Sumitra Ranganathan

Special Grants

Grant Period: Over one year and six months

This grant supported Chennai-based researcher, Sumitra Ranganathan, to set up a multi-dimensional archive to preserve and sustain the performance practice and repertoire of the Bettiah gharana, one of India’s oldest and richest traditions of Dhrupad. Sumitra has been training in Dhrupad and Khayal for about 25 years and is currently pursuing her doctoral studies in ethnomusicology at the University of California, Berkeley. As part of her doctoral work, she conducted research on the multiple schools of Dhrupad that have links to the 19th century court of Bettiah. The Bettiah gharana is one of the oldest living traditions of classical Dhrupad, dating back to the 18th century courts of the Maharajas of Bettiah in Bihar. The Bettiah court is said to have become the centre of Dhrupad from the 17th century onwards, when some lineages of Mullicks migrated from the court of Shah Jehan to the Bettiah court. In course of time, the Bettiah court gained a singular place in Dhrupad history as it witnessed an outburst of compositional activity, giving rise to distinctive Dhrupad banis. While these banis of Dhrupad have been a contested term amongst musicians and musicologists, Sumitra’s ongoing research reveals that four banis were crystallised in the early 19th century by the composers and musicians of Bettiah.

The two streams of the gharana are represented today by contemporary musicians—Pandit Inder Kishore Mishra and Pandit Falguni Mitra. Both of them are Sumitra’s gurus and, for this project, were her points of entry/reference. Unlike many other gharanas where compositions are found only in two parts, the hallmark of Bettiah Dhrupad compositions is their four-part structure. A number of rare ragas as well as uncommon versions of common ragas are handled in these compositions. It is these histories, musical environments and pedagogies that the project sought to understand through documentation and archiving of the enormous musical material.

While serving the very important purpose of documenting a rich musical practice, culture and history, the archive provided an environment for empathetic and critical listening, learning and transforming the music of the tradition. The project also expected to set in motion a series of steps to create a sustainable environment for the continued transmission of valuable Dhrupad practice to future generations of learners. The enlivening of Bettiah, both the town and the tradition, was achieved through multiple channels. Physical archives of all the materials related to the tradition, including primary and secondary sources, audio and video recordings, were set up in Bettiah as well as Kolkata, where these archives will become an integral part of the teaching-learning environment. Some measure of public interaction was attempted by holding small events as part of the DVD release.