The history of Bishnupur can be traced back to 694 AD, when King Raghunath founded the Malla dynasty. It was much later, in 994 AD, that the place was named Bishnupur. The name was derived from the Hindu God, Lord Vishnu. Adi Malla Raghunath Sigh Deo I, ruled the Malla kingdom from 1694. The administration
of Bengal at that time was in the hands of Shah Lahan and his son Shuja. He developed a close friendship with the king and there followed a period of peace
when art and music, which were already flourishing, reached great heights. It was during this period that the Jorbangla Temple was erected.
About Bishnupur Gharana
Maharaja Veer Hambir extended his kingdom, built ramparts, a fort and immortalized Bishupur’s terracotta temples. The Madamohon Temple with its intricate façade and archways and the pyramid-like Rashmancha changed the landscape of Bishnupur forever.
During Aurangazeb’s rule, Islamic fanaticism grew. Musicians fled to various parts of the county to keep their traditions alive. They sought refuge in places like Rajasthan, Oudh, Chinsurah, Murshidabad, Bishnupur, Calcutta, and Gouripur in Assam. Famous Dhrupad vocalist Bahadur Khan, an exponent of the great Tansen’s style of music was given refuge by the then Mallabhum King Raghunath Singh Deo II. He honored him and employed him as the court singer. At the end of 17th century his Gharana became very popular. Dhrupad style was thus established in Bishnupur in 1710 and slowly reached its zenith. Bahadur Khan was also skilled with the Veena and Surashringaar. Around the same time the renowned Pakhwaj player Peer-Bux too was appointed as court musician.
Later the King built “Bahadurganj Mohalla” in honor of the great Bahadur khan. Gadadhar Chakroborty and Pandit Ramshankar Bhattacharjee took “taleem” from the great ustad for a long time. The famous Jadu Bhatta, Sangeet Keshari Anantolal Bandopadhyay, Kshetramohon Goswami were disciples of Ramshankar Bhattacharjee
The immortal tradition
The sweet melodious fragrance of Bishnupuri dhrupad music captivated music loving people of Bengal, and that of India, as it slowly spread. Nilmadhab Chakraborty, the grandson of renowned Gadadhar Chakraborty, Ramprasanna Bandopadhyay, Gopeswar Bandopadhyay, Surendranath Bandopadhyay, Radhikaprasad Goswami, Jnanendraprasad Goswami, Satyakinkar Bandopadhyay, Ramesh Chandra Bandopadhyay, Ashesh Chandra Bandopadhyay,
Bhupesh Chandra Bandopadhyay, Durgaprasad Goswami, Gokul Chandra Nag, Nityananda Goswami, Bindhyabasini Debi, Hangseswar Hazra, Subodh Nandi, Gajanan Nandi, Smt. Sheuli Basu etc enriched Bishnupur gharana not only in Bengal and India but in Europe too.
Ram Saran College of Music
The first residential Music School of Bengal was established at Bishnupur in 1885 A.D. under the patronage of Maharaja Ramkrishna Singha Deo. Prof. Anantalal Bandopadhyay was its first rector. The school was the first of its kind in Bengal and the second Music School in India. (The first music School in India was established in Seventeenth century by the patronage of Raja Man Singh Tomar.)
Sangeet Nayak Gopeshwar Bondodhyay and Surendrnath Banerjee later established a music school in 1945 with the help of Ramsaran Mukhopadhyay. The latter donated Rs. 40,000 to build the school.
Gharana’s Influence on Tagore’s Music
Tagore loved and admired the Dhrupad style of Bishnupur Gharana. He learnt Dhrupadi music from the great Jadu Bhatta for four years, from 1875 to 1878. As a result of this learning and influence, the poet composed many Rabindrasangeets in the Bishnupuri Gharana style, using its ragas and “taal” to complement his lyrics. To Tagore, Jadu Bhatta was God’s creation unlike any other “ustad” of his times.
About Radhikaprasad Goswami, the poet once said that the artist could conjure up the “rasa” most beautifully.
Tagore considered Gopeswar Bondhopadhyay the most talented singer in Bengal. The latter was given the title of “SwarSaraswati” from Viswa Bharati. Ashesh Chandra Bondhopadhyay of Bishnupur was appointed a music teacher by Tagore himself in the year 1937. The new teacher was only 17 years old then, extremely capable and an expert in playing the “Esraj” and the Sitar.
The ancient raga, “Raj-vijoy” was created by Pandit Ramsankar Bhattacharjee of the Bishnupur Gharana.
He wrote the famous song “ajnana tama nikare”. Tagore used this very same raga in his song “bipulataranga re”. The “teshra-jati”, “shur-phak-taal” of Bishnupur Gharana greatly influenced Tagore; he named it “Rupakada”. Prof. Surendra Nath Banerjee and Prof. Ramesh Chandra Bandopadhyay of the gharana made notations of many dhrupadanga Rabindrasangeet. All well known artists of this period proudly sang dhrupadanga Rabindrasangeet, in spite of criticisms from the more conservative singers