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Subhra Guha- Indian under spotlight

Subhra Guha- Indian under spotlight

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As one of the finest women vocalists of the Hindustani classical musical comes to Paris for her concert, we put Subhra Guha under spotlight.


Subhra Guha
photo courtesy: Théatre de la Ville Paris


Subhra is considered as an exponent par excellence in her rendition of thumri of poorab ang as well as her toneful and powerpacked khayal. As has been marked by many, she combines the three virtues of Hindustani classical singing- vidya, raagdari and gayaki*- into one.


Here's an interview with Subhra Guha, the Grande Dame de la musique indienne who has a tongue-in-cheek humour and stays humble, down-to-earth and accessible with all her accomplishments:


IIP: You have trained with Shri Satish Bhowmick, Pt Sunil Bose, Pt. K.G. Ginde, Pt. D.T.Joshi, Pt. Vijay Kichlu...Each of these gurus must have left an imprint on your gayaki. The discipline must have been difficult as well as rewarding ?

SG: Most certainly training from each of Guru has been extremely valuable and rewarding. As you know it is difficult for a female to adopt the "gayaki" of Agra Gharana and I will not hesitate to say that in the beginning, I used to feel extremely frustrated at times when I started learning the nuances of Agra Gharana gayaki from Pandit Sunil Bose. But good training, my determination and valuable guidance from all my Gurus put me on the right track.

IIP: What was the turning point in your learning where you knew you had 'arrived'- a stage of oneness, of awareness of your unique place in the world of music ?

SG: It is difficult for me to give you a specific turning point but I can say with confidence that overall and comprehensive training during my stay in ITC Sangeet Research academy Kolkata was the turning point in my life. All the Gurus except Pt. D T Joshi were actively associated with SRA & in addition the directions received from the expert committee from time to time were extremely valuable.


IIP: Being the only woman guru at the prestigious Calculta Sangeet Research Academy, how does it feel ?

SG: I'm afraid you have got it wrong. Right from its inception, SRA had Hirabai Barodkar, Girija Devi, Malvika Kanan as female Gurus. Later Shruti Sadolikar also joined. But I was the only female Guru promoted from the rank of SRA's scholars. This was indeed an honour for me.

IIP: You have said, "My performances keep me busy. But as a student of Indian classical music, I see it as my aesthetic responsibility to pass on whatever I have learnt from my gurus to the next generation." This is very humble indeed when you say that you are a student of Indian classical music. Comments ?

SG: Let me explain to you that Indian Classical Music is such a vast learning that even one full life is not enough to attain a real command over it. The more you learn the more you realise how much more there is still to learn. All the great musicians have realised it and had said so. It may be interesting for you to know that during a performance at Benaras in 1946, Ustad Faiyaz Khan Sahab, one of the greatest vocalist ever, suddenly put both his hands on the tanpura, stopped singing and addressed the hall thus "in olden times, rishi-munis** lived up to the age of 400-500 years and so were able to have a control over this vidya or learning. After reaching the age of 70 years, I am now beginning to feel that I have started controlling a fraction of this learning when one of my feet is already in grave". So how can I be considered humble when I say that I am still a student of music.

IIP: You have given concerts, workshops and demonstrations in India and all over the world. Any particular concert that you hold dear to you ?

SG: Recently I was invited by the prestigious IGNCA Delhi for a public concert followed by an archival recording of Agra Gharana ragas & compositions. In fact one representative each was invited in this meet from every gharana including Girija Devi from the Benaras gharana, Ajoy Chakroborty from the Patiala gharana and so on. It satisfied my ego immensely that I was selected as an Agra gharana representative for this meet. My ego was further enhanced when Smt. Gursharan Kaur, the wife of our beloved Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh came to the stage to honour me after my performance.

IIP: Any message for the Parisian public ?

You may be treating Indian classical music as an entertainment, it sure is but if you start getting involved in it you will slowly realise it also helps you in soothing your mind, body and soul. After all, in all performing arts of Indian sub-continent , there is a hidden agenda of self transformation.


With such beautiful words, we salute Subhra Guha and hope that she will continue to be the one of the torch bearers of the Indian classical music and we will see more of her in Paris.


More about Subhra Guha

From a tender age, Subhra showed her inclination towards music. In her earlier formative years, she trained with Shri Satish Bhowmick and later with Pandit Sunil Bose of Agra Gharana*** as she advanced in the discipline. She joined the prestigious Sangeet Research Academy of Kolkata in 1982 where she continued her tutelage under Pt. Sunil Bose who was a guru there. Continuous training and guidance of stalwarts like Pt. K.G. Ginde, Pt. D.T.Joshi and Pt. Vijay Kichlu honed her musicality and aesthetics to help her continue in the Agra Gharana as well develop her own style of gayaki.


Today, Subhra gives concerts, lectures and demonstrations all over the world. She is a regular performing artist for the All India Radio. She is also the only woman to have risen to the status of 'Guru' at the Calcutta Sangeet Research Academy from where she herself graduated.


Being a master in her field, she is also aware of her responsibility as a 'guru' (mentor) to transmit the oral tradition of learning. In her own words "My performances keep me busy. But as a student of Indian classical music, I see it as my aesthetic responsibility to pass on whatever I have learnt from my gurus to the next generation. Nothing surpasses the pleasure that one derives in initiating the young generation to our culture and show them how to love it as much as we and are ancestors have in the past."


*Vidya- education, raagdari - melodious tuning, gaayaki- singing

**The name given to sages and hermits in India.

***Gharanas are the schools of music that were established with continual practice of musical discipline in a particular place over generations. Agra Gharana has varied genres of music such as alaap, dhrupad, dhamar, khayal, thumri, tarana and ghazal. 



Subhra Guha

photo courtesy: Théatre de la Ville Paris


Subhra Guha singing Thumri at Theatre des Abbesses

Subhra Guha's Official Website

More on Agra Gharana


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