Bishnupur gharana

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The Bishnupur gharana (alternatively spelt Vishnupur gharana) (pronounced as /biʃ.nu.pur gʱɔ is a form of singing that follows the Dhrupad tradition of Hindustani music, one of the two forms of Indian classical music.[1] It originated in Bishnupur, West Bengal, India in late 18th-century.[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 who were devotees of Lord Vishnu and patrons of music. Bishnupur Gharana was established in 1370 A. D. by the court musicians of Malla Kings.[3] Historians suggest that 'Mallabhum' had once been the cultural centre of Eastern India.[4] It also has the distinction of being the only Gharana in West Bengal.


Entrance to the remains of the Palace of Bishnupur Kings

The gharana is reputed to have been established in the 13th century, even though there is no historic evidence to support this. In the 17th century, during the reign of Mughal emperor Aurangazeb, Islamic fanaticism was at its peak in the Mughal empire, and thus many musicians moved to the court of the Maharaja of Bishnupur who was a known patron of the arts.[5] The famous 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 efficiently play on such instruments as the Veena, the Rabaab, the surashringaar. The king, Raghunath Singh Deo II, 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.

Historical evidence points to Pt. Ramachandra Bhattacharya, a disciple of Ud. Bahadur Khan as the founder of the gharana.[6] Bishnupur Gharana therefore has a strong link to Betia Gharana through this unbroken relationship.[7]

In the later part of the eighteenth century and towards the early and mid-nineteenth century, when music of different 'Gharanas' were gradually assimilating around the Khayal style, the Dhrupad style continued flourishing among the musicians of Bishnupur.

Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande desired to be a disciple of Radhika Prasad Goswami since he found the most authentic renditions of the ragas and the most exhaustive repertoire of songs in Bishnupur Gharana (Reference:-Brammhoman by Dilip Kumar & Jugantor)

In 1921 when Prince Edward came to visit India, six artists of various gharanas were chosen to perform six Ragas for six Seasons. Three of them were from Bishnupur Gharana: Gopeswar Bandyopadhyay, Satyakinkar Bandyopadhyay and Khetra Mohan Goswami.

First maiden Gramophone record in Khayal in 1902 " Tara Parameshwari " by Lal Chand Baral,who learnt under Ramprassanna Bandyopadhyay (Vide Sangeet Chandrika) published by Gramophone Concert and Nicole.

First Dhrupad record in 1902 "Naad Bidya Sabse Sera" Raag Darbari, Taal Choutal, by Surendranath Bandyopadhyay published by Gramophone Concert. Khayal started from Ramshankar Bhattachariya's age. His writings on Khayal is being found "Bramhamoyi Paratpara", on the Raga "Yaman Kalyan".

Ramprasanna Bandyopadhyay was the foremost Surbahar and Sitar Artist of India up to 1928 (Vide: Sarojini Naidu's memoirs, Pramoth nath chowdhuries writings).

Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande first came across the Ustads of Bishnupur in a conference in Benaras around 1921/22 and this conference was attended by Radhika Prasad Goswami, Gopeswar Bandyopadhyay and Satyakinkar Bandyopadhyay. They gave a trio performance in Dhrupad (Since at that time Dhrupad Artists used to perform duets so in answer to that, they gave a trio performance). After this they gave individual performance.

Style of singing[edit]

In this style, the artist excels in unfolding the beauty of the Raga through the alap. It is simple, devoid of heavy, cumbersome ornamentation. It is free from intricate play with the rhythm. Layakari is however allowed in Dhamar, another form of vocalisation. The Khayal of the Bishnupur School is noted for its sweet, lilting melody. It is adorned with the usual ornaments, which add variety to the melodic presentation of the Raga.

The dhrupad of the Bishnupur gharana uses shuddha dhaivata in raga vasanta, a touch of komal nisada in the descending notes of Raga Bhairava. It has abandoned kadi madhyam (proper center) in raga ramakeli, and uses suddha dhaivata in raga puravi and Raga Lalita and komal nisad in raga vehaga. It has also developed its own character with regard to rhythm. It was this gharana which invented the tradition of Sawal-Jabab in Hindustani Music.n

Its origins and the development have led to a great openness in the teaching and evolution within this gharana.[8]

Famous musicians[edit]

Most of the exponents of Bishnupur learnt Dhrupad vocal and instrumental music simultaneously.

  • Ud. Bahadur Khan
  • Pandit Gadadhar Chakravorty (both vocal and instrumental music)
  • Pandit Ram Shankar Bhattacharya (1761–1853)
  • Pandit Jadu Bhatta
  • Pandit Anantalal Bandyopadhyay(1832–1896)
  • Pandit Ramprasanna Bandyopadhyay(1871–1929), he was the foremost Surbahar and Sitar Artist of India up to 1928(Vide: Sarojini Naidu's memoirs, Pramathanath Chowdhury's writings).
  • Pandit Gopeshwar Bandyopadhyay(1880–1963): He began as the court musician of the Maharaja of Burdwan Narajol and Mayurbhanj. He wrote a number of Books on Musicology, such as Sangeet-Chandrika, Geet-Darpan, and Geet-Praveshika, Sangeet-Lahari in Bengali language. He was awarded the Padma Shri by the President of India in 1962 for his contribution to Classical Music. One of his well-known disciples was singer K C Dey, who was uncle of Manna Dey.
  • Padmashree Surendranath Bandyopadhyay
  • Pandit Radhika Prasad Goswami: Poet and Nobel laureate, Rabindra Nath Tagore had his training in the Dhrupad style from Radhika Prosad Goswami. The Dhrupad style of Bishnupur had a good deal of influence on many of the songs composed by Tagore.
  • Pandit Girijashankar Chakraborty
  • Pandit Jogendra Nath Bandyopadhyay
  • Acharya Satyakinkar Bandyopadhyay(1899–1980): expert in Surbahar and Sitar. Nikhil Banerjee, who was a great sitar maestro was greatly influenced by Satyakinkar. He was the most talented musician in North Indian Classical Music. He was a multitalented person who held the knowledge of music like Dhrupad, Khayal, Thumri, Tappa and Bangla Kheyal. Besides his musical skills he was also an able instrumentalist with the hold on instruments like Surbahar, Setar, Esraj, Banjo, Joltorongo, Nyastaranga, Noukataranga, Harmonium, Tabla, Pakhwaj and Bansuri. He has, under his wings, the credit of 7 Discs and 10 Publishings till date.
  • Sangeetacharya Ramesh chandra Bandyopadhyay son of Gopeswar Bandyopadhyay was an outstanding dhrupadia & khayalia of this gharana.
  • Sangeetacharya Amiya Ranjan Bandyopadhyay,the senior most vocalist of the day and an outstanding figure in the world of Indian classical music. His music has remained unimpaired by age and he is not only a performing artiste but a man devoted to his art as a music-guru, mystic and musicologist. More than 10000 students have received talim from the Acharya. As a music teacher he takes pride in an inimitable record of guiding 14 such promising disciples who have topped in the music competition conducted by AIR.
  • Pandit Santanu Bandyopadhyay, who solved the mystery behind taan (Vocal Science), the first Indian who performed in Lincoln Memorial.
  • Sri K C Dey, the uncle of Manna Dey, also learned Dhrupad from Pandit Gopeshwar Banerjee. *
  • Pt. Kshetramohan Goswami: Another maestro in this area, invented the Dandamatrik System of musical notation in Bengal.
  • Pt. Jnanendra Prasad Goswami
  • Pandit Surendra Narayan Das Sangeet Ratna (1908-1986), an exponent of classical music in Comilla, Bangladesh. He was a disciple of Pandit Sree Girijashankar Chakraborty during 1930s in Kolkata. He was the Founder of Sangeet Shikhharthee Sammilan- A School of Music in Comilla during 1942. During his music tenure he created around 500+ bandish of various known and unknown raagas.
  • Pt. Gokul Nag, the famous sitarist (1908–1983)
  • Pt. Manilal Nag, his son, one of the living legends currently.
  • Vidushi Mita Nag, sitarist and daughter of Pt. Manilal Nag
  • Madhuvanti Pal, violinist and flutist and student of Mita Nag.
  • Vidushi Alaka Das (1945-Present). Daughter and disciple of Pandit Surendra Narayan Das. Carrying the flame of Bishnupur Gharana in Bangladesh over the last five decades. At present, she in the most senior classical music artist in the country.

In spite of producing such a talented group of musicians, Bishnupur lacked venues for performances. This prevented Bishnupur from becoming a performance center for the artists of the gharana.It was only in 2007 that an auditorium was opened in the town enabling public performances in the music of the gharana to the listening public.[9]


  1. ^ M. Ganguly (7 May 2008). "Sweet tributes to music". The Telegraph. 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. ^ "Bishnupur". Archived from the original on 25 October 2009. Retrieved 31 May 2008. 
  4. ^ Ghoash, P (2002). "Tales, Tanks, and Temples: The Creation of a Sacred Center in Seventeenth-Century Bengal". Asian Folklore Studies. 61 (1): 193–222. JSTOR 1178971. doi:10.2307/1178971. 
  5. ^ SinhaThakur, Debabrata (1970). Bishnupur Gharanar Utpatti Itihas. Bharabi, Bankura. p. 88. 
  6. ^ 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. 
  7. ^ "Dhrupad Gharanas in North Indian Classical Music". ITC Sangeeth Research Academy. Retrieved 1 June 2009. 
  8. ^ Owens, Naomi (1969). "Two North Indian Musical Gharanas". M. A. Thesis. University of Chicago. 
  9. ^ "Bishnupur gets its first auditorium". The Statesman. 1 March 2007. Retrieved 1 June 2009. [dead link]

Further reading[edit]

  • 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.

External links[edit]