Pandit Ajoy Chakrabarty: A Musician in his Prime

When bringing artistes to the stage at Raag-Mala concerts, we announce their gurus’ names. This is because Indian classical music is a paramparic tradition, one in which a shishya (student) is taught by his/her guru(s), who in turn learned from their own gurus, and their gurus studied under theirs, and on and on, going back over the centuries. In providing the artiste’s teachers, we acknowledge this oral tradition and recognize the artiste’s pedigree.

However, when welcoming an artiste of the high calibre of Pandit Ajoy Chakrabarty to the stage, one is tempted to use the cliché “Pandit ji is so well known that he needs no further introduction” and leave it at that. The sheer renown of this remarkable artiste makes one forget that even he is as much a product of the guru-shishya parampara as is any young and aspiring musician. 

 Manoshi Chatterjee from Raag-Mala’s programming team declares, “Pandit ji studied under one of the most influential musicians in West Bengal, Padma Bhushan Pandit Jnan Prakash Ghosh. He did this after being trained at an early age by his father  Ajit Kumar Chakrabarty and by  Pannalal Samanta and Kanaidas Baigari.” 

In later years, Pandit ji studied under Ustad Munawar Ali Khan (the son of the legendary maestro Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan), as well as with stalwarts like Ustad Latafat Hussain Khan, Pandit Nibruttibua Sarnaik, Vidushi Hirabai Barodekar and Dr M. Balamuralikrishna.

 “Not only is Pandit ji a doyen of the Patiala-Kasur gharana, the style of singing made famous by the late Bade Ghulam Ali Khan Saheb, he is equally adept at the subtleties of the gayaki of other gharanas like Agra, Gwalior and Kirana, as well as the Carnatic style of singing,” adds Manoshi.

While Pandit ji is much loved by lovers of shastria sangeet, it is the breadth of his musical achievements that has won him much acclaim. He has several recordings of Bengali songs and even sang for Bollywood films. His hit duet Aan milo sajana with Begum Parveen Sultana from the film Gadar (2001) reminds one of Bade Ghulam Ali’s song Prem jogan banke from the film Mughal-e-Azam (1960). 

To quote from his website: “Despite having such pure classical taleem in the Dhrupad-Khayal genre, (Pandit ji) is amazingly adroit at rendering lighter forms like thumri, tappa, geet, bhajan, keertan, folk, film/non-film and modern songs, in several languages like Hindi, Urdu, Bengali, Tamil, Telegu, Persian and English, which has given him the distinguished recognition of being a one-of-a-kind musical personality in India today.”

His achievements are widely acclaimed– he is the recipient of numerous awards including four from the President of India, the Padma Shri (2011), Sangeet Natak Akademi Award (1999-2000), the Kumar Gandharva Samman (1993) and the Best Male Playback Singer (Bengali Film Chhandaneer, 1990). 

“Pandit ji’s renditions are melodic and soothing,” says Manoshi. “He cultivates and maintains a purity of tone. Unlike many musicians, he articulates the words and phrases in his bandishes in such a way that they are easy to understand and enjoy.”

Pandit ji has been associated with itc Sangeet Research Academy in Kolkata since the late 1970s as the august institution’s first scholar, and later as its youngest guru. He is also the founder of Shrutinandan, a premier music institute in Kolkata. Of Shrutinandan’s mission, Pandit ji says, “The innate musical nature in a student should be recognized early and the music teacher should be able to unleash its flow, to make them realize their full musical potential, by living and breathing (the music), in every single aspect of their lives.”

To date, this vision has produced over fifty top quality young musicians that are performing at national level in India and abroad and hundreds of music connoisseurs.

Audiences in the gta will experience the range of Pandit ji’s artistry when he performs at two programs in September – the first organized by Raag-Mala Toronto in partnership with the Aga Khan Museum, and at the Bengali program organized by Sarathi.  

Mohamed Khaki is the President of Raag-Mala Toronto.