Pt. Rajshekhar Mansur discovered newness within musical tradition


A tribute to Pt. Rajshekhar Mansur, an exponent of Jaipur-Atrauli gharana, who passed away recently

A tribute to Pt. Rajshekhar Mansur, an exponent of Jaipur-Atrauli gharana, who passed away recently

It may not have been easy to be Pt. Mallikarjun Mansur’s son. I remember asking Pt. Rajshekhar Mansur this, ahead of a celebration in Bengaluru, when he turned 60. He chose not to say much, but it was not difficult to figure out that it was a complex, but fruitful negotiation. Pt. Rajshekhar, an exponent of Jaipur-Atrauli gharana, who carried the legacy of his legendary father, passed away early this week.

Formal training in music began late in his life because Pt. Mallikarjun Mansur did not want his children to follow the path he had taken. The life of an artiste is after all not easy. Music, however, constantly reverberated in the house, and Rajshekhar used to say, there was “no escape”. Music was a part of his life right from childhood. “I woke up to and went to sleep hearing my father do  riyaaz. The sounds stayed with me and made a deep impression on me.”

Pt. Rajshekhar Mansur

Pt. Rajshekhar Mansur
| Photo Credit: SREENIVASA MURTHY V

At 16, began his formal training and it was rigorous. But he left to do a degree in literature and linguistics at the University of Wales, and returned to work as professor at the University of Dharwad. It also marked the beginning of his life as a concert musician, accompanying his father for nearly 30 years.

Rajshekhar Mansur believed that  riyaaz is as important as thinking about music. Throughout his life, he reflected on a range of subjects concerning music and often wrote about them. “There can be no holiday for  riyaaz. Unless the vocal cords don’t co-operate, or one is unwell, a musician cannot afford to take a break,” he wrote. “ Riyaaz, like breathing, is a continuous process. It is not a mindless exercise. What you have learnt has to be polished to shine like 24-carat gold.

His chief concern was pushing the boundaries of established tradition. Without such attempts, the raga will not reveal itself. He harped on looking for something new, but never lost perspective of the old. “What do you think past masters were doing in their everyday  riyaaz. They were discovering newer spaces in ragas.”

In fact, in his translation of his father’s memoir,  Rasa Yatra, he added a few pages towards the end, which carried his observations. These notes are extremely interesting — at times poignant — since they are not merely a record of the several concerts in which he accompanied his father, they are a document of his internal musical journey.

Sample this one: Gaud Malhar, Hubli: “Our famous Gaud Malhar bandish: ‘Mana na kariye’ in the lower part of the sapthak has the phrase: MGMR, RPGPMM, RGM, GRG, RP, RGM, P, G MMG, G, RS… these are also the characteristic phrases of the other well-known Gwalior bandish, ‘Kaahe ho hum se pritam.’ The two bandishes have different, but distinct spaces for their  badhat. ‘Mana na kariye’ develops in the second part of the sapthak, whereas ‘Kahe ho’ progresses in the first part of the sapthak. But on this particular occasion, my father indulged in doing badhat in the ‘Kahe ho’ fashion and surprised us all. It sounded beautiful to me. But my father hardly did it ever again! When I asked him why he didn’t do it, his answer was quite revealing of the respect he had for the gharanas. ‘Son, the masters in their great wisdom have propounded the two bandishes differently. If one master thought he could show the vistar of Gaud Malhar in the second half of the sapthak, another master saw the vistar in the first half of the sapthak. It seems to me that both were right in their respective positions, and we should not interfere with their different visions.’ I myself have tried mixing the two vistars but realised that there was no real affinity between the two, and hence I have come to stick to what my father said about bandish structuring.”

Pt. Rajshekhar Mansur walked in his father’s footsteps, yet maintained his originality. “I will go through every ordeal to keep my father’s legacy going,” he often said. For him, music was a responsibility, but more than that a personal joy.

The Bengaluru-based author writes on art and culture.



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