Saturday, October 3, 2009

Ustad Vishmadev Chatterjee and Kumr Shyamanand Singh, his disciple

Ustad Vishmadev Chatterjee of Bengal was a great genius who unfortunately was lost for many years to his spiritual pursuits in Pondicherry. But many of his recordings in 78 RPM are left behind. People who took taalim from him were Rajkumar Shyamanand Singh of Banaili Raj, Sachin Mukherjee, S.D Burman (Music Director), Suresh Chakraborty and Film personalities like Kanon Devi, Chhaya Devi, Lily Chakraborty. Besides, Begum Akhtar, Uma Bose, Juthika Roy, Prakash Kali Ghoshal, Protima Bandyopadhyay, Bhabani Das, Himansu Roy, Saila Devi, Chinmoy Chattopadhyay and Jayanta Chattopadhya also took talim from him. His Gurus were Ustad Badal Khan and later Ustad Faiyaz Khan. He also gave music for 12 films and S D Burman was his assistant in 4 of them.
To listen to his music, please visit

There were four main centres of classical music in Bihar – (a) Bettiah Gharana, mainly known for Dhrupad but has been in obscurity for a long time which has helped to keep them away from modernistic influences and maintain age-old purity; (b) Gaya Gharana, famous for thumris and tappas. In fact it is living exponent, Govardhan Mishra, is considered by some as the finest tappa singer in the country; (c) Darbhanga Gharana made famous by Mallicks who are mainly dhrupad exponents; and (d) Champanagar Banaili, where Kumar Shyamanand Singh (not any more with us), arguably the most able disciple of Ustad Vishmadev Chattopadhyaya, was the finest exponent.

I do not think that either Ustad Vishmadev Chatterjee or Kumar Saheb had any direct Paluskar influence. Ustadji had his initial talim from Shri Nagendranath Datta. Later, Ustad Badal Khan of Sonipat adopted him as a disciple and took him away from his father to teach him music. He learnt from Ustad Badal Khan for 14 years. Many years later, Ustadji was enticed by Ustad Faiyaz Khan on a Barwa composition and was asked to come to Baroda to become his gandbandh disciple. However, when he reached Baroda, not much happened by way of learning.

As for Kumar Shyamanand Singh, his only gandabandh guru was Ustad Vishmadev Chattopadhyaya. He also learnt for more than 20 years from Ustad Bachu Khan, son of Ustad Badal Khan. He also obtained a few cheez from the Pandit Bholanath Bhatt of Allahabad, Kedarjee from Pratapgarh, Ustad Altaf Hussain Khan of Khurja (who used to live with Kumar Saheb in Champanagar for many years), Ustad Muzaffar Khan sahib, Mubarak Ali Khan, Mahaveer and Jaduveer Mullick of Darbhanga, and some others. His singing style was very much on the lines of Agra Gharana beginning with a nomtom alap, rendition of a vilambit bandish as learnt from the guru followed by innovations, layakari, and taankari and then a drut composition.

A common factor with Paluskar (and I can only compare with D V Paluskar whose recordings are available) is the quality of bhajans. Both Ustad Vishmadev Chatterjee and Kumar Saheb’s bhajans were exquisite and perhaps incomparable with any that we have in public domain. In fact, the story goes that Kesarbai Kerkar was so enthused by Kumar Saheb’s rendition of “Bin Kaj Aaj Maharaj Laaj Gayi meri, dukh haro dwarikanath sharan me teri” that she offered to make him a gandabandh guru to learn this song from him. This song was an adaptation of an old composition by Ustad Vishmadev Chatterjee who had later passed it on to Kumar Saheb. I am yet to hear a more beautiful bhajan than this.

In case you are interested in reading about music traditions of Bihar you can read Gajendra Narayan Singh’s books : Swar Gandh and Surile Logon Ki Sangat. Both are in Hindi and deals with broader subjects but have a lot of stuff on music traditions in Bihar.

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