Pt. Rajan Mishra’s bond with Benaras
Pt. Rajan Mishra’s music had a universal appeal but his heart belonged to Benaras. He enjoyed performing at renowned global venues but longed to return to his ancestral home in Kabir Chaura.
‘Swarangan, Padma Bhushan Rajan Sajan Mishra’ reads the black marble name plate outside the brothers’ large renovated house in one of the many narrow lanes of the Kalakar Colony. Though the brothers are not the only musicians and the only Mishras living here, they definitely are the star attraction of the colony that birthed the Benaras gharana. The stalwarts, who took the gharana to great heights, established their gurukul here, which has groomed several musicians, who have in turn further explored the gharana’s distinct gayaki.
During a visit to Benaras in November 2018, I spent an entire warm winter morning walking through this unique mohalla that houses the residences of musicians and dancers, the keepers of this ancient city’s cultural heritage. The sound of ghungroo and tabla, the music of harmonium, sitar and sarangi, and voices singing classical notes echo through the street.
Inspiring musical journey
Young Hindustani vocalists and brothers Rahul and Rohit Mishra, who are the grandsons of sarangi tabla exponent Pt. Sharda Sahai, say the musical journey of Pt. Rajan Sajan Mishra serves as an inspiration to the new generation of musicians living in the colony. “Though they moved to Delhi and travelled the world, their music continues to be imbued with the spirit of Benaras.”
To my sheer joy and surprise, as I passed by their house, I spotted them standing in the spacious portico dressed impeccably in silk dhoti and kurta. I walked towards the gate and introduced myself. They responded with a warm namaskar and apologised for not being able to invite me in since they were in a hurry to reach the Banaras Hindu University to receive an honorary doctorate. Before leaving, Pt. Rajan Mishra said, “Phir se kabhi zaroor aayiega yahan. Banarasi chai par charcha hogi.” (but do visit sometime again, we can talk over a cup of Banarasi chai).
In December 2018, when I met Pt. Rajan and Sajan Mishra before their performance at Kalakshetra, Chennai, they spoke about how apart from training, it’s the mahaul (ambience) they grew up in that shaped their artistic sensibilities. “At Kabir Chaura, we were surrounded by illustrious musicians, whose discussions and debates on music were part of our daily riyaaz. As young boys, while playing outside, we always heard someone singing or playing an instrument. The sights, sounds and every moment spent there during childhood continue to define my art,” said Pt. Rajan Mishra.
Childhood outings meant going to the Sankat Mochan temple to listen to maestros performing or sitting on the ghats of Ganga with friends watching birds, boats, sadhus and pilgrims.
“Ganga has been a companion both in life and art. We used to share our woes and dreams with the river. We often practised a bandish standing on its banks. Going down and climbing up the steps of the ghats felt like scaling the high and low notes. The spiritual aura of the city is what makes Benaras gharana’s music an immersive experience. There is no need to innovate, you just have soak in the bhakti,” said Pt. Rajan Mishra.
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