Wednesday, August 24, 2011

More on Kumar Shyamanand Singh

When one talks in superlatives about someone, it is sometimes interpreted to imply that others are being seen in a somewhat inferior light. My attempt here to bring out the qualities of a not so well-known musician from Bihar should not be seen in this light. It is purely a reflection of the fact that not much has been written about him before and that after some 15 years following his death, he deserves a bit of exaggerated praise here to compensate for the complete silence we have seen from his admirers and disciples in the past.

The sentiments expressed here also bring out a degree of frustration at the above board and unqualified praise that some of the more famous musicians have been showered in the past. I am not qualified enough to be able to criticize any one of them, though that does not mean that some knowledgeable ones have not done so in the past. I am also not suggesting that these famous and much acclaimed artists were not very accomplished and had reached these heights without considerable effort and practice. There is no doubt that they deserved much of the lot of applause that came their way. But is that all that Hindustani classical music has to offer? Is it that we have to listen only to maestros like Pandit Bhimsen Joshi and Pandit Jasraj when it comes to this genre? One cannot but believe that the Indian music industry seems to think so. All it takes is a visit a music CD shop in India. It is difficult to find anything other than handful of artistes whose music has been well advertised and sometimes oversold. It should be a matter of concern that not much beyond these handful of famous musicians are available to an admirer who wishes to listen to Hindustani classical music. The maestros of the past who sang for their pleasure and in the process produced such ecstasy among listeners are not to be found on the shelves.

Kumar Shyamanand Singh was no ordinary amateur singer. He was not a professional performer either. He was an artist gifted by god who was born only to sing – not for others in a mehfil or a baithak but for himself. It was to him a purpose enough – to please one's heart and soul. And this selfish approach to him was the very kernel of Hindustani classical music. When you sing to please yourself or to bring masti and anand to yourself is when your music attains that rare quality that is of a different plain where the listener makes that connection and is able to join the singer and partake of the ecstasy that he is himself experiencing. It is not the note or the grammar of music that matters, though that is not less important, to achieve that quality.

Kumar Shyamanand Singh used to tell his disciples “apne gaane me masti lao tabhi tum masti de sakoge”. He would often stop singing saying that “ab tabiyat nahi lagti bhai, maaf karo. Kisi aur samay mauka lagega tab suna denge.” Given that singing was not a means of earning his living, he was from a rich aristocratic family, perhaps, gave him that freedom. But he would narrate stories about professional singers of the past who would do the same.

One such story is that Ustad Muzaffar Khan saheb. The Ustad used to live with Kumar Saheb at his palace in Champanagar and was so impressed by Kumar Saheb’s dedication to music that he decided to give him music lessons. Ustad Muzzaffar Khan was known for the mastery of “Bahar” and had perfected many compositions in this raga. It was also Kumar Saheb’s favourite raga, among others, and many of his renditions in this raga had been obtained from Ustad Muzaffar Khan saheb.

According to Kumar Saheb, during one of his first visits, Ustad Muzaffar Khan had arrived in Champanagar and was living there for about 15 days when he approached Kumar Saheb with a bewildered look. When questioned by Kumar Saheb, he responded by saying that he had spent a long time in the place and was being provided all facilities and tremendous hospitality. But he was perplexed that the host had not yet asked him to perform for which he has been invited. In response, Kumar Saheb is narrated to have said, “Aap koi record to hai nahi jo jab chchaha baza diya. Aap aaram se rahen aur jab aapko ichcha ho, aap gaane ka karyakram rakhe.” Ustad who had been itching to sing but had thought that request should first come from the host, decided to sing immediately. The performance that day, according to Kumar Saheb, was exemplary. It was perhaps a case of a gawaiyya getting to show his skills convinced that he was performing in front of an extraordinary host. The long days of wait had also built a rare yearning to perform that brought the best out in him.

Many years later, after Ustad Muzaffar Khan Saheb had begun to impart music lessons to Kumar Saheb and attained the esteemed status of his guru (not a gandabandh guru though), there was another incident that brought out the importance of tabiyat in performance of classical music. At an impromptu baithak at Champanagar, Ustad Muzaffar Khan sat down to begin his performance. But after a few minutes of working on notes (alap), announced that he would not sing further as he was unable to get into the right mood (tabiyat). Ustad Altaf Hussain Khan of Khurja, who also then lived with Kumar Saheb and was imparting music lessons to him, exhorted him, “Are Miyan gaane baithe ho to, gao. Ye kya ki beech baithak me hi uth gaye” But the Ustad insisted saying, “main iska (sangeet ka) gulam hun ye mera gulam nahin hai”, and refused to sing till he got into the right mood.

With these stories, Kumar sahib would bring out the importance of right mood in performance of a singer. He would lament that advent of money and crass commercialization of the classical music has meant that artists do not have a choice on the time of their singing and on occasions even very accomplished artists who have been forced by such pressures to sing even though they were not in the right mood have sometimes come up with a very ordinary performance. I had witnessed a similarly listless performance by, India’s foremost female singer of the time, Kishori Amonkar, in the early 1990s in New Delhi. It was a below par and forgettable performance from such an accomplished singer that it seemed to prove Kumar Saheb’s point on tabiyat. He would often say, jo sangeetkar ye bol ke baitha hai ki main aaj gaaunga kabhi gaa nahi paya” and on other occasions, an inspired singer can take his music to unsurpassable heights irrespective of the conditions.

To illustrate this point, he narrated a story about his own experience in an interview to AIR in 1987. Since the 1960s, he had become a regular visitor to the several temples in Vrindavan where he would sing bhajans at various Krishna temples and carried his harmonium, tanpura and tabla accompaniment for the purpose. On one such occasion, Kumar Saheb was singing at the temple of Madan Mohan in Vrindavan but the atmosphere was far from friendly. The wind was blowing very hard and dust was all over in the air. Because of this the harmonium notes were not coming out well and even opening one’s mouth was difficult. After singing some bhajans, Kumar Saheb began his favourite bhajan “Kamaldal Nainan ki Unmani”. As he completed the first line and started the next one with the bol “bisrat nahin madan mohan ki mand mand muskan”, the Gosain of the temple requested Kumar Saheb to just stick to this bol alone. Kumar Saheb says in the AIR interview that he continued to repeat only this line for about 45 minutes. He narrates that every time the words would come out in a unique way and he just went on singing just that bol for a long time. He added that he was unable to stop his tears while singing and the same was the case with all others present. He exclaimed, “aap isko kaise explain kar sakte hain. Jahan koi (gaane ka) mahaul nahin wahan mahaul ban gaya”.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Rajkumar Shyamanand Singh

Rajkumar Shyamanand Sinha (also known as Kumar Shyamanand Singh) (born July 27, 1916) was the eldest son of Raja Bahadur Kirtyanand Sinha of the Banaili estate. As the eldest child of a Raja, Shyamanad Sinha had many pursuits that were the hallmark of the aristocracy then but one that made him extraordinary was his talent and ability in hindustani classical music.

Learning: Though Rajkumar Shyamanand Sinha learned music from many eminent names, his acknowledged Guru was the legendary Ustad Vishmadev Chattopadyay of Kolkata, who in turn had learnt music from Ustad Badal Khan of Delhi (Sonipat) gharana and Ustad Faiyaz Khan of Agra Gharana.

The musical journey of Shyamanand Sinha began early in his life when he started playing harmonium and clarionet with an elder relation in his family. The turnaround happened when in 1935, he happened to come across a 78 RPM record of Ustad Vishmadev Chattopadyay. The record had "Rut Basant" in Raga Rageshri Bahar and "Piya Pardes" in Patdeep, famous renditions by the Ustad. This moved him so much that he was now determined to learn music from him. When Ustad Vishmadev Chattopadyay visited his home for a performance in Champanagar, he created an even deeper impression on him. Kumar Girijanand Sinha in his book, "Banaili - Roots to Raj", notes that he was so moved by his performance that he began weeping like a baby. He earnestly requested and was able to convince the Ustad of his sincerity, and so the Ustad agreed to become his Guru. Shyamanand Sinha learnt from Ustad Vishmadev Chattopadyay from 1936 to 1939.

After Vishmadev Chattopadyay left for Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry, Rajkumar Shyamanand Sinha continued his music lessons, at the advice of his guru, from Ustad Bachu Khan Sahib of Agra (from 1940-1962-63). Ustad Bachu Khan was the son of Ustad Badal Khan. Other eminent singers from whom he obtained music lessons were Ustad Muzzaffar Khan, Ustad Mubarak Ali Khan (Talwandiwale), Pandit Bholanath Bhatt (Allahabadh), Kedarjee (of Pratpagarh in UP), Ustad Altaf Hussain Khan of Khurja, Mahaveer Mullick and Jaduveer Mullick of Darbhanga Gharana.

As a Classical Vocalist: Though not a professional vocalist, Shyamanand Sinha's singing was a literal feast for the listeners. He was not only blessed with a gifted voice but had tremendous natural ability to bring "pran" (life) in ragas and make them come alive in a most pleasing manner. He belonged to the old school of Hindustani classical music and believed in maintaining purity and spontaneity in performance. His rendition of bandishes, and he possessed a veritable treasure trove obtained from his gurus, was an absolute delight and mesmerised the listeners transferring the singer's sense of ecstasy to the audience in a way that very few have managed to this day.

His choice of bandishes for performances were carefully selected for their sahitya (literary) value. He laid particular emphasis on the mood of words and with extraordinary felicity married them to the mood of the ragas. For this reason, he stood apart from the current day performers as well as many of his contemporaries. He was more enamoured to badhat than to Taan, which in his view was to be used while keeping the expanse of raga intact. Taan to him was meant to beautify the rendition and was to be used only where apt, and in the raganga, not just for its sake. Lamenting about modern classical music, in an interview with AIR in 1987, he stated "Ab to Bilaskhani me bhi wahi taan hote hain aur miyan ki malhar me bhi wahi, ang mere kehne ka matlab hai." (Nowadays, same taans are sung in Bilaskhani as well as Malhar and the raganga is ignored). At another place, he mentions "jo bhi gao sur me gao". As a further indication of his humility, when it came to singing, he states "one cannot sing if he said he can sing", adding that only the blessings of the god and guru can enable one to sing.

Shyamanand Sinha believed that singing was the highest form of devotion and this reflected in his performances. President Zakir Hussain, once when he was Governor of Bihar, was so moved by his performance that he embraced him stating that the Rajkumar's singing was like praying to the almighty. In fact, Padmashri Gajendra Narayan Singh, former Chairperson of the Bihar Sangeet Natak Academy in his book “Surile Logo ki Sangat” writes that during his long life he has seen a number of great musicians who talk about music as devotion (ibadat) but only Shyamanand Sinha has been able to follow this philosophy in real life.

The Agra influence on his singing was most unmistakable. But, as indicated above, he learnt from many others and developed his own unique style of singing.

Gajendra Narayan Singh, in his book "Swar Gandh" has written that "Kumar Shyamanand Singh of Banaili estate had such expertise in singing that many great singers including Kesarbai were convinced about his prowess in singing. In case you cannot believe this please ask Pandit Jasraj. After listening to Bandishes from Kumar Saheb, Jasraj was moved to tears and lamented if alas he could have such ability himself"!

As Guru: Along with his singing prowess, his legendary voice made a tremendous mark on one and all who came in touch with him. This included some great contemporary singers like Kesarbai Kerkar. Kesarbai in the 1940s was visiting Champanagar, residence of the Shyamanand Sinha, for a performance and was so enthused by Rajkumar's rendition of "Dwarikanath Sharan Me Teri" that she insisted that she would not leave till the “Maharaja Kumar” had taught her at least one thumri and one bhajan. She even expressed her readiness to make him her gandabandh Guru. After some hesitation, as Kesarbai then was an acknowledged maestro and he still young and yet in his early days, he agreed. Kesarbai sang this composition on a few occasions later, most notably in Kolkata but admitted that she had been able to learn only the sthayi and had done up the antara herself while acknowledging her "Guru" for the song.

His regular disciples included Sitaram Jha, Kumar Jayanand Sinha, Saktinath Jha, Shankaranand Singh, Suryananranyan Jha, Girijanand Sinha, Udyanand Singh, Jayanta Chattopadhyay, Vandana Jha, Amar Nath Jha, Kaushal Kishore Dubey, Shyam Chaitanya Jha, Vijay Kumar Jha and Ram Sharan Sinha.

Unfortunately, the excellence of his singing style and tradition did not survive his death though his influence stayed with some of his disciples who are striving hard to keep the flame burning in Purnia.

Public Acclaim: Not a professional musician, he sang for his own pleasure and which reflected in his singing. He was prone to stop singing in the middle of a performance, whenever he felt mood was deserting him, saying "ab tabyat nahi lagti bhai". This made it difficult to plan a concert around him. However, many of his admirers still managed to get him out for public performances in many places. However, in general, he shunned music as a profession and never sought public recognition. As mentioned earlier, he rarely gave public performances, most of his performances being during impromptu baithaks at his residence in Chamapanagar in the presence of his admirers and disciples. Go and ask some of these who were fortunate to listen and they would narrate the experience in a daze as if re-visiting the emotion he generated when he sang.

Despite his strong reluctance for public acknowledgement, his followers conferred him with the title of Sangeet Bhaskar and Sangeet Sudhakar for his mastery in classical singing.

As a patron of Classical Music: Shyamanand Sinha was also a patron of classical music. Ustad Vilayat Hussain Khan in his book "Sangeetangyon ke Sansmaran" has written: "There is no better connoisseur and cognoscente of music in Bihar than Kumar Shyamanand Singh". He was one of the chief patrons of the All India Music Conference and presented the convocation address at the 11th All India Music Conference of the The Prayag Sangit Samiti at Allahabadh on 19 December 1948. He used his great wealth to open the purse strings of patronage to many maestros of Hindustani Classical Music of his time at his residence in Champanagar, turning it into a place of learning and development of classical music. Ustad Salamat Ali Khan, Ustad Altaf Hussain Khan of Khurja and Ustad Bachu Khan Sahib and many others were provided residence and patronage in Champanagar. He also invited many great maestros for performances, among them were "Aftab -e- Maushiqi" Ustad Faiyaz Khan, Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Ustad Mubarak Ali Khan, Ustad Nisaar Hussain Khan, Pandit D.V. Paluskar, Surshri Kesarbai Kerkar, Sawai Gandharva, Ustad Vilayat Hussain Khan, Ustad Hafiz Ali Khan, Ustad Altaf Hussain Khan of Khurja, Pandit Jasraj, Dilip Chand Vedi, Ustad Mushtaq Hussain Khan, Pandit Narayanrao Vyas, Pandit Basavaraj Rajguru, and Ustad Salamat Ali Khan and Nazakat Ali Khan, Malang Khan (Pakhawaj), Allauddin Khan (Sarod), Mushtaq Ali (Sitar), Pandit Bholanath Bhatt, Pandit Chinmay Lahiri, Mahaveer Mullick, Jaduveer Mullick and Ramchatur Mallick. Ustad Yunus Hussian Khan refers to "Raja Shyamanand Singh of Chamapanagar" as having invited him to sing on the occasion of his son's marriage in early seventies.

It is narrated that, in 1944, at the time of the Dasehra festival, he invited Ustad Salamat Ali Khan and Nazakat Ali Khan to perform at his palace. Kumar Saheb was so enthused by the expert rendition of Raag Malkaus that he would not allow them to leave Champanagar. The boys and their father stayed as guests of the Rajkumar for nearly two months. He also was responsible for sending them to All India Music Conference as his court musicians where they received wider recognition for the first time. Similarly, Pandit Channulal Mishra’s first performance as a young artiste was at Champanagar for Kumar Saheb. After listening to him, Kumar Saheb wanted to keep the boy at Champanagar as his court musician. However, Mishra’s parents wished otherwise.

Recordings: Unfortunately, the few professional recordings done by All India Radio in the latter part of his life are untraceable. Only a few amateur recordings of his singing are available with his family members and friends. These are rare treasures and absolute delight for the senses. They have somehow survived his idiosyncratic hatred for recording due to the efforts of some of his ardent admirers.

A few samples below:

A Khayal in Shuddh Sarang - Barsan Garjan (Kumar Saheb while recording tthis bandish said, "Shudh Sarang me isse achcha Khayal mere kano me nahi para hai". This clip is not the AIR rendition but another one for circa 1964).

Bandish ki Thumri in Khamaj - Awat Shyam (it is a full clip recorded circa 1975 and was one of his favourites that he taught to almost all his disciples)

Get this widget |Track details |eSnips Social DNA

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Bihar - Now the new "Miracle economy"

Finally something for Biharis to be proud of. Bihar grew at 11% between 2004-09. Check the news item at