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Birth of Bengal’s only classical gharana: Bishnupur Gharana

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When and how did Bishnupur Gharana flourish? This documentation done by GetBengal and Bongodorshon brings out unknown tales about this classical gharana

DEBDUTTA GUPTA & PARTHA DASGUPTA
In the myriad world of classical music, Bishnupur Gharana has since long made its presence felt and left an unforgettable mark. It has an identity of its own, that is completely unique, devoid of the influence of other classical gharanas. Bishnupur Gharer Gaan and instrumentals have over the years been a pride of Bengal. Stalwarts from Rabindranath Tagore to Maharaja Sourindra Mohan Tagore, had great regard for Bishnupur Gharana and had themselves learnt this classical style of music from the then Acharyas.

Tansen

Over the years, myth, folklores and history have amalgamated to bring forth the tale of a gharana that hardly had any documentation. However, many books and scriptures have been traced that throw light on this gharana, such as Ramprasanna Bandopadhyay’s Sangeet Bigyan Probeshika and Raja Narendralal Khan’s Sangeet Manjari. Even Debabrata Singha Thakur and others believed Bishnupur Gharana had links to Tansen’s Sheni Gharana. As per folklore, in 1800s, Malla King Raghunath Singh II invited Dhrupad maestro Ustad Bahadur Khan to his court, along with Mridanga player Pir Baksh. He even paid them a monthly salary of Rs 500, that was quite a high amount in those days. Bahadur Khan taught a classical style of music to a number of students, one of whom was Gadadhar Chakraborty. Later, his pupils were thought to have carried down his legacy. Thus, started a new gharana in Bengal, called Bishnupur Gharana.

 

Over the years, it developed its unique style under various teachers and musicians of Bengal. However historical documents have a different story to tell. Ustad Bahadur Khan was a musician in the late 1800s. Malla King Raghunath Singha died in 1712. Then how could he have met Bahadur Khan? Thus, the story of Bahadur Khan being invited by the Malla King might not be true. While, Ramesh Chandra Bandopadhyay in his book Dwitiyo Delhi Bishnupur, speaks of musician Ramkeshab Bhattacharya. He says Bhattacharya was a musician at the Coochbehar Royal Court and the King of Coochbehar, Raja Nripendranarayan, was so impressed by his songs that he gifted the musician an elephant and loads of cash. Here again, historical documents speak of a different story. Raja Nripendranarayan was born in 1862, almost 12 years after Ramkeshab’s death. Thus, they could not have met! Myth and history have over and over again intermingled to establish the birth and rise of Bishnupur gharana. Whatever be the facts, this gharana has withstood all tests of time and still survives in its full glory.

There is no other document to show that Bahadur Khan was honoured by any other King of Bishnupur. As per historical records, the great Bengal Famine of 1176 (Bengal circa) popularly known as Chiattorer Manantwar, had devastated Bishnupur. Hence it is difficult to believe that during this era, a King had kept a musician at his court with a monthly salary of Rs 500! One also does not get to know much about Gadadhar Chakraborty or his students. Even there is no proof to establish the fact that Ramkeshab Bhattacharya took music lessons from Bahadur Khan or Gadadhar Chakraborty. Tale of the origin of Bishnupur Gharana, is thus partly myth and partly embedded in the annals of history.