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Audio and Video Recordings and Articles on Dhrupad and the Dagar Tradition All articles © Ashish Sankrityayan

Ustad Nasiruddin Khan at the Coffee House, Calcutta

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Nasiruddin Khan – the torch bearer of the Behram Khani Dhrupad tradition after his illustrious predecessors, his uncle Zakiruddin and father Allabande, had a great following among the cognoscenti in Bengal. His remarkable singing, his great knowledge of shastra, and his extraordinary mastery over shruti, the microtones that bring out the flavour of ragas, has been written about by several writers – Dhurjati Prasad Mukhopadhyay, Gyan Prakash Ghosh, and Suresh Chakrabarty to name a few.  His reputation  had already preceded him when he visited the city in the last week of December 1935 to perform at the 2nd All Bengal Conference. The star of the first conference of 1934, inaugurated by Tagore the previous year at the Senate Hall, had been Faiyaz Khan, and Nasiruddin Khan proved to be the most talked about performer in the second. Yet, when he took to the stage in the first of his two performances at the Conference on 29th December at the University Institute Albert Hall College Square, he was greeted with a half empty hall. The musicians and connoisseurs were, of course, present, since many had heard him before in Allahabad and Varanasi in the preceding years, but some members of the public had left – a striking reminder of the waning interest in dhrupad.

Nasiruddin Khan Amrita Bazar All Bengal Conference 1935

Review of the All Bengal Conference 1935 in the Amrita Bazar hails Nasiruddin Khan as its Central Attraction

Nasiruddin Khan sang raga desh followed by bhatiyar, accompanied on pakhavaj by Vijay Singh – son of the renowned Parbat Singh. His second, morning session at the conference had a full audience, as word about his remarkable singing had by then spread. He sang todi and bhairavi. He, of course, accompanied his singing with his remarkable exposition on shastra, for which he was well known. The Amrita Bazar Patrika hailed him as the ‘Central Attraction’ of the Conference, and devoted nearly half of its review of the conference to his singing. This would, however, prove to be Nasiruddin Khan’s only visit to Calcutta, and also his last major appearance in a conference. He was invited to perform again in the next All-Bengal, but passed away sometime the following year in his early forties. Born in Udaipur in the early 1890’s, his untimely death at the height of his fame was a major turning point for dhrupad. Several writers have called him the last of the giants of dhrupad. It is indeed unthinkable today that a dhrupad singer would be hailed as the ‘Central Attraction’ of a major four day conference featuring over fifty artists.

Advertisement of the 1938 All Bengal Conference in the Amrita Bazar Patrika

Advertisement of the January 1938 All Bengal Conference in the Amrita Bazar Patrika

After his death, his younger brother Rahimuddin Khan appeared at a repeat session of the conference at the University Institute College Square on 5th April 1937. His performance of malkauns, which was followed by Enayet Khan’s sitar, was lauded by the Amrita Bazar Patrika which stated that like his elder brother Rahimuddin Khan seemed to have a passion for Alap. Rahimuddin also performed at the All Bengal the following year 1938 in January.

Nasiruddin Khan’s elder cousin Ziauddin Khan – son of Zakiruddin Khan, performed in the All Bengal at the First Empire theatre on 30th December 1940 evening, singing raga darbari kanada, and 1st December 1941 in the morning session, accompanied by Nasiruddin’s eldest son Moinuddin.

The Albert Hall in 1942 became the Coffee House, and we can get a pretty good idea of where the stage on which Nasiruddin Khan and others sang in the 2nd All Bengal was located in today’s coffee house, by comparing later pictures  with this photo on the last page of the Amrita Bazar Patrika of 5th January 1936, which appears alongside miscellaneous photos from the Independence movement,  of Mussolini’s children, M. Visveswaria, Prince Aly Khan shopping in New Market, sports champions, and the Bertram Mills Circus. The Conference was, of course, in the pre-microphone era. By  visiting the Coffee House on College Street after closing hours today, we could get a pretty good idea of the kind of acoustics to which Nasiruddin Khan and others sang in the conference, since the space does not seem to have changed much since those days. Given its high ceiling, I would expect the acoustics to be very impressive, which is also evident from the awesome din of voices during business hours. What a pity we don’t use venues like this for acoustic concerts instead of using the awful mikes and loud amplification in spaces with dead acoustics today, that kills all nuances.

albert-hall.jpg

Indian-Coffee-House-Kolkata(2)Coffee House

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have discussed at length the various available accounts of Nasiruddin Khan’s singing, including his appearance at the All-Bengal, the All-India Conferences of V. N. Bhatkhande, the Allahabad University, and other conferences, as also accounts of performances of Zakiruddin, Allabande, Riyazuddin, Ziauddin and Rahimuddin Khan, in my soon to be published book – Dhrupad of the Dagars, Conceptual Foundations and Contemporary Questions, Munshiram Manoharlal Pvt. Ltd.

photos of the coffee house from
http://www.andhrawishesh.com/375-wishesh-special/38621-yatra-wishesh-a-journey-through-nostalgia-with-indian-coffee-house-kolkata.html
and
http://tasveerjournal.com/2012/11/12/disappearing-professions-in-urban-india/

 

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One Response

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  1. What an enlightened article for all connoisseurs to note! I am very impressed as I come from Kolkata [Calcutta], the city of Culture. I have fond memories of The famous Coffee House in Kolkata where I met the living legend Mr Soumitra Chatterjee, the internationally renowned film star in the late ’60s.

    I was immensely enthusiastic to read that the star of the first conference of 1934, inaugurated by the Nobel Laureate Poet Rabindranath Tagore the previous year at the Senate Hall, had been Faiyaz Khan, and Nasiruddin Khan proved to be the most talked about performers in the second. The b/w photographs are simply amazing!!!!

    It is fabulously penned. I would love to read your book; which is to be published soon.

    With all good wishes for your writings….

    Maitreyee Sarcar HF FRSA [Mrs],
    Surtarang Broadcast, UK.


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