Thursday, August 18, 2011

Dhrupad Samrat: Pandit Ram Chatur Mallik (Reupped)

Maithili Krishna and flute (north Bihar)

This album of a concert in Brindavan is powerful medicine.  The singer, Pandit Ram Chatur Mallik, is 80 years old but his voice is as strong and as authoritative as a man’s a half a century younger. It is deep yet playful and agile. He sings secret ragas of his family. Composed and polished and handed down for as long as the grandfathers have sung, even before they were appointed as the Maharaja’s court musicians.  In between the sets the old man recites the verse he is about to sing in a crisp eastern Maithili Hindi.

            My beloved has not come home, o friend
            How shall I remain patient?
            In my blossoming youth the separation tortures me
            How shall I endure day and night?

In an era where Indian music has adapted itself to modern age and changed its face to a degree which was unthinkable only a few decades ago Ram Chatur Mallik remains one of the few legendary figures of the past—a past in which musicians were performing only for a selected few who could either elevate them to a status almost equal to that of an Emperor or otherwise reduce them to that of a mere servant, if not worse. This was the age of the maharajas, the ruling chiefs and landowners who regraded it as a mark of distinction to ornament their courts and sessions with outstanding musicians. They had to prove their value in the face of stiff and uncompromising competition. Cheating was not possible as the audience mostly consisted of people who knew the music by heart, often performed it themselves, and had to be constantly no only entertained, but again and again, challenged and surprised to acknowledge the superiority of a musician.  It was not rare for concerts, even of great artists to be interrupted mercilessly if they happened not to be up to the mark. There was no dearth of musicians in all the different styles who moved around all the formal and informal gatherings, constantly trying to surpass each other. Music was a daily routine, inseparable from the activities of the courts. 

Ram Chatur Mallik, the last great court singer of Darbhanga, in northern Bihar, has seen it all and has sung for all of them. Darbhanga was one of the richest princely states, and the late Maharajadiraj Kameshwar Singh owned a fleet of private airplanes, flocks of race dogs, hundreds of elephants, sent his laundry to Paris and invited the Indian and British nobility to tiger hunts and games of polo and tennis. Selected members of the court, among them Ram Chatur Mallik, were taken on trips around the world for which drinking water was supplied from India.

Ram Chatur Mallik was a close personal companion of Raja Bahadur Bishweshwar Singh the young brother of the Maharaja. He was a musician himself and devoted his life to the pursuance of the art. The stars of the Indian music world were his regular guests and Ram Chatur Mallik proved to be the match not only in the ancient dhrupad style, but also in khyal and above all in the romantic thumri. He was a close friend of Ustad Amir Khan and Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan.
Pt. Ram Chatur Mallik

His own heritage has been the austere dhrupad, coming to him through his forefathers Radhakrishna and Kataram, who had arrived in Darbhanga towards the end of the 18th century. They had studied their art from Bhupat Khan, descendant of Tansen, the famous singer of medieval Indian history. In 1785 a terrible drought paralyzed north Bihar. Madhav Singh, the rule of Tirhut, as the area was called at the time, asked the two brothers to invoke rain through a magical performance of Raga Malhar. History tells that a downpour so heavy that the two singers were immersed up to their chests, began immediately. Madhav Singh erected a marker that can be seen to this day in front of a Kali temple in the town.  The village of Amta and the surrounding area were donated to the brothers by the Raja. The brothers adopted the title, ‘mallik’ (landowner/lord) and the family has lived there in service to the royal family ever since.

Ram Chatur Mallik was born in Amta in 1902. At the age of 5 he astonished his elders by repeating a musical composition line for line without having any previous training. From them on his destiny was sealed. He followed in his father’s footsteps as the most prominent singer of Darbhanga court.  Besides from his father, he received training from his fathers mentor, Kshitipal Mallik, considered the most brilliant singer of his age.  He went on reap every award the Indian state could give but appreciated his audience’s name for him, Dhrupad Samrat (Emperor of the Dhrupad) the most.  He died in 1990.

The recordings on tonight’s post were made in 1982 at a concert in Brindavan, the home of Krishna and the dhrupad. He is supported by his grandnephew and disciple, Abhay Narayan Mallik and Purushottam Das on pakhawaj.
(from the liner notes)

Track Listing:
01.  Vinod: Alap
02.  Vinod: Dhrupad
04.  Paraj

Listen here

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