Vol. 5 Num 35 Thu. July 01, 2004  

Shilpakala Academy upholds legends

Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy recently held discussion sessions and cultural presentations on six of the legendary personalities of the country from the fields of music and dance. The personalities included Ustad Alauddin Khan (1862-1972), Ustad Ayet Ali Khan (1884-1967), Ustad Gul Mohammad Khan (1876-1979), Bulbul Chowdhury (1919-1954), Kaviyal Ramesh Shil (1877-1967) and Abbasuddin Ahmed (1901-1959).

On the first two days, specialists focused on Ustad Alauddin Khan, Ustad Ayet Ali Khan and Bulbul Chowdhury. Eminent music expert Dr Kanurnamoy Goswami and Mobarak Hossain Khan spoke on the two legendary musicians while renowned danseuse Begum Rahija Khanom Jhunu discussed on Bulbul Chowdhury.

Ustad Alauddin Khan and Ustad Ayet Ali Khan were brothers. They earned mastery and fame in instrumental music, especially sarod. Born in Brahmanbaria, both of them took their first musical lessons from their elder brother Fakir Aftabuddin Khan.

Alauddin's life was an eventful one: he ran away from home at 10 and joined a Jatra party where he was exposed to a variety of folk musical genres. Later, the would-be maestro became a disciple of Gopal Krishna Bhattacharya, popularly known as Nulo Gopal, a reputed musician of Kolkata. After Nulo's demise, Alauddin turned to musical instruments and learnt indigenous as well as foreign musical instruments like sitar, flute, piccolo, mandolin and banjo. He also learnt the violin in the western style from a Goanese bandmaster Lobo. He learnt to play shehnai, naquara, tiquara and jagajhampa from Hazari Ustad and pakhwaj, mridanga and tabla from Nandababu. Thus, he mastered many instruments.

As a court musician of the zamindar of Muktagachha, Alauddin took lessons on sarod from Ustad Ahmed Ali Khan for five years. He mastered the difficult skill of the Seni Gharana from Ustad Wazir Khan. He introduced a new gharana in the realm of Hindustani classical music, known as the Alauddin Sangeet Gharana or Maihar Sangeet Gharana.

Ayet Ali Khan took lessons in sitar and the surbahar from his elder brother, Ustad Alauddin Khan. He also took lessons from Wazir Khan and with his blessings became the court musician of the Maihar State.

The brothers contributed to the development of some new oriental musical instruments and improvement of some existing ones. Alauddin aided the invention of new musical instruments such as the chandrasaran. Ayet developed two new musical instruments, the manohara and the nandranad, and also improved the surbahar and the sarod.

Alaudddin Khan created ragas like Hemanta, Durgeshwari, Meghbahar, Mohammad (Aradhana), Manjh Khambaj, Dhabalashri, Saraswati and many more.

Bulbul Chowdhury was born in 1919 in Chittagong. His career in dance started with Chatak-Dance, a piece that he had choreographed himself, at a school cultural function at Manikganj. During his college life at Presidency Bulbul came in contact with eminent artistes such as the sarod player Santosh Chandra, the composer Timir Baran Bhattacharya, the dancers Uday Shankar and Sadhana Bose. In 1936, Bulbul performed with Sadhana Bose in Rabindranath Tagore's dance drama Kach O Devayani.

During his active life of about 20 years, Bulbul composed and choreographed 70 dance dramas. Among his notable works are Abhimanyu, Indrasabha, Sapure (Snake Charmer), Kobi O Bashanto (Spring and the Poet), Moru Sangeet (Song of the Desert), Fashal Utsab (The Harvest), Tin Bhabaghure (The Vagabond Trio), Arjun, Kalbaishakhi, Iraner Panthashalay (In an Iranian Tavern), Sohrab O Rustam, Khudhito Pashan (The Hungry Stone), Jeno Bhule Na Jai (Lest We Forget), Biday Obhishap (The Farewell Curse), Bharat Chharo (Quit India), Anarkali and Chand Sultana. He also wrote a novel, Prachi (1942), on the Second World War.

Bulbul Chowdhury used dance to express the ideas and aspirations of the new Pakistani nation. For this purpose he drew from common myths and legends, folk tales, and history. Most importantly, by showing that dance was part of the Muslim-Mughal tradition, he helped break down Muslim conservative attitudes and make dance respectable and popular.

A successful organiser, he helped establish the Oriental Fine Arts Association (OFA) in 1937. He also established Calcutta Culture Centre in March 1941. Bulbul Lalitakala Academy was established in Dhaka on May 17, 1955 to carry on this master's work and in tribute to his contribution to dance and music.

From left: Ustad Alauddin Khan, Ustad Ayet Ali Khan and Bulbul Chowdhury. Photo courtesy: Banglapedia