[Reader-list] of goatkeepers, kirtana singers and Bishnupuri dhrupad

budhaditya chattopadhyay budhaditya_chattopadhyay at rediffmail.com
Mon Apr 17 14:58:50 IST 2006

Hi All,

Good wishes for a Bengali new year. Here is my belated posting.

Third Posting : Budhaditya Chattopadhyay

I took a local bus from Burdwan junction heading towards Bishnupur. 
It started late with passengers overflowing the capacity of the bus. There was one goat keeper and a kirtana singer as I came to know later. Bus was running slowly over a narrow and uneven road and it was cloudy outside. I was seating behind the driver, so all the dialogues around me was mixed with the continuous sound of engine. Once I overheard something about a local music concert somebody was talking about. He was telling about a performance he heard long ago and comparing with a recent one. I looked at him; he was a man around 55 with clean shaven, lean and crude face line. I saw with what intense involvement he was describing how the singer he heard in that concert was performing kirtana, the religious love songs for Krishna. He was talking to a younger man opposite to him about the quality of singing nowadays that’s inferior to the past exponents. I felt like to barge into their conversation. And I asked the man about the kind of kirtana he is talking about, whether it is Goudiyo or something different. He looked at me intently and asked where I am coming from and where I am going to. He and the others around him looked at me. I was feeling like an alien in front of so many curious eyes. I described that I am going to Bishnupur to search for resources for the forgotten gharana which will help me out in my research project on the sound restoration of the dying Bishnupur style of classical music. He took a long repose and then asked why I am going their. I repeated my answer and realized he didn’t understand my words. I asked him if he knows anything about the gharana. He made a gesture of respect, looked outside the window and slowly said with a sigh ‘those were the days’. I asked him how the days were. He didn’t answer but looked at the younger man opposite to him and said that music survives for the listeners. There are no listeners nowadays, only consumers. Another man beside him asked about his own performance of kirtana, whether he still finds pleasure and get money. He readily answered that nowadays people want to hear only the film songs. So he performs the film songs in kirtana style. Or kirtana in film song style! – I thought.
The younger man now spoke up. He seemed to have a deep insecurity in what he is saying. But he could anyway put his point that Bishnupur style flourished under the shadow of kirtana as Bishnupur is the land of ancient kirtana music of thousand years. The Bishnupuri Dhrupad developed into a particular style of classical music, but it couldn’t survive with all its past glories, though kirtana is still alive. It’s because kirtana is closer to the people, but the gharana was for the kings, not for the masses. The kirtana singer opposed and said that kirtana is alive but in a distorted form. There is little connection to the earlier with what is performed nowadays. The younger man was looking outside; he brought back his shy and somewhat melancholic face to me. He asked me what kind of resources I am searching for. He meant whether it is new singers still performing the style or the old surviving exponents; if I am searching for the new performances then there is a Dhrupad festival in proper Bishnupur tonight.  I told him that I know it and that’s where I’m going to. I descibed that I’m searching for the sound recordings made in the heydays of the gharana. He looked at me blankly. It seemed that he doesn’t have any idea what sound recording is. I tried to explain the legacy of recording art to him. It was quite clear that he was completely unaware about recording sound for memory and posterity, and the possibilities of archiving audio.
I asked him what he does for a living. He told very politely that he looks after goats and lambs. In a stopover we had tea together and the goat keeper paid for it. He got down one stop before me along with the kirtana singer. 

I reached Bishnupur Jadubhatta Stage in the evening to attend Gopeswar Dhrupad Sangeet Sammelan. It was a tribute to Gopeswar Bandyopadhyay, the maestro from Bishnupur Gharana. 
Gopeswar Bandyopadhyay was the son of Anantalal Bandyopadhyay, court singer of the king of Bishnupur. He was a prolific performer of Bishnupuri Dhrupad and a well known recording artist in the early days of cylinder, 10 inches and 7 inches disc recording, three of them from the Gramophone’s Far East expedition of 1904-1905.

2722h    2-12861         Babu Gopeswar Banerjee           [Hindustani]
                                    Adana Kawali

2723h    2-12766         Gopeswar Benerjee                [Hindustani]
                                     Behag Kawali

2724h    2-12833         Gopeswar Banerjee                [Hindustani]

There was a small gathering, hardly 10 people as audience and a few numbers of performers, mostly from non Bishnupur origin. The organizer and close student of Acharya Gopeswar was Sri Debabrata Singha Thakur, performing a small Bishnupuri Dhrupad. I recorded the performance and saw with amazement how the style is being performed with this ageing exponent of the gharana.

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