When Prime Minister Narendra Modi chose Varanasi as his parliamentary constituency in 2014, artists of the famed Benaras Gharana had but one aspiration – to revive this ancient city’s musical heritage and to get a state-of-the-art academy.
Five years on, as another election comes around, they state their expectation from the prime minister remains the same.
The unfulfilled promise of a music academy to preserve – and carry on – a musical heritage strikes a discordant note in a city that has produced legends like Ustad Bismillah Khan, Pandit Ravi Shankar, Girija Devi, Siddheshwari Devi, and Pandit Anokhe Lal.
Please don’t let the music fade away, is the fervent hope of a cross-section of artists, who stated that they are still waiting for their ‘Kashi Kala Dham’. It may not be an electoral issue for the general public but is clearly an issue of utmost importance for the music fraternity.
As per Padma Bhushan awardee and renowned vocalist Pandit Channu Lal Mishra, a lot of work has been done in the city since Modi became MP and the community of musicians is again pressing for a music academy.
Varanasi votes on May 19, the last round of the seven-phase elections. “A lot of work such as cleanliness, beautification of ghats and cleaning of the Ganga has been done in the city in the last five years. But we now wish to have an academy dedicated to the Benaras Gharana,” Mishra said.
“Otherwise, our music will die as there are only a few veterans left. The new generation should know about the depth of Benarasi ‘sangeet’. Today, vocalists sing only two types of thumri while there are 12 types in total. Thumri, dadra, khayal, hori, chaiti, kajri… the list is long. Who will teach them? Girija Devi is no more and I am already 83,” he further said.
The irony that a city that gave the name to an entire school of music does not have an academy to carry on the tradition is deeply felt by others too. After Varanasi joined Unesco’s ‘Cities of Music’ bandwagon in 2015, it was proposed to establish a ‘guru-shishya’ (teacher-disciple) tradition based ‘Kala Dhaam’ in the city.
Various Padma awardees met Varanasi Municipal Corporation and state government officials in this regard and were given an assurance that the demand would be met.
However, nothing has been done on the matter so far. State government sources said they have sent the file to center after completing all the groundwork and the delay is not from their side.
Rajan and Sajan Mishra, the foremost exponents of the khayal style of singing, stated the city of music and its musicians deserve their due.
“There are so many Padma awardee artists and two Bharat Ratnas (Bismillah Khan and Ravi Shankar) from Benaras but it is strange that the city does not have a state-of-the-art music academy. We gave a written memorandum a couple of years back but nothing has been done. We can also preserve instruments and recordings of legendary musicians in such an academy,” told Rajan Mishra.
The demand was raised two years ago as well when Bismillah Khan’s shehnai was stolen from his home.
“There should also be some facilities for classical musicians like concessions in railway and air tickets, exemption from GST and service tax, pension, etc. We hope Modiji will take initiatives to revive our musical heritage,” Rajan Mishra further said.
Late Girija Devi had expressed her wish to have an academy in Varanasi in her last interview to PTI after Modi’s win in last general elections.
“If there would have been such an academy in Varanasi, I would not have gone to Kolkata,” the legendary vocalist, who was a faculty member at Kolkata based ITC Music Research Academy, had said.
“My mother’s soul is still in Varanasi. If we have one such academy there, which she always wished, her soul will rest in peace,” Sudha Dutta, Girija Devi’s daughter, told PTI from Kolkata.
Malini Awasthi, Padma Shri awardee and Girija Devi’s disciple, said mainstream institutions are now focusing on Benaras because of the prime minister. This, she added, is a boost for upcoming artists.
“Kashi is a city which never needed any political patronage. But when we started losing our legends and feeling the vacuum, Modi chose this city as his constituency, Now mainstream institutions are giving a platform to upcoming artists also,” she said.
“The Sangeet Natak Academy has adopted many schools and is teaching classical music apart from Vedic studies. The Indira Gandhi Centre for Art also has a new center here now,” she added.