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Friday, January 24, 2020

Notes from the past

A festival brought to the fore the 200-year-old musical legacy of Hariharpur.

Written by Suanshu Khurana | New Delhi | Published: December 12, 2019 12:52:14 am
Musicians from Hariharpur at the concert; (below) Pt Chhannulal Mishra

Najariya lag jayegi, mere kanha ko koi mat dekho… this age-old dazzling dadra in Khamaj, thumri’s favourite raga, made an appearance at Delhi’s ML Bharatiya auditorium on popular demand last week. Seven students from Hariharpur, a sleepy little village about five km from Azamgarh in UP, sat on a stage amidst a small gathering, mostly of connoisseurs of classical music, and sang a rather interesting rendition of this dadra, which is also sung as a ‘badhaiya’ at weddings in UP. The rendition wasn’t masterful, but also not extremely far from skillful. This was followed by a ‘tabla yatra’ — a performance by seven percussionists, led by Suraj Mishra. He led the group through the mathematical intricacies of rhythm and presented peshkaar, qaida, rela and chakradhaar — compositional forms in tabla. The enthusiasm was infectious. The students wanted to present all that they had mastered, but for many years had not found the opportunity to.

Hariharpur is an indistinct village with a rather distinct legacy. It has produced many generations of great musicians, and has been home to Pt Chhannulal Mishra, Pt Gudai Maharaj, Pt Sarda Sahay and Pt Birju Maharaj, among others. With such a vast presence of so many musicians in a village, where it is a norm for all Brahmin families to train in Hindustani classical music, Hariharpur gharana came into being. An off-shoot of the famed Banaras gharana, Hariharpur also has its own tradition of “purabi gayaki”.

“It was very interesting to see young children, 10-11 years old, doing early morning riyaaz. But in the last few years, things have changed drastically,” says SK Mishra, Chairperson of Indian Trust for Rural Heritage and Development (ITRHD) and former chairman of INTACH.


Pt Chhannulal Mishra took one through a gamut of thumris and bhajans.

According to Delhi-based cultural impresario Anita Singh, Chairperson of Indian Music Society and a trustee with ITRHD, “There were hardly any concert options, so those who learned from their families began performing at weddings to earn livelihood.” This disheartened many and led some to leave music to look at more lucrative career options.

Mishra says that his work at INTACH was urban-oriented but he was keen to look at the rural sector. So after a friend mentioned the village, he decided to visit Hariharpur seven years ago, and was taken by the passion that he saw and decided to support the village. ITRHD has been instrumental in reintroducing music to Hariharpur through various mediums. A guru from Chhapra, Pt Ram Prakash, is regularly sent to Hariharpur to teach students, and some students travel to Lucknow to learn at the university. During the school holidays, for six weeks, some of them are sent to Banaras to learn the art of playing sarangi from Pt Kanhaiya Lal Mishra and ITRHD funds the same. Mishra, along with his team, has also started a music academy in the village. He has been presenting the students at festivals in Azamgarh, Lucknow and Delhi. “This is a way to give an identity to these students and also to the Hariharpur gharana,” says Mishra.

While the students performed, one of the most popular names to come out of Hariharpur, Pt Chhannulal Mishra, sat in the wings and smiled as he heard the renditions. In his performance later, he took one through a gamut of thumris and bhajans. “It all began in Hariharpur for him too,” says Singh.

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