The young and exuberant Anand Murdeshwar kept alive the impressive tradition in bansuri playing, traced to his grandfather, the legendary Shri Pannalal Ghosh. Anandji’s father, late Shri Devendra Murdeshwar was an eminent bansuri player. Shivani Saxena met up with this talented representative of an impeccable and impressive lineage at his residence, surrounded by greenery.
tell us something about your legendary grandfather,
Shri Pannalal Ghosh.
My grandfather (and also grand-guru) the revered Shri Pannalal Ghosh, was a multifaceted personality. I do not know where to begin, but to start with his early life - Destiny brought him to a floating bamboo with holes, which infact was an incomplete flute, while he was swimming in the river. He at once brought it home and gave it the shape of his destined instrument. Interestingly, he used the other half of the bamboo to drive his cattle and spent his quiet hours playing on the instrument, on the peaceful outskirts of his hometown. After his father’s demise, he experimented with several instruments, but finally listened to his heart and chose the divine instrument of Lord Krishna. He devoted himself wholeheartedly, practising for 10-14 hours a day. In fact, his music was similar to Lord Krishna’s - containing within it depth, true sentiments, and a heavenly serenity. I would like to think of him as the Krishna of Kaliyuga, as far as music is concerned.
His musical genius took him away from the daily grind of school. He left Barisal and came to Kolkata, where he took up a job as a supervisor in a tube well company. It was during his sojourns here that he came in contact with the tribal Santhals. He taught them physical culture and in turn, learnt archery from them. He took a fancy to their long tribal flute and perhaps the idea of the famous big flute germinated here. Later, he worked in a Kolkata press, at a salary of rupees 8/- a month. He was fond of cycling and rode on his bike every day to office.
He raised the status of the simple flute to a classical instrument in the North. Earlier, it was only used as a folk instrument and as a medium for light classical forms of music. It was felt that this simple instrument could not express the intricacies and nuances of classical music.
Panna babu saw with the foresight of a genius, that this seemingly simple instrument could produce all the notes and semi-notes in the musical octave, which was the basis of all music. All that was needed was practice and patience, for it to produce the finest nuances of classical music. With great diligence, Shri Pannalal Ghosh used the flute to play the stately vilambit, which was his forte, as well as drut and gamak taans. His style was an ethereal combination of the delicate and the forceful.
Panna babu’s music was spiritual in tone. He introduced the 7th hole to the bansuri way back in 1943, thus giving it an extra note. He also invented the big, bass flute. He mastered this flute, which has a rich and flexible tone. His innovative modifications give to the flute, the advantage of raga vistars from one octave to another and facilitate covering of all 3 octaves. He produced the most beautiful aspects of all ragas on this evolved instrument. To him in fact, goes the credit for these innovations, though it has unfortunately been claimed by other musicians of fame
My grandfather’s genius soon and inevitably came to the notice of the public. In 1956 he joined All India Radio Delhi, as a composer and director of the National Orchestra. He played in records with other worthy musicians of stature, such as Shri Anil Biswas and Sachin Dev Burman. He also won the 1st prize in the All Bengal Music Conference. He was a regular performer at the All India Radio.In 1935 he was appointed as a staff member of New Theatres, a leading film concern. He played in the orchestra here, headed by veteran composer, Shri R.C. Boral. He worked here at a princely sum of rupees 100/- a month! It was here that he came in contact with Ustad Khushi Mohammed, a veteran harmonium artiste and became his disciple. Unfortunately, Ustad Khushi Mohammed did not live long after this. My grandfather then sought tutelage under the late Shri Girija Shankar Chakravarty. However, he found his true destination when he became a ganda bandh disciple of the master of Maihar, Ustad Allauddin Khan. He then, with his characteristic ingenuity, expressed the intricacies of the Maihar gharana through the flute.
In 1940 he came to Bombay and started working as a music director in films. He composed the music for films such as ‘Jhoola’, ‘Basant’, ‘Police’, and ‘Andolan’. In ‘Andolan’, he based the national song ‘Vande Mataram’ in raga Malhar, which gave it tremendous and meaningful appeal. Another popular song from the film was based on raga Shree. However, Panna babu’s intrinsically artistic temperament led him away from the superficial world of films and he concentrated with even more intensity on his music.
As for his personality, his large frame enclosed a larger heart. An interesting facet of his life was that he was heavily into physical exercise and had taken training under two brothers, Barkada and Tukada, in Barisal. There is an anecdote that I would like to relate here. Once Shri Pannalal Ghosh was performing in Shivpuri Engineering College in Bengal, when his old guru, Barkada heard him and greatly appreciated his switchover from the physical to the musical arena, as also his mastery over the latter.
Pannalalji was a boxing instructor too for some time. From the Japanese, he learnt Ju-Jitsu, which is their art of self-defence. In fact, my grandfather’s physical fitness greatly helped him in mastering the big flute, which required tremendous strength in blowing. He was a simple man, with a straightforward principle of saintly music that is, Nad Brahma. For him, music and meditation were synonymous terms. He was so saintly, that while playing the first note, shadaj (sa) he used to take the Lord’s name and dedicate his rendition to God. People can still listen to this in his recordings. His music is priceless. He was never governed by commercial considerations. He was a simple person and had no ill feelings whatsoever, for any other person.
do you see your father, Shri Devendra Murdeshwar, as
a man and a musician?
My father was a man who could understand his guru as a musician the most, and tried to cultivate the same principle of guru shishya parampara, which was practised by Panna babu himself. My father was very loving and caring towards all his friends, students, and contemporaries. He was always in demand with other musicians, who referred to his vast encyclopedic knowledge in music, off and on.
Devendra babuji was a wonderful teacher, but looked for no monetary gains therein. He gave his knowledge freely to his students and also gave them the flutes, specially made by him. These masterpieces bear a testimony to his genius and are cherished by their proud owners. He practised the gayaki ang. Whenever he played, it was exactly as though the flute were singing. If Panna babu were alive to listen to his beloved student, he would have greatly appreciated the style and delicate nuances of gayaki ang, as practised by my father.
were your early years like?
As is clear from my background, music was a way of life in our family. I was deeply influenced by my grandfather and father. I was born and brought up in Delhi. At the tender age of 6, I could distinguish between the styles of my father and grandfather. Music, is thus in my blood.Initially, I started lessons in vocal music from my grandmother, Shrimati Parul Ghosh, and mother, Shrimati Sudha Murdeshwar (daughter of the legendary Pannalal Ghosh). (Incidentally, Shrimati Parul Ghosh was the first playback singer of Indian cinema). Earlier, I was inclined towards the tabla and while in the 9th standard, even accompanied my father at a performance. However, the flute was meant to be my destined instrument, as events turned out later.
My mother was suffering from cancer. At this time (1974) my grandmother gave me a beautiful flute tuned to kali 5 to play. My grandmother expressed the wish, that I learn to play the flute and that my mother would like to hear me in her lifetime. I thus took to playing the bansuri on emotional grounds.My first lesson was in raga Yaman, a serene raga of the evening, which was taught to me by my grandmother, Shrimati Parul Ghosh. After a year of training, I could play raga Shree to the accompaniment of the tabla. On 27th December 1974, I staged a performance for my mother and attempted a shruti of komal re (flat re), which Pannalalji used to take. This was an emotional moment, which deeply moved both my mother and grandmother. That was the time when I chose the bansuri.
I lost my mother on 21st January 1975. From that time onwards, I became a serious bansuri player. My grandmother, a vocalist, gave me gayaki training. My father too guided me and taught me to sing through the flute.
Tell us about your musical lineage and important principles of your gharana? How do you see
your own responsibility in this regard?
The emphasis in our gharana is the projection of surs which can cultivate feelings of the supreme truth - Nad Brahma. This principle was practised by Dadu (Panna babu) and my father. I too am trying to cultivate the same principle. The prasad left by both Dadu and my father, is sufficient to groom my own style of playing. I have been gifted by the almighty, to distinguish between the different styles of flute playing, but I have surrendered completely to the style inculcated by my Dadu and father, whose music can take one to eternity.
do you describe your style?
Earlier I used to copy Shri Pannalal Ghosh, but my father advised me to cultivate my own style, instead of copying someone else. My father had a sweet and soft style, while my grandfather’s was a sonorous, vibrant, and meditative style. Pannalalji used to play in an emotional and meditative way and he captured the mood of each raga beautifully. I try to blend the two styles and impart emotions to grammar. In fact, each artiste’s imagination differs and he should project his emotions accordingly. This discrimination comes through right taaleem. I was fortunate to get the right taaleem from my father, Shri Devendra Murdeshwar
are related to the respected Shri Anil Biswas. What
have been your experiences with this living legend?
a great deal of respect for him and we share a special
musical bond. Whenever he listens to me playing, tears
spontaneously flow from his eyes.
Tell us about the bansuri.
The bansuri is a beautiful medium for expressing ones emotions. It is a naked instrument by itself, having 6-7 holes. It is the player who has to introduce the komal and tivra notes through finger play. (Here Anandji spontaneously gave a very informative and interesting demonstration of the playing technique on bansuri, by playing the sweet notes of raga Vrindavani Sarang, much to my delight!).
there a memorable event in your life that you would
like to share?
the All India Radio competition in instrumental music
in 1977, which was a moment of great happiness for me.
do you compare audiences in India and abroad?
audience in the west is more aware and educated. They
love serious music. Contrary to popular belief, they
understand the depths of Indian classical music.
do you compare the Indian classical music scene today
with that of the yesteryears?
The confusion in the minds of the young finds a reflection in their music too. Modern music is related only to the electrifying sensations of the body, but true music should give you the taste of eternal bliss. It should be original in terms of creativity.True music touches your soul. It reminds you of God. It comes from the heart and is a means of reaching God. However, a good sign today is that youngsters are getting interested in classical music, as is apparent from the Malhar festival at Xavier’s college, which is immensely popular. It is important that we preserve the recordings of old masters and use them as reference material. This will be of immense benefit to the new generation.
Indian classical music is soothing and relieves you of stress. The Time theory which is unique to our music is scientific and well thought out. In the morning, there is an ascending mood in swaras, which plateaus during the afternoon and descends at night. It matches with, and is in harmony with our temperament. In fact, it is serious music which relaxes you. I see a very bright future for Indian classical music.