most knowledgeable musicians today. He proved this by choosing raag Ramdasi Malhar, which is played with only the shuddha gandhar, as per the Senia gharana. However, the raag today is played with both gandhars, and many senior musicians are surprised at this version. Probably with the passage of time, the raag was amended by many, making space for both gandhars, to keep the difference between Nat or Gaur Malhar distinct.

Pt. Mazumdar’s usage of the gandhar was masterly; landing directly and with an emphasis. He said that he had been taught this raag by both his gurus; clearly his vision of it is all-encompassing, as was apparent in his lucid exposition. It is an unmistakable, tangible experience to hear a musician who knows the raag inside out and has the ability to execute his vision; one experienced this in Ramdasi Malhar. Keeping his interpretation traditional, with emphasis on bolkari, he moved with ease into the composition. This was in Jhaptaal, originally a Teen taal gat, that he tweaked. On the tabla was the doyen of the Banaras gharana, Pt. Kumar Bose, who played with refined elegance, preferring not to display his usual trademark flamboyance. It was indeed a pleasure to hear him in this avatar.

Focus on the bhaav

Pt. Mazumdar then played Basant Mukhari, a jor raag, combining Bhairav and Bhairavi. He chose to focus on the bhaav aspect of the raag, in a leisurely vilambit Teen taal gat. The expanse of his musicality impresses, as he has sufficient material to showcase in a performance without resorting to repetition. The drut composition in Ek taal was his own, in which, unusually, he also played the concluding jhala. The finale was Bhairavi, again a delightful rendition, ending with a traditional Maihar composition. At just under two hours, this was a thoroughly satisfying concert, presented by the Houston-based Centre for Indian Classical Music of Houston (CICMH).

The Delhi-based author

writes on Hindustani music.

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