Pandit Ramashreya Jha

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A brief biography

MEENA BANERJEE, August 31, 2018: The Hindu

Ramrang is the nom de plume of Jha-ji who hailed from a musician’s family of Darbhanga. According to this erudite scholar of Hindustani classical music, prolific composer of rich literary bandishes, learned performer and one of the most benevolent Gurus, ‘Vidyaalay na gaye kabahu, chhuwe kalam nahi kaagaj . . Govind ko arpan’ (I have never been to school, never touched pen or paper; how can I claim to be a writer! God chose me as his instrument; this is my offering to Him).

He would often reiterate, ‘Aur kuchh na aata hai na karte hain’ (I don’t know, or do anything except this).

Maybe, it was this humility which shaped his five-volume anthology ‘Abhinava Geetanjali’ that placed him as the most acclaimed Vaak-geya-kaar (a composer having command on literature and music) of our times. These volumes disclose an unusual depth in formulating and communicating ideas elegantly and simply and are accepted as the most influential works in Hindustani music today, replete with threadbare analysis of ragas, supplemented by numerous self-composed bandishes along with traditional ones.

Mix of raga and tala

Despite the lack of formal education, in 1968, he was appointed to the faculty of Music Department, Allahabad University and then, in recognition of genuine merit, he held the position of the Head of the Department (1980-1989). His compositions intertwine the individual features of both raga and tala with rich literary beauty. Several top ranking musicians sing and teach many compositions of Ramrang. In 2005, the prestigious Sangeet Natak Akademi was bestowed on him for his exemplary service to Indian classical music.

Among Jha-ji’s well-known disciples Shubha Mudgal has attained international acclaim for her melodic experiments. As the final artiste of this event, she began with Shree, an early evening raga known for its mystically mysterious persona. She, very intelligently, based her recital on several beautiful compositions of Ramrang that, apart from intriguing rhythmic settings, displayed the raga’s features from various angles. Sensitively supported by Aneesh Pradhan’s tabla and Sudhir Naik’s harmonium, she elaborated the raga in an introspective mood, enhanced by the lyrics ‘Mann mere kahe ko sochat’ (slow Ektal). The rich text describing evening beauty (‘Saanjh ki bhayi bela’ set to medium ektal) was augmented by imaginative mukhda-variants. Next, the playful mood of little Krishna in ‘Charavat dhenu’, beautifully caught in Ekwai tala, was competently portrayed by the trio.

Their mutual understanding and compatibility was at its best while handling the curious gait of ‘Devi dayani daani data’ (raga Yaman, Teental) with exemplary precision. Unlike most classical renditions of the day, Mudgal treated all these gems with due reverence, without loading them with unwarranted taan-sargams. Instead, during the build-up of the raga edifice, her acute literary and rhythmic sense was at play. However, her Jhoola, a light classical genre celebrating the Monsoon, did not have the traditional sway. It sounded more like a modern geet. But the harmonium was in elements. Encores led her to sing Bhairavi, fashioned after ‘Dhun sun ke manwa magan hua’, a Kabir-nirgun immortalised by the legendary Kumar Gandharva.

Unusual technique

Through Mudgal, both her learned accompanists came close to Ramrang and accompanied him a number of times. They too offered their tributes separately as soloists. The session commenced with Sudhir Naik’s harmonium recital. He played raga Bheem (slow Ektal, fast Teental) and followed it up with Tilak Desh. An unusual technique of showing a harkat-based mukhda with superb deftness was its attraction. After the elaboration and taan-tihais, the virtuoso played fast jhala with ulat-sulat patterns. He concluded with a Kajri-based dhun with the genre’s finer nuances and closed with a long laggi, offered by Pradhan’s tabla.

Later they swapped roles and now it was the erudite tabla maestro in the centre for his solo rendition. He chose Teental, the all-time favourite.

After creating a number of aural effects with different bols and reciting padhant followed by resonating execution at speed, he went on to play several compositions of Ustad Amir Hussain Khan and Pandit Jnan Prakash Ghosh (his dada-guru). The clarity of the mnemonics in diverse tempi was admirable. So was his Purab Anga style of playing throughout this enjoyable session.

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