Dhrupad maestro Baiju Bawra was overlooked by history: Can his hometown, Chanderi, change that?

A ramshackle samadhi is the only reminder of the famous Dhrupad singer Baijnath Mishra, popularly known as Baiju Bawra, in Chanderi, Madhya Pradesh. Known as a weaver’s town, Chanderi doesn't figure among the famed gharanas of classical music. It's mainly known for the special silk yarn that the eponymous Chanderi saris are made of. Accessibility to the town is not easy, the nearest airports of Bhopal and Gwalior are several hours’ drive away. In the absence of railway link, you need to get down at Lalitpur, about 37 km away. Yet, people throng this quaint town, whose rocky terrain is dotted with history and architectural landmarks, on the day of Basant Panchami.

They come to correct a serious omission in Indian classical music: One of the greatest Dhrupad singers, Baiju Bawra, lived here and breathed his last on Basant Panchami day in 1610. Compositions of Baiju Nayak or Baijnath Mishra are rendered by senior Dhrupad singers with reverence. But barring a Bollywood musical titled Baiju Bawra made in 1952 — that depicted the singer as somewhat crazy for his lady love and avenging his father’s death by defeating Tansen in a musical duel — not much is known about the legendary disciple of Swami Haridas, whose other disciple, Tansen, made a name for himself as one of the nine jewels in the court of Emperor Akbar.

Chanderi Fort. Image courtesy mptourism.com

Chanderi Fort. Image courtesy mptourism.com

If one digs deeper, a 68-page book, a collection of essays by Frederic Miller, Agnes Vandome et al. titled Baiju Bawra, is the only other text available on the singer’s life. It talks about the Dhrupad singer’s association with the Gwalior Court, where they say, he was a court singer. While Gwalior is rated among one of the oldest and most widely followed gharanas of the khayal gayaki of Hindustani music, Chanderi doesn't figure when major Dhrupad traditions are mentioned.

It’s a different matter that Chanderi finds a mention even in Ain-e-Akbari, the autobiography of Emperor Akbar; according to the book, Chanderi had 14,000 stone houses and boasted of 384 markets, 360 spacious caravan sarais (resting places) and 12,000 mosques. Incidentally, the Persian text also defines Dhrupad, in a four-line rhyme.

Rudra Veena ustad Mohiuddin Bahauddin Dagar performs at Chanderi

Rudra Veena ustad Mohiuddin Bahauddin Dagar performs at Chanderi

To make a correction in musical history, three years ago, the Shri Anchleshwar Mahadev Mandir Foundation (SAMMF), launched an initiative with Raza Foundation and the Nagar Palika Parishad, Chanderi, to restore the place of the legendary Dhrupad composer and singer and to pay tributes to his genius by organising the annual Baiju Bawra Dhrupad Festival, in Chanderi. Dhrupad ang or the genre, which is solemn, pure and spiritual, celebrates the sound more than the word, and follows the ancient tradition as prescribed in the Natya Shastra. The khayal gayaki evolved from Dhrupad, with foreign influences.

In the absence of academic research on the life and works of the saint singer, the organisers are working towards collecting the bandishes of Baiju, to understand the person and the artist. Chandra Prakash Tiwari, of SAMMF, has already collected 28 of his compositions, a few from Ustad Wasifuddin Dagar, who had rendered Baiju’s compositions in a CD titled A Tribute to Baiju Bawra. Tiwari says the compositions deal with love, nature and god, and help us define Baiju's personality. The foundation is planning to publish his compositions for the benefit of musicians.

Bihar Bandhu - Sanjiv and Manish

Bihar Bandhu - Sanjiv and Manish

The purpose of this initiative was to resurrect the memory of the great Dhrupadiya, as also to bring concert music to small towns like Chanderi, where people remain oblivious to the richness of their cultural heritage. “There is concentration of cultural activities in cities; we work on bringing artists of repute to smaller towns and also involve local people in the pursuit of art,” says Tiwari, of SAMMF.

Therefore, from its very first year, in 2016, the Dhrupad festival introduced workshops in classical music, involving school and college students of Chanderi and the region, by renowned Dhrupad singers Padma Shri Gundecha Brothers, who talked about the significance and majesty of the oldest form of Indian classical music — Dhrupad sangeet. The Baiju Bawra Smriti Samman was introduced to honour artists committee to promotion of Dhrupad; that year the award was conferred on the Gundecha Brothers — Ramakant and Umakant Gundecha. The following year, in 2017, Ustad Bahauddin Dagar, gave a Rudra Veena recital in the Dhrupad ang, commemorating the memory of Baiju Bawra. The festival also featured a vocal Dhrupad recital by the Bihar Bandhu, Sanjeev and Manish Jha, disciples of Gundecha Brothers.

In its third chapter, Dhrupad singer Uday Bhawalkar, who runs a small swarkul in Pune, where he teaches Dhrupad gayaki to young artists in the guru shishya parampara, was conferred the Baiju Bawra Smriti Samman.

Dhrupad workshop in progress

Dhrupad workshop in progress

Sustaining a festival of ancient music, that too in a nondescript town, has its own pitfalls. After the first chapter, the organisers found it hard to raise financial support. “At times, we go door to door to collect chanda, but the show must go on,” says Tiwari. This year, due to the Assembly by-elections, on the evening of 19 January, even the Nagar Palika withdrew its support (the local MP from Guna, Jyotiraditya Scindia, was invited as the chief guest and his name was printed on the invitation cards, which went against the code of conduct).

As it turned out, on Basant Panchmi day, people flocked to Chanderi anyway. It has become a people’s festival, and they are committed to carry on the tradition. “Baiju’s music was deeply spiritual and was for the common man, it was not for the elite, confined to a king’s court. Something similar is attempted here,” said Uday Bhawalkar. Laying floral tributes on the samadhi, he broke into a composition by the saint-singer. In the evening, the Raja Rani ka Mahal, the 16th century heritage building of the Bundela kings, decorated with flowers and diyas, reverberated with the notes of ancient music, rendered by Bhawalkar. The green valley of Chanderi woke up to familiar musical notes, even as the evening became night.


Updated Date: Feb 08, 2018 18:57 PM

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