Dhrupad to Thumri, Benaras Gharana Shows the Many Moods of Music

Dhrupad to Thumri, Benaras Gharana Shows the  Many  Moods of Music

The day is divided into eight prahars or parts in Hindustani music, and ragas are at the zenith of their harmony, melody and majestic splendour when rendered at a prescribed time. Great Thumri singers in Benaras and Gaya singing their unique lilting style of Khyal on the waters of the river Ganges at sunrise and sunset immortalised the Banaras Gharana.

Classically trained musicians Pandits Sajan and Rajan Misra, from an illustrious family which is associated with the music of Varanasi for seven generations, believe that the raag is more than its music. It has an essence found in the mood of the notes which vary according to the time of the day.

In their world tour titled Bhairav se Bhairavi Tak including 54 concerts in 13 countries last year, which covered the entire pantheon of the Indian raga system, from the first to the last raga, they explored the entire range of emotions related to the ragas according to the time cycle.

The brothers, who have performed for 52 years together, enjoyed performing in places like Budapest and some remote places in Europe where people don’t know “our language, leave alone our music.” Yet they were moved, some to tears because Indian music brings relaxation and peace, say the brothers.

They will perform at SPIC-MACAY’s all night Yamini festival at IIM Bangalore, tonight, which seeks to preserve the tradition of exploring night and early morning ragas. The brothers say that Indian music has always had a culture of all night concerts in Calcutta, Delhi as well as in the Sawai Gandharva festival in Pune with the concerts going on from evening to day break.

“Within this time frame there were many raagas, thousands of them. The time scale of ragas has been very scientifically designed. We have twelve notes, 7 shuddha notes and 5 komal notes. If you sing Bhairav there is a komal Re (Rishabh). The characteristic of the Re in Bhairav is different from the Re used in Todi which is a little later time Raag. Indians have researched the human ear and mind, and at what shruthi should be heard at what time. So while a komal shruthi pleases you in the morning, a shuddha shruthi will please you in the noon,” say the brothers.

Rajan Misra says their music is tied to Varanasi, “the oldest living city in the world because of Kashi. The people of Varanasi have always been simple and spiritual, worshipping both Shiva and the Ganga. From time immemorial they have been practicing music for themselves, as an offering to God. Every house has a mandir and they present their music to please their deity. We have been taught by our gurus that we have to please the God within us, and only then we can please our audiences.”

The Benaras Gharana to which they belong has imbibed the best from many beautiful musical traditions including Dhrupad, Chhand geet, Prabandh geeth, Dhamar, Thumri, Chaiti and Khajri (semi-classical songs in Hindi). “There is a vast canvas of singing in Benaras Khyal. The Benaras style has imbibed everything from all these forms of singing. Where there is a seriousness of the Dhrupad, there is also the majakat (fun) of Thumri. The blending of all these elements makes it stand out from other gharanas,” say the brothers who sing the Khyal form of music.

Growing up in the winding lanes of Varanasi, the brothers who now live in Delhi, still go back to their hometown. To the ghats and the shrines they hold dear. “In Benaras the tradition was not only to listen to music but to drink it (peena). The idea that music can be drunk could be seen only in Benaras, during our childhood,” says Rajan Misra.

They remember listening to great musicians including Bade Gulam Ali Khan Saab, Ustad Ameer Khan Saab, Nazakat Ali Khan Saab, Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, all of whom they looked up to. “It was our goal that one day we should become like them. We are here now, doing our puja to music.”

The tradition hands down prescribed variations in course of training, and it is up to the individual to put their stamp on the raga. “There is the raga Malkauns - if we sing Malkauns it will be different. If Bhimsen ji sings Malkauns it will be different. If Jasraj ji sings Malkauns it will be different. So Malkauns remains the same, but the personal expression comes in the raga. From father to son, from guru to shishya a language of precise variations is given, allowing for further expression by the individual musician,” say the brothers.

Sajan and Rajan Misra belong to a tradition that goes back 400 years. They learnt from their father Pandit Hanuman Prasad Misra, uncle, Pandit Gopal Misra, and guru Pandit Bade Ramdasji known to be a pillar of the Benares gharana before they moved to Delhi in 1977. Even today the brothers stay together, and as Rajan says they “eat from the same kitchen.” The situation is different for their students today.

“As society changes, even music changes. Whether we were playing, eating or singing our gurus were with us. And there were no distractions. The instant culture of West which we are now imbibing has changed our food habits, sleep habits, clothing and people don’t have time for music. Earlier the student lived with the guru because the gurus had big houses with 10-20 rooms and students could live with him. Now gurus live in small flats. How can he accommodate the student? As the culture changes it impacts the music also,” add the brothers.

(This article first appeared in the Times of India)