Dilbahar exponent carrying forward legacy of his gurus
Dilbahar and Mohan-veena—two inventions of Pandit Radhika Mohan Maitra are very close to several Bengali musicians' hearts. Niladri Sen, a veteran instrumentalist, groomed under several gurus including his father Robi Sen and Pandit Santosh Banerjee, happens to be the only living musician in India who owns and play 'dilbahar'.
A student of Pandit Radhika Mohan Maitra, Sen regards his guru as one of the greatest sarod players of all time. But he had another, lesser known, identity. He was an inventor, who conceptualised three new instruments: 'dilbahar', 'nabadeepa' and his most extensively recorded 'mohan veena'. This mohan veena preceded its slide guitar namesake by at least three decades. There were regular All India Radio (AIR) broadcasts of Maitra's recitals on this instrument and a rendition of Darbari was also released by HMV.
Sen recalls how he came in touch with his guru and his introduction to the sitar. "I remember I was five years old. It was Saptami (Day 7 of Durga Puja), my father handed over the sitar to me and thus I began my taleem under him. My father Robi Sen, a noted sitar player himself used to be a staff artiste at AIR and wasn't able to dedicate enough time that was required for my taleem. So my mother suggested that I begin formal training under a guru. That is when I began tutelage under Pandit Radhika Mohan Maitra," he said.
"Radhubabu had shaped dilbahar with sarod's skin-clad tabli (drum) and sitar's long fretted neck; while his mohan-veena (the original one, recognised by the AIR in 1948) has sitar's wooden drum and sarod's metal plectrum," he added.
After Maitra passed away, Sen started training under Benjamin Golmes and gathered an immense amount of musical knowledge. Later, when Golmes passed away, Sen took tutelage under Pandit Santosh Banerjee. "I remember going to his house in Kalighat every Tuesday. I play the sarod but dilbahar is unique. The sound produced is like the sarod. Guruji took the sarod, removed the wood from the bridge and placed a leather patch on it. As a result, the sound that came to be produced was exceptional and unique," he pointed out.
After the demise of Banerjee, Sen remains the only person in the world who can play the dilbahar.
Recently Sen played the dilbahar at a two-day soiree of 'Viral Yantra-Sangeet' (rare musical instruments). The Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture, Golpark, Kolkata joined hands with Jalsaghar and its beacon Robin Paul to host the prestigious event at Vivekananda Hall. Sen enthralled the audience with his short and sweet version of raga Kaushidhwani replete with a good blend of emotion and skill in aalap and gatkaris, ably supported by Debashis Sarkar's tabla in medium jhaptal and fast teental.
Years of practice and dedication have made Sen quite a phenomenal artiste when it comes to playing the dilbahar. When asked about the scope of this instrument in modern times Sen says, "If you are a musician by profession, economically things are not so smooth. Music remains a passion for most people but you cannot milk much under the present circumstances."
He also talks about the onslaught of automatic electronic musical instruments which have pushed several conventional instruments in the background. "One instrument can play so many others with just a click. As a result, so many people are just learning the synthesiser and not the violin or the sitar. That is also one of the reasons why rare instruments are becoming rarer. But all is not lost. A lot of good work is being done by musicians in Bengal, both in India and abroad. Only the ways of reaching out for the music has changed," he signs off.
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