Flautist Nityanand Haldipur on how his gurus opened for him the gates of Maihar gharana
Having trained in and performed for years music that is steeped in tehraav (restrain), it isn’t surprising Nityanand Haldipur comes across as a calm and introspective artiste. His responses to questions are detailed and unhurried like the long, lingering phrases that flow from his bansuri. The vast emotional range that his instrument traverses is reflective of his intense engagement with the art.
“When you choose your guru, you choose the gharana too. And at that point your art gains a sense of direction. Beyond refining the technique, it’s imbibing the stylistic nuances of the gharana and creative traits of the guru that make the music a cathartic experience,” says Haldipur.
A young learner, he feels, should necessarily be initiated into a gharana for a systematic and disciplined learning. “As a student travels deeper into a musical tradition, his understanding develops to such an extent that he gains a better perspective of other influences. Training in a gharana equips the artiste to face challenges and explore avenues to find an individual expression.”
When Haldipur began to learn from his idol and the Maihar gharana stalwart, Pannalal Ghosh, who was his father’s guru, he knew he was opting for a music that was serene and replete with spiritual essence.
Pannalal Ghosh transformed a humble folk instrument into a 32-inch long bamboo flute and carved a place for it among classical music instruments. He mastered the technique and grammar to play traditional heavy ragas such as Todi, Darbari, Puriya, Shri and Kedar as well the ones he conceived.
“Though I couldn’t learn much from him since he insisted I focus on academics, in the time I spent with him I realised why Maihar is my musical comfort zone.”
The gharana, established in the 19th century, is known for purity of raag, since it believes each raag has a personality that needs to be maintained by musicians. Baba Allauddin Khan, who gave the gharana its identity, learnt from many masters before creating a style of his own. So if jor and alaap have a dhrupad orientation, in the vilambit gat, the vistar and taans have a predominant khayal leaning. This widened the canvas of the raag, making it possible for an artiste with imagination and training to render it for more than an hour without making it sound tedious.
“Like Baba, most of the Maihar maestros were interesting personalities. Pannalal Ghosh was a wrestler, archer and freedom fighter before he became an exponent of the bansuri. I particularly recall his teaching of Yaman and the bandish, “Guru bin kaise gun paave, Guru na maane toh gun na aave, Gunijan mein beguni kahave…’ Miyan Achpal, a court musician who belonged to the QawwalBacche tradition, wrote this composition as his guru dakshin to a fakir who had taught him a lesson in humility.”
Haldipur learnt many a significant aspect of art and life when he managed to convince the reclusive guru Annapurna Devi to accept him as her disciple. He was then under the tutelage of Pannalal Ghosh’s son-in-law Devendra Murdeshwar. He first met Annapurna Devi when he accompanied Ghosh’s daughter Sudha to her house. “When we came out after meeting her, Sudhaji stopped near the compound wall and told me, ‘As an artiste, whenever you think you are facing a wall, go to Annapurna Devi’.
But it wasn’t easy reaching her. Haldipur had to wait for more than a decade before he got to meet her again through Ustad Ali Akbar Khan’s disciple, Rajeev Taranath. “Though she was known as a recluse, she cut herself off from the world for a purpose. She did music tapasya; spending all her time in passing on her Baba’s (Allauddin Khan) impeccable legacy to a select group of disciples. ‘If you become my sishya, you may not get applause from the audience or acknowledgement from hundreds,’ she warned me. But nothing could dissuade me. The divinity, intensity and bhaav that I experienced in her music is something I will cherish for a lifetime.”
Annapurna Devi had heard Haldipur play raag Yaman on the radio and realised it was his forte. “But the day she taught me the raag was when I truly felt I had become a part of the celebrated Maihar lineage,” says the veteran flautist.