Amrita: Carrying the legacy of Banaras Gharana
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Amrita: Carrying the legacy of Banaras Gharana

It was at the age of nine when Amrita started her formal training in Hindustani Classical music

Amrita: Carrying the legacy of Banaras Gharana

Amrita was hardly seven when one balmy evening she walked a little distance with her parents to Silchar District Library. There, she listened to the singing of Pandit Jasraj, a legend of Hindustani Classical music. The maestro’s renditions of Hindustani classical raagas left a deep impression on little Amrita. Years later, that little girl gave a live concert in Rashtrapati Bhawan, in front of the President of India.

Amrita Dutta (38), a resident of Dwarka sector 12, is a vocalist of Hindustani classical tradition. She was born in the North-Eastern part of India, in a small town called Silchar (Assam). Silchar, nestled in the lush green valley of Borail Range, proved a perfect setting for germinating in her a love for music. Her first introduction to music was through her family which she says had a very refined taste in music. “My father was into the chemical business but music was an integral part of my growing up, even though there were no musicians or singers in my family. Those days a lot of eminent artists used to come and perform in Silchar. I remember listening to the likes of Pandit Ajay Chakraborty, Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia, and Pandit Jasraj in live concerts in Silchar District Library. There used to be whole night concerts too, which I attended with my family.”

Amrita Dutta

Listening to such masters brought out the artist in Amrita. “One day my father noticed me humming something. He thought I was striking perfect musical notes. He took me to Pramita Nandi, a renowned classical singer in her own right, who was married to my maternal uncle. She lived nearby. She became my first guru.”

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It was at the tender age of nine when Amrita started her formal training in Hindustani Classical music. Says she, “My guru taught me in traditional guru-shishya parampara. She made me fall in love with music. Then, one day eminent Hindustani classical artist, Pandit Dinanath Mishra visited Silchar. My guru was also his disciple. I must have been 16 then. He heard me sing and immediately told my guru that I must pursue music more seriously as a career.” That changed a lot. Amrita soon shifted to Calcutta.

“Shifting to Calcutta was a huge and daunting step for me. No girl child in my extended family had gone to a big city to live and study alone, especially pursuing a career in music. But my parents supported me.” In Calcutta, Amrita enrolled in Ravindra Bharati University and simultaneously started learning from Pandit Dinanath Mishra.

She lived in a hostel, near her University but had to travel a good distance by public transport to go to her Guru’s home to learn her music. It was tough initially but she blossomed as an artist. “My Guruji came from the Banaras Gharana of Hindustani Classical Music. I myself got totally enamored by the rich artistic tradition of the gharana, especially, its light classical side,” says she.

An 'A' graded artist in All India Radio, New Delhi in Bhajan category, Amrita shifted to Delhi trying to make a living through her music. She spent some time teaching music in various Delhi schools and institutes but discontinued it. Says she, “I was not getting any creative satisfaction as a musician while working in schools. It was sort of repetitive work. So I decided to open my own school of music.”

While at Delhi, her pursuit for learning Hindustani Classical Music continued under the tutelage of Pandit Bholanath Mishra, an eminent Hindustani Classical vocalist of Banaras Gharana. She also continued her academic studies and completed her PhD in music from Delhi University.

Credits: Asheesh Mamgain 

It was in Delhi that she got her first live performance, at Swami Dayanand Hall, Lajpat Nagar. “It was a small gathering of around 60 people, but my guruji was among the audience and so were some very knowledgeable people. I remember I sang an evening raag, Maru Bihag in Vilambit Khayal and a chhota Khayal.” The performance gave her a lot of self-confidence and helped her give her best in many other bigger future stages.

Banaras Gharana is famous for light classical music where great exponents of Thumri, Dadra, Chaiti, Hori and Kajri have been performed by great masters such as Girija Devi and Pandit Chhanulal Mishra. This is the preferred mode of singing for Amrita too and she is well versed with all these styles of singing, including Tappa, which is considered one of the most difficult styles. Blessed with a voice rich in texture, she shows a soft and spiritual approach in her gayaki, with all the emotive beauty, that is the signature of Banaras Gharana coming to the fore.

Looking back, Amrita sees some eminent people who helped her along her musical journey. Prateek Choudhary, a well-known Sitar player, who passed away in the second Covid wave was one of them. Says she, “I am indebted to Prateek bhaiya for bringing the best out of me as a musician. He was my mentor and guide. I did my doctorate under him. His passing away was a huge loss to me." Pandit Jagdeep Prasad, who is credited with establishing thumri in Banaras is also her mentor.

The biggest stage she performed was in 2016, when she gave a concert in Rashtrapati Bhavan for a project of ICCR named ‘Hriday Majhe Bangla’ in 2017 in front of the President and PM of India and PM of Bangladesh. She also recently performed in a fusion concert organized by Paint Fish Studios with the band Muse Park.

Her performances also include in a five-day concert tour in various cities across Himachal Pradesh organised by North Zone Culture Center in 2016. She has also performed in tours organised by Spicmacay across various locations in North India. Amrita also had a cassette released in Bengali Bhaktigeeti in 1999 from Kolkata.

Amrita has performed in almost all the prestigious auditoriums across Delhi-NCR and other parts of India. But there is one place she would love to perform but she hasn’t till now. “I love the city of Banaras. My dream is to perform in Banaras, on the Ganga Ghat, in the Subah-e-Banars concert. My performance there was almost final but it got canceled due to Covid.”