MASTERS OF HINDUSTANI CLASSICAL MUSIC: PANDIT RAJSHEKHAR MANSUR: MASTER OF KHAYAAL, JAIPUR ATRAULI GHARANA
Written by Shri Nandu Dhaneshwar – Eminent musician and art critic
About Jaipur Atrauli Gharana:
The late Ustad Alladiya Khan (1855 to 1946) is venerated as one of the pioneers of Hindustani music. He achieved great fame as a performing musician in the late 19th and early 20th century. He was indeed a genius among singers. Son of the dhrupad singer Ehmat Khan, he was born in Uniyara near Jaipur in the state of Rajasthan. He was an exponent of the Dagar Bani of the dhrupad form. Ustad Alladiya Khan’s forefathers were traditional dhrupadiyas. He received rigorous training under Ustad Jehangir Khan, his uncle. Alladiya Khan was employed as a court singer by the King of the princely state Amleta. The King was so enamored of his singing that he made the singer sing day and night for over a week and this put the inevitable strain on Alladiya Khan’s voice. His voice gave way and he was unable to sing for a long time. The gap gave him enough time for introspection and creation. He utilized the adversity to create and mould a totally new, yet traditional style of khyal singing, which later came to be recognized as the Jaipur Atrauli gayaki of Ustad Alladiya Khan. The gharana is called Jaipur-Atrauli. Alladiya Khan’s father Ehmat Khan and uncle Jehangir Khan were connected with the princely court of Uniyara and Tonk in Rajasthan. His ancestors hailed from Atrauli in Uttar Pradesh and they migrated to Rajasthan, a few decades before Alladiya Khan’s birth. His innovative experiments were given due recognition by his followers and fans who began to call his singing style the Jaipur–Atrauli gharana.
“The powerful stream of the Jaipur Attrauli tradition has always presented a musical dimension that has never failed to quench the thirst of the intellect and the spirit. For both the intense listener and the dedicated learner, the Jaipur- Atrauli gharana has right from the beginning to this day offered inexhaustible, unfathomable and inscrutable reserves of intellectual and spiritual elements through the conceptual musical categories it has shaped”, writes critic N Manu Chakravarthy. Although a dhrupad singer by training, Alladiya Khan was deeply impressed by the singing of Mubarak Ali who belonged to the tradition of Qawwal Baccha gharana. Mubarak Ali’s father, Bade Mohammed Khan was a renowned khyal singer who inspired the legendary Gwalior gharana singers Haddu and Hassu Khan. Mubarak Ali was the inimitable master of taans which made a lasting impression on Alladiya Khan. He modelled his new gayaki following the style of Mubarak Ali. It is also said that Alladiya Khan idolized Mubarak Ali. Powerful gamak taans were also incorporated into the gayaki by the Ustad. He was also impressed by stalwarts like Tanras Khan, Haddu Khan, Shabbu Khan and Kudratullah Khan. That too was reflected in his new singing style. The constraints placed on the freedom by the dhrupad gayaki seemed to have inspired Alladiya Khan to hanker after the khyal form. Alladiya Khan had a rich repertoire. It comprised old dhrupad compositions which he converted into khyals. He also converted some Vaishnava bhajans into khyal bandishes.
Various features of the gayaki could be noted down. There is a certain weightiness or grandeur about the way in which the sthayi portion of the khyal form is presented. The element of gamak is present in the alaps, taans as well as bol bandhna. His first biographer Govindrao Tembe has compared his progression of a raga to the movement of a snake. Just as the snake touches every part of his body to the ground while surging ahead, Khansaheb’s music moves ahead with continuity and notes merge into each other. Khan Saheb would swoop down on the mukhada of the song with the alertness and swiftness of an eagle.
Utmost importance is given to the projection of the voice. A broad ‘aa’ is one of the fundamental prerequisites of the Jaipur Atrauli style. There is no trace of artificiality in the projection of the voice in order to make it sound sweet. Open throated singing in a rounded voice is the principle on which the singing style is based. There is extra care to produce the notes with all the micro tones or shrutis. The laya element was given equal importance in the exposition. The laya components were deftly intertwined with the note patterns of the raga. Every fragment of the taal beats was married to the notes and there were hardly any vacant or empty spaces left. The principle of the continuity of sound during the alap portion as well as taan portion presupposes a good control over the breath. The Ustad himself as well as the eminent singers of the Jaipur Atrauli gharana like Kesarbai Kerkar or Mallikarjun Mansur had a phenomenal control over their breath. There is a certain dignity and austerity about the entire presentation in the bada khyal by a Jaipur gharana singer.
The bandish or the composition is rendered with a sense of precision. Attention is paid to every beat of the taal cycle. When a well trained and competent singer sings the bandish observing the norms of the gayaki, one feels as if a beautiful sculpture is being created in front of one’s eyes. Development of the raga has to be structured on the basis of the bandish. Bandish is not only the map of the raga, but also the nucleus around which the raga edifice is built. The tempo is never too slow and the singers do not change the tempo during the rendition. The badhat or the unfolding of the raga is done mainly through behlava which is an entertaining way of uttering musical phrases. It is conceived as if a mother is persuading her child to do something with fondness. Interaction with the theka or the beat is subtle at times and occasionally it is obvious. ‘Aas’ is the persistence of sound after the cessation of the original stimulus which creates it. ‘Meend’ is an important embellishment in which continuity of intonation is maintained while moving from a higher to lower note. ‘Ghasit’ consists of a vibrating sound production a descending movement of notes. All these three embellishments are present in the alap portion of the Jaipur-Ataruli style of music. The enunciation of notes only through the vowel ‘aa’ is not only broad, but rounded too and commands the attention of the listener instantly. In fact, that wide and expansive ‘aa’ is one of the hallmarks of the Jaipur-Atrauli gayaki. Taans form one of the most important segment of the Jaipur-Atrauli gayaki. They are fast paced, ornamental and appear to be instantly conceived and executed. Jaipur Atrauli gharana singers create various designs using pairs of two notes or three notes instead of a single note. The duration of the raga is determined by its capacity as perceived by the singer. The rendition of a raga is not supposed to be stretched beyond reasonable limits.
Taan patterns form the most attractive and distinguishing feature of the Jaipur Atrauli gharana gayaki. The main influence on Alladiya Khansaheb in this respect, of course, was Mubarak Ali Khan. He tried to incorporate the most intricate and complex taans which he heard from earlier generation singers like Mubarak Ali Khan and Tanras Khan into his gayaki. To be able to deliver these intricately conceived taans, the singer had to have a tremendous breath control and an uncanny judgement of taal in order to arrive at the sam, like a hawk pouncing on its prey. Highly acclaimed singers of this gharana like Kesarbai Kerkar or Mallikarjun Mansur would specialize in volume control while singing. Music is a language of expression for them and therefore, the voice does not remain fixed at one level. It is called ‘Kaku Bhed’ in traditional parlance. One sees ample number of such examples in the recordings of Mallikarjun Mansur and Rajshekhar Mansur. The impact of the Jaipur-Atrauli music is profound and the listener gets the feeling of perpetual, unending and uninterrupted musical flow.
This music also imparts an experience of majesty and dignity. The medium through which this experience is imparted is the ‘aas’ and the ‘meend’. Among those who were recognized as authentic exponents of the Jaipur-Atrauli gharana gayaki as established by Alladiya Khan are Manji Khan, Bhurji Khan (his sons), Govindrao Shaligram, Tanibai Ghorpade, Kesarbai Kerkar, Laxmibai Jadhav, Moghubai Kurdikar, Mallikarjun Mansur, Padmavati Shaligram, Nivruttibuwa Sarnaik, Dhondutai Kulkarni, Leela Shirgaonkar and many others.
Pandit Mallikarjun Mansur:
The late Pandit Mallikarjun Mansur (31/12/1910 to 12/09/1992) was one of luminous stars of Hindustani music in the 20th century. He was born in a small hamlet called Mansur in the Dharwad district of Karnataka. Mansur was born on a moonless night which is considered to be a bad omen. Therefore, his parents decided to hand him over to the monastery. His mother, however, could not bear the pain of parting and the chief priest of the monastery decided to hand the child back to the parents. Mansur’s father Bhimrayappa was a village head and was fond of music and drama. His special liking was for a folk form called Dodatta. Mansur’s elder brother Basavraj was an actor who used to act in the plays produced by ‘Vishwagunadarsh Natak Company’. Mallikarjun Mansur, too was recruited as a child actor by the theatre company. His initial lessons in music began under the harmonium masters Pandoba and Sangbasappa. While the elder brother would enact the character of the king, Mallikarjun would do the roles of the singing characters like Prahlad (Bhakt Prahlad), Vijay (Krishnaleela), Narad (Mahanand) etc.
Soon after, Mansur began to feel the inner urge to learn music properly. Incidentally, Gwalior gharana singer Nilkanthbuwa Mirajkar heard him and was so impressed that he asked whether he could take Mallikarjun to Miraj and train him. This was so unusual that a Guru had come in search of a deserving Shisya. Mansur was 12 and the year was 1922. His voice broke on reaching puberty when he was 16. He continued his education under Nilkanthbuwa till 1929. He rejoined ‘Vaanivilas Natak Mandali’ company on the condition that the company undertook to pay monthly honorarium to Nilkanthbuwa and thus his music training continued. In 1933, his first disc (Adana and Gaud Malhar) was released and in 1934, he received concert assignments for all the ten days of Ganeshotsav in Mumbai. The sudden demise of Nilkanthbuwa in 1934 was a shock to him.
It was in the year 1935 that Mansur made his mark in the field of Hindustani music. His discs were released with certain regularity and Ustad Manji Khan, son of the towering musician Ustad Alladiya Khan, decided to accept Mansur as his disciple. He has a series of successful concert appearances in Pune. Stars seemed favourable to him, but suddenly his mother as well as Manji Khan passed away which left him in a state of shock and despair.
His thirst for learning still remained unquenched. He decided to make trips to Kolhapur to take lessons from Ustad Bhurji Khan, youngest son of Ustad Alladiya Khan and brother of Manji Khan. Up till now music for him, meant mere reproduction of riyaz. While strolling around the lake at Halgeri in Dharwad, he discovered the key to unravel the mystique of the ragas. He thus went on to become a surefire performer. In the early sixties, his broadcasts on the National programme of AIR was universally applauded. He received the highest honours and accolades as the years progressed. The Government of India conferred the title Padmavibhushan on him in the year 1992. He passed away due to respiratory complications at the age of 82 on Sept 12, 1992.
Mansur’s was one of the most well cultivated voice. It was extremely flexible due to years of rigorous practice and it was slightly oriented towards the upper register. There was complete ease in the way he projected his voice and his music was replete with the use of gamaks. His mastery of mukhbandi taans (taans sung with a clenched mouth) lent a sense of terrific power to his music. His singing was excessively melodious and there was a natural resonance in his singing. Another distinctive feature of his singing was his astonishing breath control. An all time great musician like Pandit Ravi Shankar publicly showered encomiums on Mansur for his superlative breath control and also for the power that he packed into his singing. The resonance and the unceasing flow in Mansur’s singing could be traced to the influence of Ustad Rahimat Khan, the Bhugandharv. Mansur’s mentor Ustad Manji Khan looked upon Rahimat Khan as a role model.
Mansur’s music was a rich amalgam of the Gwalior gayaki and the Jaipur Atrauli gayaki. His repertoire included common ragas like Yaman, Todi, Bhairav, Jaijaivanti, Marwa as also rare and uncommon ragas like Jaitashree, Adambari Kedar, Khokar and Vihang. Mansur was a master of compound ragas (Jodragas) like Natkamod, Sampoorna Malkauns, Basanti Kedar or Nayaki Kanada. His recorded music is a real treasure which would be relished by the present and the future generations.
Pt. Rajshekhar Mansur:
Rajshekhar Mansur is a disciple and son of the late Pandit Mallikarjun Mansur. He imbibed the Jaipur Atrauli Gayaki from his guru in the guru shishya parampara from the age of 16. As Rajshekhar puts it, since music was always there at home, morning, noon and night, it was not difficult to learn it at a later stage. As children, all siblings would be singing various bandishes without knowing their names. They learnt music unconsciously. Hence, Rajshekhar imbibed the nuances of ragas when he formally started to learn from his father. Although, teaching English was his profession, music was his passion, says Rajshekhar. Rajshekhar gave vocal support to his guru for 30 years without any break. He says he learnt more through his vocal support to his guru than from formal training. What he took from vocal support was how to construct a finished product and how to build the raga.
Pt. Mallikarjun Mansur’s music and Pt. Rajshekhar Mansur’s music:
Icannot help but quote extensively what N Manu Chakravarthy has brilliantly said in his article titled “The Confluence of Parampara (Tradition) and Adhunikata (Modernity) because I fully endorse his view on the fresh dimensions that Pt. Rajshekhar Mansur infused to the heritage of Pt. Mallikarjun Mansur’s gayaki:
“The ‘Adhunikata’ part of the ‘Parampara’:
It is a powerful enough tribute in itself if the world should acknowledge that a great tradition has been kept alive by one of the next generation. It should even be a matter of pride if the discerning should remark that the enormous knowledge of the father has been kept alive by the son who has inherited the legacy. As the shishya of a great guru and the son of an illustrious father, Pt. Rajashekar Mansur is the true inheritor of the rich musical tradition of both the Jaipur-Atrauli gharana and Pt. Mallikarjun Mansur. Pt. Rajshekar Mansur keeps alive what he has inherited from a tradition and a father in glowing terms that bring honour to all simultaneously.
But is tradition all about preservation and conservation and nothing beyond that? What does it mean if preservation and conservation of a tradition lead to mere imitation with no fresh frontiers being added to it by those belonging to the new generation? It is in answering these questions that one explains the significance of the music of Pt. Rajshekar Mansur and also foregrounds the remarkable qualities of music.
Even as Rajshekar Mansur was accompanying his illustrious father in his concerts for over two decades the careful listener could discern in Rajshekar’s renderings a very subtly nuanced shift that, even as it supported the dominant patterns of the great father, introduced new registers that were independent in conception in articulation. While Mallikarjun Mansur swept across with intense religiosity marked by a breathless ascent complimented by very austere phrases, Rajshekar Mansur introduced a parallel text into the rendering that was laced with an easy and smooth mellifluousness that wove an expansive and leisurely texture which was quite a contrast to the sharp vertical climb of the swaras of his father. The rigorous old worldly religious aesthetics of the father was being transformed into a soft tender and melodious aesthetics by the modern sensibility of the son who, however, never let go of the intellectual rigour involved in the making of the entire text. What one needs to notice is that Rajshekar Mansur was extending the frontiers of the tradition that had nourished him by bringing into its framework a modern sensibility that tempered and honed rigorous scholarly traits with a delicate and finely shaped idiom. The modern sensibility that Rajshekar has brought into the Jaipur-Atrauli gharana has given a fresh idiom and a new “rang” to the pristine form of the ancient tradition….”
In quotes again:
“…. what one must reckon with …. is the attempt of a devoted musician who presents to the world of music with great sincerity, erudition, clarity and imagination, the greatest aspect of a musical tradition that has sustained itself purely through the efforts, the tapasya, the penance of dedicated souls for whom music was a means of self-realization. In this Globalized world when the power of the market rules artists and their creativity, a few rare artists like Rajshekhar Mansur hold on to certain fundamental values with uncompromising integrity and vitality, creating a cosmos wherever they exist without lending themselves to the vagaries of the world. The universe is where the spirit of pure music is and in this sense a ruthless, hegemonic, globalizing world is not only fought, but is effectively resisted. It is the tapasya of souls like Ustad Alladiya Khan, Pt. Mallikarjun Mansur and Pt. Rajshekhar Mansur that offers faith and sustenance to people who believe in the power of knowledge over the might of glamour and worldly fashion” (Felicitation booklet Sanmithra, Sept. 2003).
Pt. Rajshekhar Mansur has rightly said, “My Guru did not tell me ABOUT the Ragaswaras and Laya, because he knew I would forget them…. He did not just SHOW them to me because he knew I would not remember them….. He INVOLVED me in them, because he knew I would then UNDERSTAND them…I pray to God that I must have him as my Guru in the lives to come”.
General audiences and musicians stand in awe at the erudition and scholarship of Rajshekhar Mansur. His deep knowledge and mastery of rare and compound ragas inspires veneration in the mind of music lovers. There is a certain fire within the singer and it burns brightly and steadily as he vocalizes the forceful laya oriented passages of the raga in question. Rajshekhar Mansur as a singer does not plod ponderously forward, but literally breathes life into the ragas that he chooses to sing. Rajshekhar’s singing is unfailingly spirited and soulful. He has really mastered the difficult art and clever draft of integrating elements of different and apparently dissimilar ragas into a cohesive and credible whole. He succeeds in avoiding well worn phrases. He possesses an astonishingly flexible voice. It has achieved that quality through arduous and unrelenting riyaz. Each raga is tightly knit with little scope for unnecessary repetitions.
His ability to unravel the identity of the rare raga is such that it registers very well on the mind of the listeners. The unfolding of each raga reveals a happy evidence of his father’s perfect guidance. Perceptive visualization, melodic purity and rhythmic elegance are the hall marks of Rajshekhar’s rendition of ragas. Taans form an important segment of the Jaipur Atrauli style of khyal music. Complex and unceasing taan patterns are an inalienable feature of the Jaipur-Atrauli gayaki. We get to listen to them in ample measure in these recordings. His interpretation of difficult and complicated ragas would easily meet the approval of the most orthodox and hard boiled connoisseurs. His fast phrases are extremely well handled and well executed. Every raga comes out well in its conventional contours. A raga like Sampoorna Malkauns comes across with all its grace of structure and with all the spice of elegance.
Awards and Accolades:
He was awarded a Gold Medal for the Sangeeth Visharad exam conducted by Gandharva Mahavidyalaya, Mumbai in 1963. He stood first in All India Radio Youth Competition in 1963. He has given individual performances for the last 40 years in prestigious Music Festivals like Shankarlal Music Festival (New Delhi), Bharat Bhavan (Bhopal), Tansen Festival (Gwalior), Bharat Gayan Samaj (Pune), NCPA (Mumbai), ITC (Kolkotta), Alladiya Khan Punya Tithi (Mumbai), Neelkantha Bua Smrithi Din (Bengaluru), Dasara Music Concert, Palace Grounds (Mysore), Hampi Utsav, (Hampi) and many more.
He is a Top Grade Vocalist in AIR and Doordarshan. He has performed in AIR and Doordarshan National Programmes.
He has taken the responsibility of giving currency to Aprachalith and Durlabh Raagas by performing and conducting Lecture Demonstrations viz Spic Macay, Ninasam (Sagar), Madhukali (Indore), Bengaluru, Chennai, Cochin etc. His music has been recorded for the ARCHIVES in Indira Gandhi Manav Sanghrahalaya (Bhopal), Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts (New Delhi), Naadsagar Archive (New Delhi), Madhukali (Indore) etc.
He trains disciples in India and abroad in the Guru Shishya Parampara to maintain the purity of the Gharana. He has won several awards. The most prestigious is the Central Sangeet Natak Academy Award, New Delhi which he was conferred with in 2012. Other awards includeKarnataka Rajyotsava Award (1997) and KarnatakaKalashri Award (2009) by the Government of Karnataka. He was the Chairman of Sangeeth Nrutya Akademy, Karnataka (2004 – 2007).
He has published Recordings like Foot Steps And Beyond (2 volumes), Shatanamanam (to commemorate the centenary celebrations of Pt. Mallikarjun Mansur) (2 volumes), DVDs etc. He has translated Pt. Mallikarjun Mansur’s Autobiography Rasa Yatra – My Journey in Music (Roli, 2005) from Kannada to English.
He has worked as the Professor of English in Karnatak University, Dharwad for 35 Years and has guided innumerable students for M.Phil. and doctoral programmes.