Author - Pandit Falguni Mitra & Sumitra Ranganathan
The Betia gharana associated with the erstwhile royal court of Betia in Bihar primarily flourished during the 19th century. Stylistically, the gharana’s influence extended over entire eastern India. It became particularly strong in Bengal because of the close links of the Vishnupur gharana in Bengal with Betia, since masters of the latter trained most musicians of the former.
The genesis of Dhrupad in the Betia tradition is associated with the arrival in Betia of Pandit Shivdayal Mishra, a prominent disciple of famous Seniya musicians Rahimsen and Karimsen of the Nepal court. Shiv Dayal Mishra is said to have trained the royal brothers Anand and Nawal Kishore Sinha, who, in course of time, became composers of a very high order. In addition to this, it is said that some families of Mullicks from Kurukshetra migrated from Shah Jahan’s court to the Betia durbar as court musicians in the late 17th century and their descendants continued to perform this function till the end of the princely era. Pyar Khan of Seni Gharana and Haider Khan are considered to be major influences on this gharana.
Dhrupad in Betia style is signified by elegance of vocal delivery coupled with emphasis on the composition. The hallmark of the Betia Gharana is its repertoire in all four Banis of Dhrupad. The “Banis” could be explained as stylistic idioms with definite musical characteristics. Composing as well as performing compositions in the four Banis requires great skill and sensitivity to the interplay of melody, rhythm and text and its relationship to Dhrupad aesthetics. As a result, the ornamentations and rhythmic variations are applied during a rendition while strictly preserving the integrity of the Banis. Compositions of the Betia gharana are based on the poetry of the maharaja-poet-dhrupadiyas, Anand and Nawal Kishore. Eminent musicians such as Hasan Ali Khan (father of sarodiya, Fida Hussain), beenkar Sadique Ali Khan and Kale Khan frequented the Betia court and learnt compositions of this gharana.
After the demise of royal patronage, many musicians migrated out of Betia. The Betia tradition continued in Varanasi in the hands of stalwarts such as Shivdayal Mishra, Jaykaran Mishra, Bholanath Pathak, beenkar Shivendra Nath Basu, Beni Madhav ji and Shib Mitra. It is claimed that Shiv Dayal Mishra’s descendent Jaykaran Mishra, who had an excellent repertoire of dhrupads, dhamars and also khayals, had committed to memory over 2000 dhrupads in different banis. He passed on this cherished legacy to his deserving disciples, the most prominent among them being Bholanath Pathak. This legacy lives on in Falguni Mitra, son and disciple of Shib Mitra, disciple of Bholanath Pathak. Falguni Mitra’s repertoire is unique in having compositions in all four Banis of Dhrupad.
Musicians of the Betia tradition also migrated to Kolkata where they were associated with the court of Raja Sourindra Mohan Tagore. Prominent amongst these were Shiv Dayal Mishra’s descendents, Guruprasad Mishra and Shivnarayan Mishra, and Dhamaria Viswanath Rao Bhatt. These musicians trained many of the leading Dhrupadiyas of Bengal including famous names such as Radhika Prasad Goswami, and Gopeswar Bandopadhyaya, and Beni Madhav ji of Varanasi. Maharshi Debendranath Tagore of Jorasanko Thakurbari patronized Dhrupad and the most prominent musicians who frequented his house such as Jadunath Bhattacharya (Jadu Bhatta) and Radhika Prasad Goswami were deeply influenced by Betia gharana stalwarts. This in turn had a strong impact on Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore who used several Betia gharana compositions as models for his music.
However, the Mullick families of hereditary musicians remained in Betia. Some of the well-known names of early 20th century Mullicks are Gopal Mullick, Kunj Behari Mullick and Shyama Prasad Mullick. Shyama Prasad Mullick’s legacy of dhrupad, dhamar, chaturang, trivat, swaramalika and tillana lives on today through his grandson, Indra Kishore Mishra whose guru was his father, Mahant Mishra (Mullick). The Betia Mullicks sing compositions in Gaurhar and Khandar Banis.