Mishra spoke to Deepak Raja on December 22, 2002
My gharana traces its origins to two brothers, Jasraj and Yuvraj Mallik, who served the court of the Mughal Emperor, Shahjehan (17th century) as vocalists and Rudra Veena players. When they accepted the patronage of Bettiah rulers, they retained “Mallik”, the title granted to them at the Mughal court. Our family name is Mishra, and family lore claims descent from Miya Tansen, who was Ramtanu Mishra before conversion to Islam. Nobody has proof, and none of it matters anyway. But, it seems that the progeny of his Hindu wife retained the Hindu name and faith, while those of his Moslem wife adopted Islam and Moslem names. A few generations ago, my family dropped “Mallik”, and reverted to “Mishra”.
Our original patrons, Anand Kishore Singh, and his son, Naval Kishore Singh of Bettiah, were prolific poets and cultivated musicians. They wrote odes to Mata Bhavani (The Mother Goddess) with specific tala-s (rhythmic cycles) and raga-s in mind, and then gave them to Jasraj and Yuvraj Mallik to cast into melody for performance at the royal assemblies. This is probably why my family neglected, and lost, the art of the Rudra Veena. After independence, the support of the ruling family vanished. By this time, the world outside had lost interest in Dhrupad, and found it even easier to forget about our orthodox stream of the genre. Despite great hardship, my father and grandfather remained committed to our tradition.
The repertoire of bandish-es (Pada-s/ compositions) in my gharana includes bandish-es by Miya Tansen, his Guru, Swami Haridas, even his Guru, Vyasa Das, and Nayak Baiju, popularly known as Baiju Bawra. My grandfather reportedly knew 25,000 bandish-es. My father knew 2500, and documented them with the verse, tala, and melodic notation. Of these, he taught me about 1500, in about hundred ragas. This is all that remains of our legacy of compositions. Almost all our bandish-es have been preserved with their four original stanzas, and melodic components. Some have even six stanzas. Our repertoire includes many ragas, like Devsakh, Lachhasakh and Jeelaf, which are rare even in Khayal music today. Our bandish-es are in various tala-s basic to the Dhrupad genre – Chautal, Dhamar, Surfakta (Sula Tala), Tivra, Bramha tala, Adi tala, and Sadra (Jhap tala).
Our family has taken great pains to ensure that each generation performs the music exactly as the earlier generations did. Willful deviation is discouraged, and all change is inadvertent. We are committed to the original philosophy of Dhrupad as devotional music. The Pada (the verse/ hymn) is of supreme significance in our gharana. We do not do anything that will damage the integrity of the poetic element, and we do everything to ensure that the communication of emotional content of the poetry is enhanced in the rendition.
We treat the bandish as the core of Dhrupad. This is why the rendition of the bandish consumes a larger part of our performance. Each bandish has a prescribed laya (tempo), and we perform it only in that tempo. We also believe that the composer of the bandish has infused the poetic-melodic-rhythmic entity with all the musical wisdom it was intended to have, and that this wisdom works best when melody and rhythm work in conjunction with the literary value of the poetry. In the Pada rendition, our gharana does not permit any distortion of poetic meaning through rhythmic improvisations. We render the Chautal bandish-es in their pristine form. Our musicianship is displayed in the successful communication of the Rasa (emotional content) of the poetry. In other tala-s, we permit only such rhythmic improvisations as respect the sanctity of the poetic-melodic form.
Our raga grammar also remains rooted in tradition, and often ignores recent changes. There is always evidence -- either textual or traditional -- to support our raga grammar. And yet, our ragas often confuse audiences because they do not know the old forms of these ragas. Actually, the recent changes in ragas are intended to differentiate similar ragas with greater sharpness. But, if a musician’s training is sound, he does not need to re-write grammar to achieve this.
On several occasions, I have discussed our music with Ustad Zia Fareeduddin Dagar. He confirms that my music represents the fundamental ideology of Dhrupad, and is the foundation also of the Dagar tradition. He has advised me firmly not to deviate from our traditional style. Considering his views, it seems possible that, at some stage in the past, Dhrupad performance was fairly uniform. Over the years, probably encouraged by different patrons, other traditions evolved newer modes of rendition, while our lineage remained conservative.
Our family follows a combination of the Gauhar Bani and Khandhar Bani styles of Dhrupad. Our style is now being especially noticed for the Khandhar Bani flavour, expressed in the crisp gamak form, which is now rare in Dhrupad vocalism. In our gharana, the aggressiveness of Khandar Bani is not a generalized approach, as it is in some gharanas. It is used very selectively in the alap, and even more selectively in the rendition of the Pada – only when the poetic and melodic elements demand the creation of menacing aural impressions. Nobody should ever forget that our music has evolved under the supervision and patronage of poets. Every facet of our music is subordinated to the literary content of Dhrupad.
As a child, I picked up a lot of our family’s music by just being there. But, having seen the price the family had to pay for its commitment, I had little interest in studying Dhrupad. My father was convinced that, one day, Dhrupad would return to the mainstream, and persuaded me to study the art. I had studied formally with him for about 15 years, when I got my first opportunity to register the presence of our gharana on the post-independence Dhrupad scene.
I started with a considerable disadvantage. Everyone thought the once famous Bettiah gharana had disappeared. We also have a geographical disadvantage. We are located 200 Kilometres away even from the state capital, Patna, whish itself is no great cultural centre. Even today, roads, railways and communications service our region poorly. My father was not a very enterprising person. So, when the Sangeet Natak Akademi organized a Dhrupad Sammelan in the early 1980s our gharana was not featured. I used every device in the art of persuasion to be heard. My concert was a great success, and that was the beginning of my career and the acceptance of the Bettiah gharana as a living tradition. Since then, Zia Fareeduddin Dagar has helped to bring my talent to the forefront, and I have made headway according to my ability. But, the struggle is not over yet.
I have frequent disagreements with the staff at Patna radio, from where I broadcast since 1994. Sometimes we disagree on raga authenticity; sometimes on the appropriate time for performing a raga, and always on how Dhrupad should be presented. I cannot transport them to the Vaishnava temples of Vrindavan or to the 18th century to prove my point. Neither can I run down rival Dhrupad gharana-s who have chosen a different path. Despite minor skirmishes with the authorities, I get three broadcasts a year. The audience is only local. Even my village receives my broadcasts poorly. Because of these disadvantages, I get very few concert engagements in the major music events, which are staged in the big cities.
I am training my son and daughters in our gharana’s music. I could not enthuse my nephews, as they found Khayal and Ghazal more inviting. A have a handful of students outside the family. I cannot be sure my gharana will survive, because I am no longer young, and my own breakthrough has yet to come. A European recording company has released two CDs of mine, which have been well received. An American company has now recorded me. The foreign market has provided a ray of hope.
© Deepak S. Raja, 2002
The finest recordings of Indrakishore Mishra have been produced by India Archive Music, New York. IndiaArcMu@aol.com