Classicist to the core
Pandit Debu Chaudhuri excelled in innovating new ragas within the rigid framework
Photo: V.V. Krishnan
PADMA BHUSHAN Pandit Debu (Devabratha) Chaudhuri is a living legend of the purist Jaipur-Senia gharana, handed over by none other than Tansen. This `encyclopaedia' of Hindustani instrumental music who was here for a recital at the University of Hyderabad recently shared some of his profound thoughts on the music scenario as it exists today in the northern belt, his uncompromising attitude and adherence to the chaste strain, and his own contribution to music for posterity.
"A virtuous and wise musician lets his art speak for itself,'' Pandit Debu says as he gently takes up the sitar and plays the basic notation of a raga he had composed. The instrument vibrates with life at the feather touch of his nimble fingers. The raga `Bisweswari' takes on `Malkose' (`aarohan') in the ascent and `Kanada' in the descent (`avarohan') with a definite structure that one can hardly guess the scale (`mela') of `Charukesi'. "This was my first creation in the year 1970 and I chose to name it after my father,'' he explains. Still soaring in the melody of the sample `Bisweswari', the mind refuses to register facts.
Pleased, he goes on to demonstrate his recent `Prabhathi Manjari' so called after his late wife. He muses, "My wife passed away three years ago and her memories made my loneliness bearable. One fine day, this raga took birth spontaneously and I wanted to add her name to it.'' This was the eighth raga out of his musical lexicon so far. "I am always open to censure and correction if any of the music scholars find my eight new ragas already existing. I had demonstrated them to connoisseurs and pandits alike before I christened the raga and recorded it. What makes a raag is nothing but a melodic structure. No performing art can be static, it has to evolve to survive,'' he answers to a question on the veracity of a new raga.
No matter how learned a musician he is, Debu Chaudhuri is unaware of the urgent need to patent his new creations. So much for our untainted traditionalists who have never been trained to commercialise their art.
His is a unique sitar fashioned on the model of the oldest school of string instrumental music. While most sitar players work on a 19-fret instrument, Pandit Debu adheres to the conventional 17 frets (comprising Komalini and Komalka). It requires more skill and pull at the strings to create resonant melodies. And with him, the sitar simply pulsates. "Commercial norms notwithstanding, I am proud to be the torch bearer of the puritanical tradition. I would like to hand this over to the next generation in its entire purity. I have nearly 30 students and my son Prateek as performing sitarists. My life's achievement would be fulfilled if at least a handful of them preserve the traditional playing as I have bequeathed it to them and continue to do so for posterity,'' he laments.
He has worn the mantle of his great guru late Ustad Musthaq Ali Khan, a rare musician of a calibre that went unsung during his time. "Those were the souls that breathed music, lived music and died in music. The rest of the material world was non-existent to them,'' he turns nostalgic at the thought of his guru who was the first to perceive and encourage him to innovate new ragas within the rigid framework.
His legacy for posterity is classification of traditional instrumental compositions both in `Drupad' and `Khyal' with all details in place so that the content and technicalities are evident to the learner and practitioner. This is a UGC sponsored project. There are many sides to the pandit. He was the faculty for music and fine arts at University of Delhi, one of the longest standing AIR graded artistes, an author with awards galore, which he wears with humility. His brand of music has a distinct identity and he remains a cut above the rest of his clan even today.
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