Monday, January 11, 2010

Pt Nayan Ghosh and Brahmandanga village

This year I had my first ever lessons from someone outside the family and students of my main guru-ji, Late Pt Ashutosh Bhattacharya. I came to Kolkata to meet with Pt Nayan Ghosh, as recommended to me by my senior guru-bhai, Govinda Chakraborty of the Kathak Kendra in Delhi.

Here is a sample of Nayan-ji's wikipedia page:
Nayan Ghosh was born in Mumbai, Maharashtra to the legendary Tabla Maestro Padmabhushan Pandit Nikhil Ghosh, the founder of Sangeet Mahabharati.[3]

He was trained by his father, and practiced under the watchful eye of Ustad Ahmedjan Thirakwa, who lived with them for many years towards the end of his life in Mumbai.

Nayan Ghosh is regarded by many as the greatest performer of the traditional tabla repertoire of the Farrukhabad style.

He has accompanied many of the all-time greats, such as Pandit Ravi Shankar, Pandit Nikhil Banerjee, Ustad Vilayat Khan and Pandit Buddhadev Das Gupta. 
It doesn't mention that he is also an accomplished sitar player! Unfortunately my train was 5 hours late so I missed his sitar concert in Kolkata.

In all I had 3 lessons with Nayan-ji, who took me in with open arms and started me off with some material from Delhi, Ajrara and Farrukabad Gharanas. Having been trained exclusively in Benares gharana, my third and fourth fingers are used to being stuck together, so I've had a bit of work getting them to work independently as required by Delhi style. I received quite a number of beautiful kaidas, tukaras and gats but more than that some new techniques which have instantly expanded the scope to practise all my repertoire.

I was lucky enough to be invited to stay with Nayan-ji in his "nephew"'s village Brahmandanga, outside Kolkata. The "nephew" was actually Aneesh Ghosh, the son of a senior student of his father who was a very important figure in the area. Nayan-ji told me that when in Kolkata he often goes to this village secretly to do riaz for coming concerts undisturbed for a few days.

Pt Nayan Ghosh performing tabla solo in Kolkata.

Scenes in Brahmandanga village

Aneesh Ghosh, son of one of Nayan-ji's senior guru-bhai, took me on a tour of his farm. The freshly picked peas and cucumber were so sweet! All the food we ate at his house was grown on his farm.

Pt Nayan Ghosh and Shen

Kolkata: Debapriya-Samanwaya

I recently stayed a week in Kolkata, in order to have some lessons with Pt Nayan Ghosh (more on that in the next post). I was lucky enough to be well looked after by singer Debapriya Adhikary and sitarist Samanwaya Sarkar, who form the Indian classical duo Debapriya-Samanwaya. I did some concerts with Deb-Sam when they were in Australia in October. They put me up in an apartment near Debapriya's place in Narendrapur, south Kolkata, where I stayed with their other guests, Thamo and Gowtem Sridharan, Sri Lankans from Canberra. 16 year old Gowtem is learning sitar with Samanwaya and looks to be getting an excellent foundation. He was practising for hours every day. I'm looking forward to seeing how he develops over the next few years.

Practising with Debapriya Adhikary

Practising with Samanwaya Sarkar

My flatmates in Narendrapur, Thamo Sridharan and his son Gowtem, from Canberra.

NYE Boat jam with Tahir

To celebrate the end of 2009, we braved the cold and went on a little Ganges boat trip with singer Tahir and a bunch of friends. Tahir is an American well-trained in Qawwalli singing and studying khayals etc in Benares, who sings with great enthusiasm and enjoyment. He will be in Byron Bay this year so look out for his concerts and workshops in the area. Hopefully we'll be playing together in Brisbane too.

We went along to Kashika Music Ashram's New Year's Eve concert that night.

Dr Shrabani Biswas, who happens to be the sitar guru of our friend Hiro Minamizawa.

Sukhdev Mishra (violin) accompanied by Gyan Swarup (tabla)

Friday, January 01, 2010


Some more panoramic shots from my new camera (a Sony Cybershot DSC-TX1)... The first is on my balcony in Brisbane, the rest Varanasi.

Ganges River boat ride

Some snaps from a morning boat ride on the River Ganges... Check out the panoramic shots my new camera can do! - click on any photo for a bigger version (as usual).

Christmas Day in Varanasi

Christmas in India is always a bit strange, without all the media hype and commercialism that we're used to in the west. Being far from family and being wintertime (Christmas in summer down under, in case you didn't realise) add to the un-Christmassy-ness, and it usually feels like an ordinary day. But this year I heard about some great free food on offer the River Ashram on Shivala Ghat. It was an unusual Christmas gathering of hippies far from home, shyly singing Sanskrit and traditional songs about Jesus and listening some stories of Jesus' healing miracles. Many of us are in India escaping mainstream reality so it was strange for me to have that feeling of being back in church as a kid. I believe in Jesus as a holy and enlightened individual but I shirk at the twisted dogma which organised religion has introduced to his teachings, which I should hasten to add didn't seem overly entrenched in the folks from the River Ashram that day. Many thanks to them for the beautiful food, convivial atmosphere, and reminder of the meaning of this holy day. (Or one of the meanings, anyway.)

"Om Yeshu Namo Namah"

The food was absolutely fantastic - home-grown veggies and salads, lasagne, and much more. Quinoa and cashew nut salad in Varanasi?! Good enough to take a photo of.

Certainly a lot better than this looks... Dinner with mucus?


United Nations of Indian Classical Music

On Monday 21st December I had a concert which I organised with the assistance of Kashika Music Ashram, principally so that Canadian tabla player Shawn Mativetsky and I could see each other playing. With participants from Japan, Canada, Australia and India we entitled the event "United Nations of Indian Classical Music". Held in a simple room in a lane just off Bengali Tola, the venue was quite small - capacity around 40 - and by the time Shawn was presenting his tabla solo the room was packed and half the audience were watching through the doors from the lane outside. Chhote Lal Chaurasia of Kashika Music Ashram has plans to organise a large-scale, well-sponsored concert featuring foreign ICM artists, so this was a highly successful first step in test-marketing the concept. Good on us!

A few days before the show we did a newspaper interview and publicity shoot.
L to R:
Shen Flindell (tabla) , Yuki Taniguchi (mantra) , Yasuhiro Minamizawa (sitar) , Shawn Mativetsky (tabla)

Yuki opened the night with a selection of Sanskrit mantras from her extensive repertoire, creating a serene atmosphere for the appreciation of Indian Classical Music.

Shawn performing tabla solo accompanied by Aneesh Mishra (sarangi). It was a very enjoyable performance featuring very typical Benares Gharana Sahai-baj compositions.

Pooran Maharaj (son of Late Pt Kishan Maharaj) made good on his promise to come, adding to the excitement and complimenting Shawn profusely.

Minamizawa-san (sitar) and I performed Raga Puriya Kalyan, as we did at Guru-ji's Memorial Concert in 2006.

All the gang after the show - thanks for a great night!

You can read Shawn's report on this concert in his blog post Benares Chronicles, Part 3 - The United Nations of Indian Classical Music. Many thanks to him for the comment "Shen played an uthaan that I would describe as being 'deep'. His time-feel is right on, and his baya playing is very smooth and melodic; a very sweet sound overall."

日本語で、ユキちゃんのブログポスト、「United Nations of Indian Classical Music」。

Life on the ghats

Staying in Assi Ghat, I've had about 30 minutes' daily walk along the ghats each way between home and Guru-ji's house. Here are some snaps of life on the ghats...

This baba would ask us to take his photo for 10 rupees every day, so we couldn't miss the chance for a freebie. :-)

Mass rituals for deceased relatives

Gotta throw in some ghat cricket...

Life and death - cricket next to the Harishchandra cremation grounds

Guru-ji's house

My primary tabla temple in India is the home of my guru-ji Late Pt Ashutosh Bhattacharya, on Ahilyabai Ghat near the centre of Varanasi. I've been having lessons there since 1994, and before that the room has been host to a multitude of shining lights of Indian Classical Music including Ravi Shankar, Nikhil Banerjee and Kanthe Maharaj. I've spent so many hours there, having lessons and listening to Guru-ji's stories. This year I found myself in the position of teacher as my Brisbane student Rob came along, and Jay Bhattacharya (son of my first teacher Debu) was there to learn tabla for the first time too. I never would have predicted that when I turned up on Guru-ji's doorstep, a wild-eyed 22 year old in India for the first time 15 years ago. On weekends Guru-ji's youngest son Dr Debabrata Bhattacharya is available and he has been showing me some very high energy laggis, certainly something previously lacking in my armoury.

Guru-ji's house is the yellow one in the middle.

My lessons with Rob and Jay - thanks to Shawn Mativetsky for the photo

Guru-ji's son, Dr Debabrata Bhattacharya (aka Bappa-da) gives tabla lessons there every weekend, and on occasion (as here) my guru-bhai Manishankar also swings by to play some tabla together. Also pictured here, Bappa-da's student Kanchan, my student Rob and our tabla maker Anwar.

"Tabla is very big subject!"

Students of Pt Sharda Sahai, Shawn Mativetsky (Canada) and Anjan Saha (UK) also dropped by for a visit one day.

You can read Shawn's blog about his visit to Guru-ji's house in his blog post Benares Chronicles, Part 2.

Shawn admiring the view from Guru-ji's roof

Rob and Shen on Guru-ji's roof

The view from Guru-ji's roof

Some of the ladies of the house

Class of Dec 2009: Jay Bhattacharya, Rob Wallis, Dr Debabrata Bhattacharya, Shen Flindell