Horse figurines in terracotta and red temples that are beautifully intricate. These are some of the attractions you will remember if you visit Bishnupur, a largely overlooked small town in the Bankura district of West Bengal. But besides the striking earthen craftworks and terracotta temples, another element that forms an essential part of the town&rsquos cultural heritage is music. The once shining glory of the Bishnupur Gharana has been long buried into relative oblivion. The Dhrupad style of music which flourished among the musicians of Bishnupur and became the music school&rsquos identity, is known to have influenced many of the songs composed by poet and Nobel laureate Rabindra Nath Tagore.
Origins of the Gharana
Bishnupur, also known as Vishnupur, literally translates to &lsquoHouse of Lord Vishnu&rsquo and was the ruling seat of the Vaishnavite Malla Kings during the 17th and 18th century. When the classical musician Bahadur Khan left Aurangzeb&rsquos court, who was a contemporary of the Maharaja of Bishnupur, he arrived in Bishnupur bringing his music along. He was said to be the descendant of Tansen and is credited for making the Dhrupad style of music popular in the terracotta town.
The Dhrupad style of music is simpler, less romantic and more spiritual in nature than the Khayal style. As the popularity of Khayal soared towards the end of the 18th century, Dhrupad&rsquos started declining outside of Bishnupur with its many notable artists retreating into the shadows of their more popular Khayal counterparts like Abdul Karim Khan. While the music of different gharanas was absorbing the Khayal style into their own, Dhrupad still prevailed among the few remaining musicians of Bishnupur.
Even though the Bishnupur Gharana is long past its glory days, there are still patrons of the form who reside in the quaint town. Among the few remaining practitioners of Dhrupad is Pdt. Mani Lal Nag, who now represents the old musical house and was recently conferred with the prestigious Padma Shri award. The octogenarian is the first from the Bishnupur Gharana to have received this honour, which he believes, would turn the spotlight back on this once glorious Gharana of Hindustani Classical music of which, now only the dying embers remain.
Visiting the Seat of Music
Bishnupur, which once was the cultural capital of India, has a number of alluring attractions ranging from its handicrafts to its beautiful handloom sarees and of course- the music. The best way to experience the town&rsquos immersive culture is to visit at the end of December. The Bishnupur Mela is a four-day festival that happens every year between December 27 and December 31 and features the best of the town&rsquos intangible heritage for anyone who is interested to learn, including musical performances from the Bishnupur Gharana.