Satyasheel Deshpande on the role of bandish and gharanas in Hindustani classical music

Conversations with Satyasheel Deshpande, however brief, cannot fail to enrich the musical knowledge of the listener. A deep passion for his sangeet and his stern, solid voice deliver a wealth of learning about Hindustani classical music, and one takes away a previously unknown nuance or two about the art form even after the shortest of exchanges with the maestro.

Satyasheel Deshpande on the role of bandish and gharanas in Hindustani classical music

A disciple of Kumar Gandharva, the master of khyal, Satyasheel Deshpande explores different interpretations of the same raga sung by different gharanas. Facebook@NCPAMumbai

I had the opportunity to interact with this master of the khyal (a form of sangeet in north Indian classical music) once, part of an art class of journalism school, and another time in the capacity of an interviewer keen to know the technicalities that go into deciphering a bandish.

Ahead of his lecture-demonstration Bandish and Gharana at the National Centre for Performing Arts (NCPA) in Mumbai on 23 August 2018, Deshpande spoke about how there was a time when a student of a particular gharana (school of music) would hear the sangeet only of that gharana and every vocalist would sing in a style allied only to his/her own school.

And yet, his guru, the legendary Kumar Gandharva, was never bound by the confines of a single school; rather he created a homogeneous compound of all these gharanas. As a student, Deshpande was shown, rather than taught, how to sing the same raga in Gwalior or Agra or Jaipur, and with each style divulge a different mood, an alternate interpretation and diverse shades of the same notes of music.

Unhone hume koi formula nahi diya ke rat ke yaad karo (he never gave us a formula for rote learning how to sing a raga),” he said.

In our college classroom, equipped with a harmonium, Deshpande had taken it upon himself to expose most of us – blithely unaware of what constitutes the Agra, or Jaipur, or Bhendi Bazaar gharanas – to the change that occurs in a raga when it is sung in these variations.

Even as the raga remains the same, “Ek hi Gaur Malhar ki khushbu Agra gharane mein alag hai, Jaipur mein alag, Gwalior mein alag (The same Gaur Malhar has a different essence in Agra, Jaipur or Gwalior),” he says.

A point that he illuminated both the times we interacted was how music can be moulded to your temperament and mood at any given moment. This freedom to express himself through music is something that attracts him to the Hindustani classical genre, he says.

Additionally there is also a tension of creating something new because you have to be spontaneous. To help us students understand this, Deshpande played the tune of 'Kajra Re' (from the film Bunty Aur Babli) on his harmonium.

Starting with the mukhda, 'Kajra re, kajra re tere kale kale naina,' he completed only a part of the cycle and the rest of the beats filled with music were a product of spur-of-the-moment creativity.

A rhythm cycle of eight beats was brought to its saam (the start and end point of every cycle) by singing the mukhda in the first half and the next half was left to the artist to be filled with his own interpretation of the raga — it was not pre-composed.

This is exactly why the unfolding of a raga becomes a process, like slowly unwrapping a gift and the same maestro’s concert of the same raga is attended by the same audience multiple times for years only to witness these spontaneous improvisations in the performance.


How would the founders of the various gharanas of Hindustani classical music document their interpretations of a raga? The only way to do that was to compose a bandish.

The bandish of every gharana thus has its own flavor. It holds its own particular aesthetic approach to perceive the raga. Facebook@SatyasheelDeshpande

The bandish of every gharana has its own flavor and holds its own particular aesthetic approach to perceive the raga, he says. Facebook@SatyasheelDeshpande

In his demonstration on 23 August, the vocalist, whose most memorable performances include duets with Asha Bhonsale as a playback singer for films like Lekin and Vijeta, is set to demonstrate a raga like Gaur Malhar and explore its andaaz (style) in the Jaipur, Gwalior or Agra gharana, at times by referring to the recordings of past masters' compositions.

Without technology, a raga was coded in a bandish. The bandish of every gharana thus has its own flavour. It holds its own particular aesthetic approach to perceive the raga and it is because of these myriad interpretations that we have different gharanas today.

Socio-cultural and geographical aspects are at play in influencing the treatment given to the same raga and it has been documented through these bandishes by various artists hailing from different places.

“The same bandish is generally not found in different schools, each one has its own compositions,” he says.

Yet, a bandish cannot be the only interpretation of a raga, it is just one facet of music. A raga has multiple definitions; for instance, the whole of Malkauns practiced in more than two thirds of the country today cannot be accommodated in that one composition. So, to understand a raga in totality, knowing one composition of a gharana is not enough, he says.

While the language of a bandish is predominantly Hindi, a lot of local slang has — through the generations — found its way into our classic music, he says.

But Hindustani is not a ‘bhasha pradhan’ (language based) sangeet. Words are used as a plectrum, to produce ‘aghat’ (strokes) that bring forth the variations of the raga through the bandish. Sometimes, a slight, wordless taan or tarang blends into the tune, giving it a different spin, and the stress is most often on the enunciation of the words rather than the language of a composition.

With a rich repertoire of compositions in North Indian classical music collected over a decade, Deshpande is in himself a treasure trove of knowledge about the vast spectrum of Hindustani classical music.

Bandish and Gharana: A lecture-demonstration by Satyasheel Deshpande
At the NCPA | On 23 August 2018, at 6.30 pm
More details here

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Updated Date: Aug 23, 2018 11:37:08 IST

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