Banaras Baaz --

Crystal Feather: Chhotelal Misra

By Rajiv Trivedi




Pt. Chhote Lal Misra was born in a Bengali family on 12th April, 1940. It indeed is mystifying how a particular talent adorns one person and not another. A matter of greater concern is that in how many instances can that talent be preserved and nourished. It depends a lot on human society around it. Fortunately, being in Varanasi young Chhote Lal could find properr moorings. The wizard of Tabla, Pandit Anokhelal Misra took the young boy of six under his tutelage and started him on his path to becoming a worthy disciple of the King of 'NA DHIN DHIN NA'. One has to experience it to fathom the love, the heart of a Guru holds beneath his stern exterior. Anokhelal ji became immediately attached to Chhotelal ji for the young boy was so quiet, docile yet brilliant.

The little boy whose fingers moved on his own now became conscious of their capabilities and began observing his mentor. Learning to keep hands and fingers steady, placing them a particular way to create the desired sound -- it was a game and more than that, magic! The young boy went on practising and gradually began to ingrain the wizardry of creating sound with fingers. Just a peck of finger, and it should produce sound clear as crystal; where sharpness was not dependent on volume. Young disciple gradually began to teach his fingers to be as sensitive as the master's. Dr. Kumar Rhishitosh remarks, "Pt. Misraji is endowed with an exceptional tonal quality of his right fingers and a blend of light filigree touch of the right drum with depth of the left." This gentle touch was the outcome of quite some hard training.

Having started so young Pt. Chhote Lal ji had masterd the nuances of Banaras Baaz.He had beguan playing with Dr. N. Rajam and several vocalists. Dr. Lalmani Misra proved to be his co-mentor. He had mastery over numerous musical instruments. Recalls Chhote Lal ji, "Sometimes, when I would get a chance to accompany Guru ji on his riyaaz (on vichitra veena mostly, but then it could be other instrument at times -- Siat, Santoor, Sarod) after sometime he would begin throwing challenges. He taught me the art of chhand and layakaari. He would use aadi, biyaadi, kuaadi, maha-biyaadi and so on. It was sheer joy when I could be on stage with him. No one but Pt. Ravishankar ji could match him in ladant and sawal-jawab. Ravishankar ji is one insturmentalists besides Dr. Misra,Dr. Ragini Trivedi with Pt. Chhote lal Misra who uses his knowledge of Taal in his stage presentations. No doubt the Teen-taal is Sampoorna taal, but today most instrumentalists use this taal alone. We have such a treasury of beats and complex structures. They may not have a popular appeal but if the instrumentalists don't use these alternative taal-s, tabla-players would also start forgetting them. Jhap-taal, Jhoomra, Matta, Ashtmangal are scantily used today. It is only the senior people who do that. The younger musicians steer clear of them."

Encouraged by his Guru young Chhote Lal also paid attention to his formal education. He was appointed as Lecturer in Music College of BHU. Through the efforts of Dr. Lalmani Misra doctoral programmes had been started and students from far and wide were flocking to pursue these courses. It was a wonderful opportunity for Chhotelal ji to be associated with Dr. Misra and others who supervised these doctoral students. All his mastery of Tabla had a ready and willing audience. There is no learning like when you teach. Sure of yount master Dr. Misra decided to to introduce him to world audience. So on Dr. Misra's next trip to Philadelphia as visiting professor, Chhote Lal Misra accompanied him. The students, and audience in the few concerts arranged there, realized that he could present difficult compositions, tihai-s and complex layakari-s with proper weight and clarity in a simple, easy, unpretentious manner. The peaceful poise and complex achievement has remained the hall mark of his recital.

The promise he had exhibited as a young man matured with age. Top artistes began first to accept and then to request for his accompaniment. Varanasi is one of those cities in India where all artistes are willing to perform; the city itself is the seat of many an interantional artistes. Famous artists like Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Ustad Nisaar Hussain Khan, Ustad Salamat Ali Khan, Pt. Ram Chatur Mallik, Pt. Siyaram Tiwari, Pt. Basavraj Rajguru, Vidushi Kishori Amonkar, Vidushi Girija Devi, Lakshmi Shankar, Nirmala Devi, Prof. M.R. Gautam, Pt. Rajan-Sajan Mishra, Pt. Jasraj, Ustad Halim Zafar Khan, Prof. Radhika Mohan Moitra, Pt. Ravi Shankar, Prof. V.G. Jog, Ustad Bismillah Khan, Pt. Hari Prasad Chaurasia, Dr. N. Rajam, Pt. Buddhadev Das Gupta, Ustad Shahid Parvez, Pt. Buddhaditya Mukherjee, Pt. Vishwamohan Bhatt and others. In Karnatik­Hindustani Duet Recital, Prof. T.V. Gopalkrishnan, Pt. Umayalpuram V.K. Shivraman Pt. M.S. Gopal Krishanan and others Pt. appreciated Pt. Chhote Lal Misra's accompaniment. Even before Dr. Lalmani Misra's demise, Chhote Lal ji had teamed up with his mentor's son, Gopal. Gopal Shankar who had mastered Sitar took up Vichitra Veena now and Chhote Lal ji's accompaniment -- co-operative and combative as required -- helped him to take Vichitra Veena to heights where his father had left it.

His credentials established in the very first trip, Chhote Lalji came to be invited by various institutions and Universities viz. Pennsylvania, Denmark, Sweden and London etc. He also performed in Princeton University (New Jersey), Asia House (New York), Ravi Shankar Music Circle, Ali Akbar Khan Sangeet Mahavidyalaya (California), Vesselian University (USA), Chicago, San Francisco, Sonoma State University (California), Boston, Philadelphia, London, Paris, Japan, Germany, Denmark, Switzerland, Sweden, Norway, Netherlands, Holland, Canada and Nepal etc.

At home his talent and contribution were recogmised and appreciated. He was awarded with several titles like Sangeet Shree, Prakhyat Tabla Vadak, Akhil Bharatiya Kala Ratna, Pt. Bikku Maharaj Sangeet Samman, Navras Sangeet Vachaspati Award (D.Litt.), Senior National Fellowship Award (Ministry of Cultural, Govt. of India). He is mentioned in 'who's who' of Sangeet Natak Academy, New Delhi. Pt. Misraji's biography has also found place in several books and text books.

His later mentor always laid emphasis on academic aspect of music. "Guruji (Dr. Lalmani Misra) would often ask us to take interest in the gyan paksha (knowledge facet). He said that no one is going to remember how well we played a complex composition; it would become immortal only we wrote it down." The first and natural step in 'recording' was getting his recitals recorded. With Chhotelalji as main and accompanying artiste several long-play and extended-play records, Cassettes, C.D.-s and V.C.D.-s were released. Latest in this is a release of DVD in which Chhote Lalji accompanies Dr. Lalmani Misra's Vichitra Veena recital. Long after this mentor had departed from the world, his words kepr ringing in Pt. Misra's mind. He decided to record his knowledge in printed format which could be used by Tabla learners -- novices as well as practitioners. The books coming one after other --'Taal Prasoon ,'Taal Prabandh' and 'Tabla Granth' -- found ready acceptance and became immediately popular. Heartened by this Pt. Misra put himself into serious work and in June 2007 his book on Playing Techniques of Tabla - Banaras Gharana was published.

There is a long chain of his disciples in the country as well as abroad. They are doing well and going ahead in the field of Tabla and are able to brighten the name of our Guruji.

After his retirment as Reader from Faculty of Performing Arts, B.H.U., Varanasi in the year 2002 he was granted extension for further three years. Having fulfilled this extra committment Pt. Chhote Lal Misra leads a placid life where his thrust is more on academic than performance part. Surrounded by a large number of disciples under true 'Guru-Shishya' tradition he has been able to create the learning atmosphere of his childhood where instead of his Guru Pt. Anokhe lal ji it is he who now guides trains eager minds in speciality and nuances of Banaras style of playing tabla.

References :

Modern Practices in Vichitra Veena

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