The Esraj story, the evolution through Bishnupur gharana and Tagore

Posted by Kaahon Desk On July 19, 2018

The esraj, also called the Indian harp, is a string instrument found in two forms throughout the north, central, and east regions of the Indian subcontinent. It is a young instrument by Indian terms, being only about 200 years old. The one variant of it is Dilruba which is found in the north, where it is used in religious music and light classical songs in the urban areas. The esraj is found in the east and central areas, particularly Bengal (Bangladesh and Indian states of West Bengal and Tripura). With time the Esraj faced a deterioration of its popularity but one group of traditional players have made it their forte – the Bishnupur gharana. This gharana consists of some of the most gifted and talented Esraj players that history have ever seen. And who could be better suited to talk about Esraj other than Buddhadeb Das. Das seems to carry forward the traditions of his teachers and forefathers of this gharana through his unparalleled performances. He is one of the most prominent face of contemporary Esraj world. He had essentially hailed from Bishnupur, pursued his training in Esraj in Visva-Bharati, Shantiniketan up until 1986. He’s currently a faculty member in Visva-Bharati in the department of Hindustani Classical Vocal and Instrumental with a teaching experience of more than 14 years.

Buddhadeb Das introduces us to the history of Esraj in the perspective of Bishnupur gharana. He talks about the salient features and alaaps of Bishnupur gharana, which render uniqueness to it. He starts talking about the history, the stalwarts of Bishnupur gharana. We come to know about Ustad Bahadur Khan, the founder of Bishnupur gharana, Jadubhatta and the  genetically gifted Bandyopadhyay family tree. He tells us how Asesh Bandyopadhyay became Rabindranath Tagore’s favourite just at the age of 17. Buddhadeb Das describes the various positions of the instrument that have evolved through time and why the erected placement is the current mainstream form. He recognises the onus that have been delivered to him by his teachers, especially Pandit Ranadhir Roy (Tuku-da) to carry forward the traditions and he wishes to impart his knowledge of Bishnupur gharana among his disciples.

Buddhadeb Das delves deep into the structure of the instrument. He enlightens us about the research and evolution executed by Pandit Ranadhir Roy (Tuku-da) for the bigger instrument from a normal sized Esraj. He takes us through each and every component of the instrument and tells us the trials and errors that have gone behind to make the instrument perfect. He showcases how it is imperative to perfect the Esraj in order to play ragas like Vadi and Samvadi. He talks about how the structure of the tall wooden body, the resonator, the hollow round bottom and the Bridge is refined with time. We come to know that the strings of this instrument is influenced from the copper coated guitar strings.

He instructs us about the ideal way to play such an elegant instrument and while doing so we also get a glimpse of an artist’s inner thoughts during a performance. He tells us how with time and rigorous practice one can achieve the perfect sense of timing and proportion. He repeatedly asserts the significance of the pause in music. We also get to know from an anecdote of his childhood how he was made to perform in dark room to perfect his sense of music by his father. He gives credit to his father’s training that have shaped his perception about tunes. Buddhadeb Das also expresses the importance of having a perfect seating arrangement and the comfort of the instrument for an ideal performance. We realise how music can bring a trance like solace in a great musician.

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