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Bishnupur Gharana Classical Indian Music


The Bishnupur gharana (alternatively spelt Vishnupur gharana) is a form of singing that follows the dhrupad tradition of Hindustani music, one of the two forms of Indian classical music.[1]

The gharana originated in Bishnupur, West Bengal, India in the late 18th century with its roots dating back to the 13th-14th centuries CE.[2] The name of the town means "city of Vishnu" in Bengali. In the ancient past, this area, known as Mallabhum was the abode of Malla Kings who were vassals to the Mughal Empire and were devotees of Vishnu and patrons of music. Historians suggest that 'Mallabhum' had once been the cultural centre of Eastern India.[3] It also has the distinction of being the only vocal gharana in West Bengal.

In the 17th century, during the reign of Mughal emperor Aurangazeb, many musicians moved to the court of the Maharaja of Bishnupur who was a known patron of the arts.[4] The dhrupad singer Bahadur Khan of the Senia gharana, descendant of Tansen, fled to Bishnupur and made his gharana popular and sought refuge in the court. Bahadur Khan was not only a vocalist but could also play the Veena, the rabab, and the surshringar. The king, Raghunath Singh Deo II, accepted him as a court singer. In time, a good number of students became the disciples of Bahadur Khan.

The Bishnupur Gharana of Bengal has a prestigious past, the history of which has little been revealed. ‘Bishnupur’, the town of Lord Vishnu, is at present a Sub-division town of Bankura district in West Bengal is Mallabhum. Though not vast in area, the region holds a singnificant position in matters as political vigor, civilization and culture. Historians suggest that ‘Mallabhum’ had once been the cultural centre of Eastern India. Among its cultural achievements, music had the highest honour.

In the later part of the eighteenth century and towards the early and mid-nineteenth century, when music of different ‘Gharanas’ were gradually having their assimilation in the city-centre of Calcutta, the Dhrupad’ style flourished among the musicians of Bishnupur. To recapitulate history, the Maharaja of Bishnupur was a contemporary of Emperor Aurangzeb. The Seni Gharana was then in full bloom. Its reputation spread throghtout India. Its influence on the music of Bishnupur was enormous. It was around this time that the famous Dhrupad Singer Bahadur Khan of the Senia Gharana, descendant of Tansen, came at Bishnupur and made his Gharana popular. The next Maharaja of Bishnupur, Raghunath Singh Deo II, steered his attention towards popularising Bahadur Khan. At this time, the Ustad expressed his desire to settle down in Bishnupur and the Maharaja made all arrangements to honour him as his court singer. The Maharaja also announced that anyone having a sweet voice and interested in music could learn from Bahadur Khan without any fees. He also bore the financial liability for the poor students. In time, a good number of students became the disciples of Bahadur Khan.

Among the disciples of Bahadur Khan, the name of Gadadhar Chakravorty is noteworthy. Bahadur Khan was not only a vocalist but could also efficiently play on such instruments as the Veena, the Rabaab, the surashringaar. Gadadhar Ghakravorty learnt from his master both vocal and instrumental music. Among his worthy disciples were such talents as Ram Shankar Bhattacharya and Jadu Bhatta, whose name spread throughout India.

Most of the exponents of Bishnupur learnt Dhrupad song and instrumental music simultaneously. Bishnupur was at that time the cultural capital of India.

Shree Anantalal Banerjee of Bishnupur was an illustrious musician who had his tranining from Shri Ramshankar Bhattacharya in both vocal and instumental music. Anantalal’s sons, Sri Ramprasanna Banerjee, Sri Gopeswar Banerjee, Sri Surendranath Banerjee were prodigies of this gharana. Sri Radhika Prosad Goswami, disciple of Anantalal Banerjee, earned great fame as a Dhrupad singer. Among the students of Sri Radhikaprased were Sri Girijashankar Chakraborty, Jogendra Nath Banerjee and Bhirendre Nath Bhattacha¬rya who won their acclamation in the early conferences of Calcutta. Sangeetacharya Tarapada Chakraborty, Jamini Gangu Ii, Salien Banerjee and many others learned from Girijashankar Chakravorty. Our great Poet, Rabindra Nath Tagore had his tranings in the Dhrupad style from Radhika Prosad Goswami and Jadu Bhakti of Bishnupur. The Dhrupad style of Bishnupur had a good deal of influence on many of the songs composed by Tagore.

Sri Ramprasanna Banerjee also received his training from Sajjad Muhammed, Son of Gulam Muhammed. Sajjad Muhammed Was then staying at Jorasanko Rajbati of Raja Sourendra Mohan Tagore of Calcutta. During that time Sri Nilmadhab Chakraborty, the granson of Gadadhar Chakraborty was teaching Raja jitendra Mohan Tagor. Ustad Alauddin khan of Maihar took his lessons in Surbahar from Sri Nilmadhab Chakraborty. Sri Ganendra Prasad Goswami, the nephew of Radhika Prasad Goswami was a very famous musician. He recorded many songs in the Gramophone Company of India.

Sri Gopeswar Banerjee, a great Pioneer of the music of Bishnupur, Was the court musician of the Maharaja of Burdwan Narajoi and Mayurbhanj. He wrote a number of books on musicology as Sanget Chandrika, GeetDarpn, Geetpraveshika Sangeet Lahari and Others. Sri K C Dey, the uncle of Manna Dey, the Popular light music singer of Bengal, also learned Dhrupad from Sri Gopeswar Banerjee. Kshetramohan Goswamj another maestro in this area, Was a disciple of Ramshankar Bhattacharya. It Was he who invented the ‘Dandamatrik System of notation in Bengal.

Until a few years ago the name of Late Satyakinkar Banerjee was well known among the music lovers of Calcutta. Besides vocal music, he was adept in Surbahar and Sitar. Late Shri Nikhil Banerjee has listened to his Playing in his house at Calcutta. His Sons, Sri Amiya Ranjan Banerjee, ex-professor of Rabindra Bharati University, Sri Nihar Ranjan Banerjee Professor of Rabindra Bharati University and Sri Manoranjan Banerjee and Pdt. Mani Lal Nag are now representing the Bishnupur Gharana, almost in its twilight days, bearing just a few glimpses from its age-old tradition.

Historical evidence points to Ramasharan Bhattacharya, a disciple of Bahadur Khan as the founder of the gharana.[5] Bishnupur Gharana therefore has a strong link to Betiya Gharana through this unbroken relationship. However, this view is contradicted by some historians, who claim that Bahadur Khan could not have attended the Durbar of King Raghunath Singh Deo II because of anachronism, as there is a gap of at least 50 years (2 generations) between them. In practice, Bishnupur Gharana has got some characteristic features in the improvisations of some Ragas which are different from the practice of the Betiya school of the Seniya gharana. [6] [7]

Style of singing and Ragas

In this style, the artist elaborates on the raga through the alap in a simple fashion, devoid of ornamentation. It is free from intricate play with the rhythm. Layakari is however allowed in Dhamar, another form of vocalisation. The khyal of the Bishnupur gharana is noted for its sweet, lilting melody. It is adorned with the usual ornaments, which add variety to the melodic presentation of the raga.

Its origins and development have led to a great openness in the teaching and evolution within this gharana. This gharana has the ragas , many of them are now very popular by their names, but their notes and chalans are different. For example this gharana's Purvi, Sohini, Shyam, Bibhas and many many more ragas with popular names have different notes and chalans. The Sohini, Purvi, Bibhas, Shyam , used by Rabindranath Tagore, are from this gharana. Because, his gurus-Jadu Bhatta, Bishnu Chakraborty belonged to this gharana.

Style of Singing

In this style, the artist shines in telling the beauty of the Raga during the alap. It is simple, devoid of grave, cumbersome decoration. It is free from complex play with the rhythm. Layakari is though allowed in Dhamar, another figure of vocalization. The Khayal of the Bishnupur School is noted for its sugary, lilting melody. It is festooned with the usual curios, which add variety to the harmonious presentation of the Raaga.

The dhrupad of the Bishnupur gharana exercises shuddha dhaivata in raga vasanta, a stroke of komal nisada in the downhill notes of Raga bhairava. It has discarded kadi madhyam (proper center) in raga ramakeli, and proposes suddha dhaivata in raga puravi and Raga Lalita and komal nisad in raga vehaga. It has also inculcated its own character considering rhythm. It was this gharana which found the custom of Sawal-Jabab in Hindustani Music.

Its origins and the expansion have led to an immense openness in the education and evolution contained by this gharana.


  1. ^ M. Ganguly (7 May 2008). "Sweet tributes to music". The Telegraph. Archived from the original on 19 July 2013. Retrieved 19 July 2013.

  2. ^ Samira Dasgupta; Rabiranjan Biswas; Gautam Kumar Mallik (2009). Heritage Tourism: An Anthropological Journey to Bishnupur. Mittal Publications. pp. 110–. ISBN 978-81-8324-294-3. Retrieved 19 July 2013.

  3. ^ Ghoash, P (2002). "Tales, Tanks, and Temples: The Creation of a Sacred Center in Seventeenth-Century Bengal". Asian Folklore Studies. 61 (1): 193–222. doi:10.2307/1178971. JSTOR 1178971.

  4. ^ SinhaThakur, Debabrata (1970). Bishnupur Gharanar Utpatti Itihas. Bharabi, Bankura. p. 88.

  5. ^ Capwell Charles (1993). "The interpretation of history and foundations of authority in Visnupur Gharana of Bengal". Ethnomusicology and Modern Music History (Ed.) Stephen Blum, Daniel M. Neuman. University of Illinois Press: 95–102.

  6. ^ "Dhrupad Gharanas in North Indian Classical Music". ITC Sangeeth Research Academy. Archived from the original on 22 April 2009. Retrieved 1 June 2009.

  7. ^ Bharatiya Sangite Gharanar Itihas. Dilipkumar Mukhopadhyaya. Published by A. Mukherjee & Sons. Calcutta

  8. ^ Owens, Naomi (1969). Two North Indian Musical Gharanas (M.A. Thesis). University of Chicago.

Further reading

  • Capwell C., 1993. The interpretation of history and foundations of authority in Visnupur Gharana of Bengal., in Ethnomusicology and modern music history, By Stephen Blum, Daniel M. Neuman Ed., University of Illinois Press, 1993., ISBN 0-252-06343-0, ISBN 978-0-252-06343-5, pp 95–102

  • Sengupta, P. K. 1991. "Foundations of Indian musicology: perspectives in the philosophy of art and culture", Abhinav Publications, Calcutta, ISBN 81-7017-273-X.

Amiya Ranjan Bandyopadhyay

M.A., Ph.D., D.Litt.(Honoris Causa), Khyalist

He teaches Bishnupur Gharana music at his residence at Salt Lake city, Kolkata

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