In conversation with Pandit Chhanulal Mishra
Swati Chandra | January 23, 2018
Pandit Chhannulal Mishra is a noted exponent of Banaras and Kairana gharanas. Born in Hariharpur of Azamgarh district, he learnt musical notes from various gurus and thus his music is an amalgamation of various forms and gharanas. His classical folk music has been mesmerising music lovers across the world for decades. Mishra has always been pitching to preserve the Banaras gharana and the fading musical heritage of the city. He has been advocating the setting up of a culture ministry-run music academy in Varanasi. He was honoured with the Padma Bhushan award in 2010. He has also received the Uttar Pradesh Sangeet Natak Akademi award, Naushad award and the Yash Bharti award of the UP government. He was one of the people who endorsed Narendra Modi’s nomination from Varanasi in 2014.
At age of 81, you are as active as ever. What inspires your music?
Music is in my blood, bones and soul.
Who were your gurus?
I have learnt from different gurus at various stages of my life. My first guru was my father Badri Prasad Mishra. I also learnt from my grandfather Shanta Prasad. Later I was under Ustad Abdul Ghani Khan of Kairana gharana from whom I learnt Khayal gayaki. Then I learnt from Thakur Jaidev Singh in Banaras.
‘Khele masaan mein holi’ has become your signature song. Tell us about it.
Dekhiye, samshan sabse shuddh sthan hota hai, kyunki waha koi bada-chhota, ameer-gareeb nahi hota. Sab barabar hote hain aur sabka ant bhi barabar hota hai. [The cremation ground is the purest of all places, as there is no discrimination of the high and the low, the rich and the poor. All are equal and all meet the same end.] This song, just like Banaras, celebrates the ultimate truth of life, that is, death. It was written by a poet called Mangal Baba of this city. I was the first to sing it. It narrates how Lord Shiva enjoys playing Holi on the cremation ghat of Banaras and how ecstatic and euphoric the entire environment of the place is.
How can Thumri and Dadra be revived?
First, these forms of music should be included in school curriculum so that future music disciples know about these classical folk forms. Also, it should be supplemented with opportunities to practise constantly. A lot has disappeared with the passing away of Girija Devi-ji. There is no compilation of various forms of Thumri, Dadra, Khayal etc. Nahi toh hum bus yahi bol paenge ki ‘Thumri hoti thi’, na ki ‘Thumri hoti hai’. [Otherwise, we would be able to talk of Thumri only in the past tense.] Secondly, music is given only a class period of 40 minutes in schools and musicians are now keen on taking up university and college jobs for employment. They are judged based on their qualification. Sangeet to saadhana aur tapasya ki cheez hai. It cannot be evaluated on the basis of degrees. The really devoted aspirants are becoming rare.
Tell us something about Banarasi Thumri.
Banaras has about 10-11 forms of Thumris. Bol Banav is one popular form. Thumri mein lachak aur loch hai. Thumri stri hai, purush nahi hai. [Thumri has an element of suppleness. It is ecstatic and melodious. It is feminine, not masculine.]
What do you think of online music sharing and YouTube?
I will only say, ‘Jaki rahi bhawana jaisi, prabhu murat dekhi tin taisi...!’ [laughs].
As told to Swati Chandra
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