‘April is the cruellest month’ says T.S. Eliot in The Waste Land, a poem he wrote almost hundred years ago after the Spanish flu pandemic. Who could have imagined what deaths and burials we would be talking about today! The COVID19 pandemic has cost us many lives. Padma Bhushan Pt. Rajan Mishra, whom we all call Bade Guru ji, is the latest corona casualty in India. Born in 1951, he started his journey from Kabir Chaura, Banaras, which is also known kalakaaron ka mohalla. Pt. Sajan Mishra (Chhote Guru ji) had been his constant companion in this musical journey.Gandaband shaagird of Pt. Bade Ramdas Ji Mishra, they learnt music from their father, Pt. Hanuman Prasad Mishra and uncle, Pt. Gopal Mishra. From the narrow lanes of Banaras, these voices singing in unison echoed all over the world.
At a tender age when children learn to talk, Pt. Rajan Mishra was singing with perfection. Pt. Rajan Mishra and Pt. Sajan Mishra started their journey of music with offering a haazri at Sankat Mochan Mandir, Banaras. Singing along with his younger brother, Pt. Sajan Mishra (Chhote Guru ji), the inimitable duo left an indelible mark in the world of music. They gave concerts in many countries across the world such as Sri Lanka, Switzerland, Austria, USA, UK, the Netherlands, Qatar, Bangladesh, Muscat to mention a few. Both the brothers took Banaras Gharana to new heights by establishing their gharana in the genre of khayal gayaki, which has been popularly and wrongly associated more with genres of light classical music. They have won accolades in India and abroad. They have conferred many prestigious and coveted awards such as National Tansen Samman, Sangeet Natak Akademi Award and Padma Bhushan.
The duo is known for singing every note with delicacy and giving a creative treatment to raga. Pt. Rajan Mishra’s did not believe in using unnecessarily variations while singing. He rendered his music with such simplicity, which made his music sweet and eternal. He always intended to touch the soul of his audience. The key to that was to sing from the heart. He believed in exploring new patterns of melody while respecting the form of every raga. “Kuch naya khojo – explore something new, bhav ko dekho try to catch the emotion,” he would often say. Sahitya ko jiyo – Khayal singing was to him interpreting poetry in music. Owing to his capability to sing every note with utmost perfection, his bhavpuran singing, exploring aesthetics of every raga, he and Pt. Sajan Mishra (Chhote Guru ji) were flawless in rendition. They effortlessly performed the most difficult ragas, immersing audience in their music. Even while following the grammar of every raga, the creativity was notcompromised. Owing to their approach towards music, the duo belongs to the illustrious company of musicians like Gana Saraswati Pandita Kishori Amonkar and Ustaad Vilayat Khan Sahib. These three musicians approached Hindustani classical music like Romantics, who believed in exploring new dimensions of music and expressing themselves transcending the boundaries of theory, yet retaining the purity of every raga they sang or performed. Pt.Rajan Mishra was an embodiment of creativity and discipline; a fine balance of imagination and rationality; a perfect blend of power and melody . He never approached any raga from its theory, but from its bhava. He often used to say – “Surrender before the raga you wish to sing. Raga itself will show you the path.” The feeling of devotion and surrender could be felt in his every rendition. His musical imagination was so rich that he, along with Pt. Sajan Mishra (Chhote Guru ji), would always present a unique form of raga exploring every nuance of it with extreme elegance. An organized well-structured development of raga (barhat), yet being creative was their forte. They were capable of painting a unique character of every raga. Each note, every musical phrase, ever alaap or taan was sung with such perfection that the audience was left spellbound. A creative genius, he had composed more than 500 bandishes in his life time. As it is a practice in Indian tradition, he has credited his compositions to his guru.
Pt. Rajan Mishra (Bade Guru ji) was not merely a musician par excellence, but a philosopher who reflected on life through music. A follower of Osho and Satguru Jagjit Singh ji, music to him was the medium to explore his inner self. He believed in traversing the journey from had to anhad i.e. from the finite to infinite. Music to him was not merely a source of livelihood; nor did he aim for fame and glory. Kitna vaibhav chahoge, uski koi seema nahi hai – “How much fame do you want? There is no limit to this,” he would often say. He explored the unfathomable depths of divinity through music. The peace he found in himself, he expressed in his singing – be it khayal, bhajan or any other form. His singing was devotional and his voice was mellifluous. With his first note, he was capable of touching the hearts of his audience. With Pt. Sajan Mishra (Chhote Guru ji) by his side, they would sing like two bodies one soul. Not surprising, their music was sublime. Listening to their music was like transcending the bounds of time and space.
Spending time with him, listening to his conversations used to be an enriching experience. Besides music, he could talk for hours on films, especially world cinema. He would come across as an affectionate person with no airs. Warm to the core, he was capable of loving all. Love was the spirit that enabled two brothers sing together for so many years. Their singing is not jugalbandi, where two different instrumentalists or singers retain their individuality; their singing, as they used to call it, was sahgaan – singing in unison. Two brothers would always complement each other understanding each other’s bhava. The music that the duo of Rajan-Sajan Mishra has created would continue to reverberate in the minds of people for a long time.
The jodi of Rajan-Sajan was shattered by the harsh and unkind COVID-19. He was admitted to the hospital on the evening of April 22 nd , 2021. He fought against his destiny for three days and after suffering two cardiac arrests in the hospital, he breathed his last on April 25 th , 2021. He was not even seventy. He still had a lot of music in him which he was always eager to share with his audience. Ruthless time has snatched from us a rare gem of Hindustani music. His passing away has created a void that no other musician can ever fill. It wrenches my heart to think that the voice that has been echoing for more than six decades has been silenced by cold hands of death. A long creative journey has been tragically cut short.Now only the silence prevails! At this juncture, I am reminded of a couplet by Firaq Gorakhpuri
ye sukoot-e-naaz ye dil ki ragon ka tootna
khamoshi mein kuch shikast-e-saaz ki baaten karo.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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