Kolkata witnessed a mega Dhrupad festival recently. Amongst all the stalwarts who participated during this three-day event at the prestigious Vivekananda Hall of the Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture, Pandit Falguni Mitra was singled out to give an introductory lecture before his vocal rendition. The erudite former Guru with ITC Sangeet Research Academy discussed the characteristics of his Bettiah gharana . It was so intriguing that one could not help requesting more. Some excerpts:
How did Bettiah get associated with all four banis?
In the late 18th Century, Pandit Shiv Dayal Mishra, a disciple of the Seniya musicians Karim Sen and Rahim Sen of the Nepal Durbar, was an expert in the four banis of Dhrupad. He came to the court of Bettiah and introduced a unique style. He trained the prolific composer-kings of Bettiah, Maharaja Anand Kishore Singh and Naval Kishore Singh. Apart from this, the Mullick families, who settled in Bettiah in the 17th Century, specialised in Gaurhar and Khandar banis. During this time a unique outburst of intense compositional activity happened and the Bettiah court gained a singular place in Dhrupad history. Different lineages of musicians attached to the court were also inspired to augment a vast repertoire of old dhrupads from their ancestors in the different banis. Thus the four banis were crystallised by the early 19th Century by the composers and musicians of Bettiah. This knowledge has been carried forward by the surviving lineages of the Bettiah gharana. The Mishras of Benares carried the four-bani tradition, whereas the Mullicks of Bettiah carried the Gaurhar and Khandar banis. I belong to the Shiv Dayal Mishra lineage and, therefore, can handle all the banis with all their unique features.
Is the word bani (literally, language) synonymous with gayaki (style of singing)?
The literal meanings are self-explanatory. The bani of Dhrupad, also known as ban, could be explained as stylistic idioms with definite lakshana or musical characteristics. While the word bani has multiple usages in Indian music that overlap with style, as well as gayaki, Dhrupad bani is neither style nor gayaki; it actually categorises distinctive stylistic idioms. Different sections of the alap portion can also display the lakshanas of different banis but the banis are most clearly captured within the well-defined and bounded framework of a bandish. The composers of the Bettiah gharana were remarkably successful in establishing each bani as a distinctive and glorious musical form.
What are the salient features of these forms?
Each bani has very definite lakshanas. For instance, Gaurhar Bani is meend pradhan. The compositions are set to slower pace with spaced out lyrics. Khandar bani is gamak pradhan and as a result exudes power. Dagur bani is comparatively more madhur or pleasing and saral or uncomplicated. Nauhar Bani is characterised by its complex gait, with unexpected movements and leaps. Musicians employ different alankars or ornamental techniques and embellishments in their practice to express the lakshanas. These alankars may vary from person to person or lineage to lineage; but the overall effect of each bani must conform to its definitive character. The composition of one bani cannot be fitted in another due to this reason.
You have modernised your style. How?
I treat lyrics with utmost care. Clear enunciation of each word, without twisting and breaking them during the bol-baant (rhythmic play with divided lyrics) are the most treasured characteristics of my singing. I have incorporated sargam singing and my layakari simply floats over the chosen tala — without the power-packed jerks or unnecessary stresses. Besides I choose my compositions to suit a given occasion.