My Writings

My article on Pandit Buddhadev Dasgupta

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A few words on Nikhil Banerjee

To speak about the genius of Pt.Nikhil Banerjee, who is one of the most outstanding musicians of all time, is not quite easy. There is so much to say, to feel and ponder over that time, I am afraid, would always run out of time. So I would mention only one or two things that stand out as hallmark of his art.

I will say what I have seen of him from close quarters. I asked myself the simple question- what made his music so wonderful… what was unique about it? In one word I will call it “soulful”. It is nothing other than the depth and intensity of his feeling – expressed in the most beautiful way and this is true of any great musician.  (At this point it is not proper to have any lengthy critical discussion on the texture of his music).


Connection between his life and his music:

As it is with all great artists, whatever be the discipline, art stems from sensibility, from the philosophy of life, from the experiences that life leaves on the mind as strong impressions and color the vision.  For them art is not an isolated phenomenon divorced from their life. What they feel and realize in their life truly, shape up as vital emotions and their art becomes a compelling urge from within and a mandate, perhaps, to express their emotions in the most beautiful way.  Therefore the emotions that they deal with are soul-stirring. Judged from this perception Nikhil Banerjee was as much of a philosopher as a musician. In his interview he had mentioned about two things specifically as his field of special interest- one was homeopathy and the other was philosophy. From very early age he had a spiritual quest in his mind and that did not quit him till the end of his life. Religion as such, did not appeal to him much but he was a firm believer of “Vedanta philosophy”. Through his music he was all the time trying to get to the bottom of the truth- the ultimate reality, which he felt, lay in our soul.(Refer to his interview) We all know that in our music, the ragas speak about the most common universal emotions such as joy, sadness, peace, devotion and love. But it is easier said than done in an abstract subject like music as the artist has no word to tell, no colors to paint with but only some notes that can not adequately convey the message to the audience .. Nikhil Banerjee’s music had touched that watermark of glory and greatness because of the depth, intensity and sincerity with which he could command his instrument to sing from the soul.( speaking about mood of raag( Marwa as the outcry of rocks), about correspondence with Nature(Purbi as a raag for introspection  etc etc) Examples can be cited. So it was basically the intensity of his feeling which made his music so sublime. He was not an entertainer trying to win over his audience with charming smile or overwhelm them with power and virtuosity. He had referred to Ustad Ameer Khanshahib’s famous observation “Music comes from out of your soul and goes back to the soul, as the listener is no one but the soul”.


Objectivity in art-

What made him unique and incomparable in his musical journey all through, was that he never overlooked the point that sitar was only the means to an end and not an end in itself. On the one hand, all his life he never ignored the importance of practice. He wrote to me in a letter that “riaz is like mantra which a musician must keep doing ceaselessly”

(Mantra jap karar moto riaz korte hoi) and what was it for? The answer is that he was never satisfied or complacent and wanted to find out how to make it better and even better, how to make his expression more and more beautiful, more telling so that the sound should go through the ear and reach the soul. Those, who play the sitar, have felt at some point or other that his virtuosity was absolutely stunning.

 On the other hand, all of it was used as much as it was demanded by the raga to make the music significant. We can only think of those lines from Rabindranath Tagore:

আমারে না যেন করি প্রচার আমার আপন কাজে,

      তোমারি ইচ্ছা করো হে পূর্ণ আমার জীবনমাঝে।

From one stroke of his plectrum, one can identify that it is the sound of NB and yet it never became stylized. If we try to analyze randomly some samples of his music and compare them and try to judge what his contribution was, it will easily make a book and a list of his achievements will be huge – perhaps worth lifetime research for a sitar student. The canvas was very big. No need to go into that here.  It was inevitable everywhere regardless of the raga or the Taal he had chosen. This rare objectivity helped him grow all his life. He played mostly traditional ragas going for maximum variety and the mastery was unquestionable. He combined the best of all great musicians but assimilated them so objectively that they never hung loose any where. He could hold in check the power that he had attained from his practice even though he knew that he could easily win over his audience showing off a little bit of it. He was one of the most complete musicians and a vast subject by himself to study for musicians of this generation and a pure delight for listeners. No wonder some critic once remarked “Nikhil played like an angel on the sitar”.   


Quality of his Alap: How Dhrupad and Kheyal elements are blended- in which part of the performance he used Dhrupad and where Kheyal


Quality of his Jor: Maintaining the same patterns that Dhrupad-alap shows- Silsila- deft handling of laya – lending lyrical grace to the phrases – creating the charm of the unexpected- the plethora of details which unfold the raga- brilliant Gamak jor- variety in Jor-jhala – ulti or thok jhala- jhumko jhala- jhala blended with bols – all the unmistakable touches that a deft Veenkar would have shown AND YET THE WHOLE THING IS PEACEFUL, RESTFUL, SOOTHING AND HAS IN IT WHAT WE MAY DEFINE AS “ FINE EXCESS”.


We find that on sitar he played with success a huge variety of ragas and played in variety of taal – speaks for the totality of the musician.


The tone of his sitar- in terms of its sonority as well as significant expression. We are sometimes guided by a broad generalization that he preferred closed jawari- there was a uninique balance of base and treble for which slow playing sounded so graceful and yet bold and fast playing seemed clear and the pitch so perfect. It was his way of using both hands that could only help him achieve the sustaining of sound that long.


Technical brilliance- in every turn meend, gamak( with as many as 8 danas each one in tune), krintan was crisp, every note of his sapat taan would sound clear- weight was their hallmark and yet they were varied as much as was desired, bols- both simple and complex – wove a fascinating texture of music where laya played such as important role- bol paran was his speciality in the Jod and even in the vilambit paret of his gat, Jhala came with an amazing variety of combination and layakari.


Structure of his music- how he would format the music for his concert was a fascinating study for me all the time- Only a great artist could change the sequence( silsila) that way and yet he would tell the story of the raag impeccably in all its glory and grandeur.


His thoughts on Riaz.


What he thought of his own style and how it evolved- look into yourself and speak out what you feel. Yes, you speak in the language you have learnt from your parents but let it be your own expression. That is how he imbibed things of other great musicians and blended them in his canvas.