Nikhil Banerjee
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A small tribute site for Pandit Nikhil Banerjee
 
(14th October 1931 - 27th January 1986)


I dedicate this page to our friends Ratan and Swati Mukherjee, 
who trusted us with their beloved Nikhilji


Pandit Nikhil Banerjee was the most wonderful musician I ever heard. I heard him in London on October 23rd 1983, in London on November 24th 1984, and in Dublin on June 21st 1985. I do not believe I will ever again hear such a musician. How fortunate all of us were, those of us who saw him play.

Before reading further, you might wish to hear Panditji's beautiful, gentle voice in an interview (almost 13 minutes long).

When I began this tribute site to Panditji in the summer of 1999 - when I first obtained a web site - a web search for 'Nikhil Banerjee' brought up only two returns: the wonderful Raga Records site in New York, and my own. Now, years later, any web search will bring thousands of returns. 

This web page contains:

  1. A photograph taken by Ira Landgarten.

  2. Panditji's visit to Dublin, June 21st-23rd, 1985.

  3. Dr Barra Boydell's Irish Times review of Panditji's concert.

  4. In July 1985 Ratan Mukherjee informed us that...

  5. Unpublished obituary notice.

  6. Fifteen protographs from Panditji's concert, two privately taken (by me) photographs, and a photograph taken by Ira Landgarten.

  7. Review - from the New York Times - of Nikhil Banerjee's last concert outside India, in Carnegie Hall, November 1985. Obituary notice from the New York Times.

  8. An important, extended article on Nikhil Banerjee by Nilaksha Gupta, together with a note of appreciation by Anindya Banerjee, both articles from the Calcutta Telegraph, February 1986.

  9. Reflections on Nikhil Banerjee by Mohan Nadkarni (amongst other things, the biographer of the legendary vocalist Pandit Bhimsen Joshi), from the ILLUSTRATED WEEKLY OF INDIA, MARCH 9, 1986.

  10. A (text) interview with Ira Landgarten.

  11. Some Nikhil Banerjee links:

    Steven Baigel is producing a Nikhil Banerjee video, "That Which Colors The Mind."

    Anandaroop Bhattacharya used to have a wonderful tribute site, which vanished, then reappeared, but then, sadly, vanished yet again.

    A valuable Wikipedia reference.

    nik_ban3.gif (24236 bytes)

    This photograph of Pandit Nikhil Banerjee is from John Wilton's wonderful web site, Raga Records (one which I unreservedly recommend). The photograph was taken by Ira Landgarten in Panditji's music room at his Calcutta home in 1973.

  12. Two letters, one from Satyajit Ray, the other from Anita Desai.

  13. A little note from Catherine (our younger daughter), from the end of May 1985, about one month before Panditji's visit. Some final remarks.


In Ferbuary 1985 my wife (Mary) and I arranged with Ratan Mukherjee to bring the great Indian sitarist Pandit Nikhil Banerjee to Ireland. (Ratan Mukherjee is married to Nikhil Banerjee's sister Swati, and Ratan's sister, Purabi, studied for 35 years with Ustad Amir Khan, the renowned Indian classical singer. See Nikhil Banerjee's thoughts on the music of Amir Khan, and a photograph of Panditji, Ustad Amir Khan, and Purabi Mukherjee from 1970.) 

The date on which we agreed turned out to be the 21st of June (which happened to be "European Music Day"; 1985 was designated "European Music Year"). I wanted Nikhil Banerjee's concert to be in the National Concert Hall, but it was already booked; instead I booked the Main Auditorium at Carysfort College (where I was then a member of its Mathematics Department), which venue I actually considered to be the best in Dublin for Indian classical music. Months in advance I invited Charles Acton to review the concert, but he was already engaged for that evening; instead the Irish Times reviewer was Dr. Barra Boydell (whose review is given below).
    For Nikhil Banerjee's concert we produced a 16-page programme - dedicated, with her permission, to the renowned Indian classical dancer, Alarmel Valli - which included a two-page essay (Leslie1 and Leslie2), Understanding Indian Music, by the author and musicologist, Leslie Shepard (Irish Times obituary notice, 4th Sept 2004: Leslieobit1 and Leslieobit2). The programme contained advertisements from the Chester Beatty Library and Gallery of Oriental Art (and although he had never met me, nor knew anything about me, the then Director, John Lockwood - who had come to Ireland from Cambridge University Library - offered to purchase page 2 of any future programme that we produced...), Waltons Musical Instruments Galleries, the Moghul Indian Restaurant, lapis limited, Irish National Insurance, Sharwood's, the Gramophone Company of India, Books from India (London), Collets (London), Indian Music and Dance Promotions Ltd. (ourselves), Bord na Gaeilge, Hodges Figgis Bookshop, and Ariane Art Gallery.
    One page of the programme consisted of quotations from two short stories of Anita Desai's, and another page of quoted from a novel of Ruth Prawer Jhabvala's.
    Some photographs from the concert are shown at the end of this page; the concert photographs were taken at the time without my knowledge. For the evening I had hired the College's technician - Rod Walsh - to look after the sound etc. Some days after the concert he gave me some photos that he took during the concert; I was amazed, as I had not seen any flash go off (and would have been shocked had anyone used flash...), but Rod informed me he had used 'fast film', something of which I had never heard until then. I bought the photos and negatives from him, and I regard the photographs as being available to anyone who wishes to copy or print them.
    I have had many requests over the years for a recording of Panditji's concert, and I have had to tell that we made no recording. On Wednesday 12th June, the week before the concert, I received a phone call from the office of the Irish Tourist Board in Paris. They told me that French television had been attempting to find where we lived to arrange - if we were willing - to televise the concert, but we declined; we did not want any distractions during the concert.


Review from the Irish Times of Monday, June 24, 1985

Indian Music at Carysfort College, Blackrock

By Barra Boydell

" It happens perhaps a handful of times in a lifetime, an experience such as we had on Friday evening at Carysfort College, Blackrock, when the outstanding Indian musician, Nikhil Banerjee (sitar), with Anindo Chatterjee (tabla) and Sheema Mukherjee (tanpura), performed. On European Music Day, when musicians throughout Europe have been playing, we enjoyed an experience which showed how truly international great music is on a worldwide scale, for though the traditions of Indian and of European music are far removed from each other, these performances brought us into contact with a common truth.
     Nikhil Banerjee is distinguished from some sitar players perhaps more widely known in the West in that he does not tailor the length of his ragas to suit the supposed Occidental preference for shorter works, and also by the sheer brilliance of his technique and musical invention. In his playing, as in Anindo Chatterjee's, the world seemed contained in his fingertips.
     Two ragas were played, "Puriya Kalyan" and "Zila Khafi", both building up to breathtakingly beautiful exchanges between sitar and tabla. Although each raga lasted an hour, time did not exist while they played, and in the first I reached a state of ecstasy only to discover higher, unknown states as the ragas developed.
     I am deeply grateful to John and Mary Cosgrave, who brought Nikhil Banerjee to this country. Hopefully, a return visit will be possible, which nobody who believes in music would want to miss." 

Here is a scan of the original review.

 

In July 1985, Ratan Mukherjee informed us that Nikhil Banerjee would perform for us again in Dublin in 1986, and indeed that he would mould his European concert dates around ours. Later that year we agreed a date with management in the National Concert Hall: Wednesday 22nd October 1986. It would have been my fourth time to have heard him in live performance.
    Ratan Mukherjee phoned us on the evening of Tuesday 28th January 1986 to tell us that Nikhil Banerjee - his beloved brother-in-law - had died at his home on the previous day, having completed his morning music practice.

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This photo of Pandit Nikhil Banerjee
is from Amigo Records (Sweden)


Unpublished Obituary Notice
(submitted to the Irish Times, Friday 31st January 1986)

John Cosgrave

" Pandit Nikhil Banerjee, one of India's greatest and most loved musicians, died at his home in Calcutta on Monday 27th January, following a heart attack. A gentle, modest, unassuming man of incomparable genius, his death will be mourned throughout the world by all lovers of Indian classical music.
    Born in Calcutta on October 14th 1931, his first teacher was his father, Jitendra Nath Banerjee. A prodigy, he won the All-Bengal Sitar Competition at the age of nine, and then worked for All-India Radio. In 1947 he became a disciple of Ustad Allauddin Khan, the most renowned music teacher of North India, and a direct descendant of the famous saint-musician Miyan Tansen, one of the 'nine gems' of the court of the emperor Akbar the Great. Nikhil Banerjee studied with Allauddin Khan for seven years, living with him as a member of his family; he called him 'Baba' ('father'), and revered him. He was also a disciple of Allauddin Khan's son, the famous sarod master
Ustad Ali Akbar Khan.
    His concert career began in 1954, and he toured outside India many times. In 1968 he was awarded the Indian Government title 'Padma Sri,' and was named outstanding musician of the year by the Sangeet Natak Akademi (the National Academy of Performing Arts). His last public was in Calcutta  on Friday 24th January 1986; outside India it was in Carnegie Hall, New York, on Saturday 9th November 1985.
    Last June he visited Dublin with his wife Roma and daughter Debdota, his sister Mrs. Swati Mukherjee and her husband Ratan, their daughter Sheema, and the tabla master Anindo Chatterjee.
    Of his concert here, Michael Dervan wrote in the Sunday Tribune that he had conveyed a true flavour of the spirituality for which Indian music is renowned, and that despite the undemonstrative introverted of his playing his concert had been enthusiastically received.
    Writing in the Irish Times, Dr. Barra Boydell recorded this: "It happens perhaps a handful of times in a lifetime, an experience such as we had on Friday evening at Carysfort College, Blackrock, when the outstanding Indian musician, Nikhil Banerjee (sitar), with Anindo Chatterjee (tabla) and Sheema Mukherjee (tanpura) performed ... Two ragas were played, "Puriya Kalyan" and "Zila Khafi", both building up to breathtakingly beautiful exchanges between sitar and tabla. Although each raga lasted an hour, time did not exist while they played, and in the first I reached a state of ecstasy only to discover higher, unknown states as the ragas developed...Hopefully, a return visit will be possible, which nobody who believes in music would want to miss."
    We had just completed arrangements for such a return - he was to perform in the National Concert Hall on Wednesday 22nd October 1986 - when we heard the tragic news from Ratan Mukherjee. We are filled with grief at the thought that we will never again see his beautiful, thoughtful face. In common with all people who care about Indian music, we will be eternally grateful that we  heard his music, and owe more to him than any words can express. Our thoughts are now for his wife and two daughters, and all his relatives. Their loss is beyond description."


Fifteen photographs (1.jpg, (2.jpg has a flaw which needs to be seen to), 3.jpg, 4.jpg, 5.jpg, 6.jpg, 7.jpg, 8.jpg, 9.jpg, 10.jpg, 11.jpg, 12.jpg, 13.jpg, 14.jpg, 15.jpg, 16.jpg) taken at Nikhil Banerjee's concert at Carysfort College on Friday 21st June 1985. These photographs were discretely taken - using fast film (no flash) (without my fore-knowledge) during the concert by Rod Walsh, who handled the sound system for the evening. Recently Ira Landgarten generously offered to transfer the negatives to jpg files, so that I could make them publickly available at my web site. A big thank you to Ira Landgarten (whose work on behalf of Raga Records will be known to you) for his time and effort.

Here are two privately taken photographs from that weekend: Mrs. Swati Mukherjee (Panditji's sister) with our daughters Catherine (left) and Marie (right). I took this photograph outside our home on the morning of Sunday 23rd June 1985. Click here for photograph. A photograph of Sheema Mukherjee outside our home on the same morning. Click here for photograph.

I also make available here a photograph of Panditji with Anindo Chatterjee, taken by Ira Landgarten (and used with his permission) in Panditji's home in 1973.


I have typed the following from a hard copy of the original review.

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__________________________________________________________

The New York Times, Wednesday, November 13, 1985

Music Noted in Brief
_________________________________________

The World Music Institute and New Audiences presented the Indian sitarist Nikhil Banerjee and a troupe of seven professional folk musicians from the Thar Desert of Nowthwest India at Carnegie Hall on Saturday, providing an inspiring evening of music. It was difficult to imagine any better-known Indian performers presenting a program more vital, kaleidoscopic and moving than this one.
    The desert musicians, who performed first, were members of the Langas and Manghaniyars, two castes of folk musicians prevalent in the arid northern province of Rajasthan. Together and individually, they filled the hall with bold, ringing voices and lively instrumental music of a sort one finds mostly in the wide open spaces of deserts and steppes.
    Sadique Khan weilded a pair of wooden clappers or castanets called khartal with virtuosity and canny showmanship while singing in a commandingly outgoing manner, though the melismatic fluency of the young Bundu Khan made him the evening's outstanding vocalist. Karim Khan's solo on the murali, a single-reed horn with two fingering-pipes and a drone chamber, and the satara double-flutes played by the same musician and by Mehardin Khan in duets, enlivened the concert with music that was melodically and texturally ravishing, and ably supported by the supple drumming of Ramjan Khan. The other musicians distinguished themselves on several varieties of bowed lutes, with Sakar Khan's percussive playing of the kamaycha suggesting a historical link between this ancient bowed instrument and the modern plucked lute - the sarod - played by Ali Akbar Khan.
    Nikhil Banerjee, following this intensely upbeat opening with a classical raga, proved himself a master of the sitar. His long, gorgeous alap, the meditative opening exposition of the raga, demonstrated that in the proper hands, the sitar can be as subtle an instrument as the veena, its extremely ancient ancestor. And later, as he played cat-and-mouse with the virtuostic tabla drummer Zakir Hussain, the extraordinary fluidity and assurance of his rhythmic ideas and phrasing set a pace that would have left most of the international "stars" of Indian music far behind.

Robert Palmer


Articles by Nilaksha Gupta (three and a half pages) and Anindya Banerjee (one and a half pages) from the Calcutta Telegraph of Ferruary 1986. Page 1 scan, Page 2 scan, Page 3 scan, Page 4 scan, and Page 5 scan.


Article by Mohan Nadkarni (I am grateful to Ashi and Nishi Doshi - twin daughters of Ambassador Kiran Doshi and Mrs Doshi - who gave me the original article in 1986). Because this two page article appeared in large page format (A3 size) I had to split each page in two for scanning purposes. First page, top half. First page, bottom half. Second page, top half. Second page, bottom half. See also.


An interview with Ira Landgarten
, the day before Nikhil Banerjee's last U.S. performance at Carnegie Hall, New York (1986). From booklet accompanying Raga CD-207 (Purabi Kalyan). Copyright 1991 Ira Landgarten.


Satyajit Ray
. Some months after Panditji died I conceived the idea of arranging a memorial concert here in Dublin. Anyone who really knows Indian music will understand why there was only one appropriate person I could ask: Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, the legendary sarodiya

Unfortunately, although I devoted much time to this dream, it all fell through by the end of April 1987, and I decided to stop altogether.

In the course of planning, however, I went ahead with work on the printed programme, one which I wanted to be really special. Again, anyone who knows India's extraordinarily rich culture (indeed, world culture) will understand why I wrote to Satyajit Ray to ask if he would kindly provide an introduction for my proposed Nikhil Banerjee memorial programme. Satyajit Ray wrote to me.

Anita Desai. I had always felt badly that I had never written to Anita Desai to tell her I had used (with permission from her publishers)  music-related quotations from two of her stories in Nikhil Banerjee's June 1985 concert programme. Then, early in 1993, a friend of a friend was going to India to interview some leading fiction writers, and when I heard that one of those was going to be Anita Desai, I asked my friend's friend if she would present to Anita Desai a copy of the programme, together with a letter of explanation from me. Anita Desai wrote to me (ADpage1 and ADpage2), and since some might have difficulty in reading the faint script, I reproduce it here: 

Dear John Cosgrave, I was in London last week (for the filming of a book I wrote called "In Custody") when the concert programme you sent me arrived in the post. I'm afraid I did not meet the friend who brought it to India for me but now that I'm in England (writing, in a small cottage in Cornwall, for a few months) I wanted to write and thank you for sending it, and tell you how [unclear] I was in the concert you arranged. I have of course heard Nikhil Banerjee play and been to several recitals he gave in India, and I can quite understand your enthusiasm for his playing which had such purity, integrity and dignity. You might be interested to know that the score for the film "In Custody" has been composed by two Indian musicians you may know - Zakir Hussain, the tabla player, and Sultan Khan, the sarangi player. The sound resordist for the film was an admirer of Sultan Khan's and was planning to film a concert he was to give in unbelievably, - the Ellora caves. I am sorry you have folded up your company but can imagine how difficult it is to organise a concert of Indian music in Dublin (a city I visited for the first time last summer). Still, I am glad it brought Nikhil Banerjee to Ireland. With my best wishes, Sincerely, [Signed...] (ANITA DESAI) 


One day near the end of May 1985, about one month before Panditji's visit here, we were sitting in our kitchen, behind closed doors, talking quietly about our concern at the poor sale of tickets. We heard a sound from underneat a door, and saw that something had been pushed underneath, and some footsteps going away... This is what was pushed under the door: a note, and three single pound notes from our then just ten-year old daughter Catherine. I am proud that our daughter could write such a note. I have kept that note all these years inside a (wonderful) biography by Elizabeth de Jong-Kessing (front cover scan, back cover scan) of Inayat Khan (whose daughter was the remarkable Noor Inayat Khan). In later years I wrote on the back.

Almost one month later, after his concert, Panditji paid us the honour of having a meal at our home (we cooked for two days, all Indian food). With him were Roma (his wife) and younger daughter Debdota, Ratan and Swati Mukherjee, Sheema and Anindo, together the Indian Ambassador Kiran Doshi (who offered use much assistance) and his family, and a small number of friends. 

I can still hear the laughter of our daughters Marie and Catherine, and Debdota as they played with a balloon in the hallway late that Friday night.

Panditji's love for his guru Ustad Allauddin Khan is legendary (and I had the great good fortune to hear of it from Panditji himself, in our own home, on the afternoon after his concert). In the room in which Panditji prepared himself before his concert, I placed a copy of Jotin Bhattacharya's biography of Panditji's guru, with flowers on either side. Here is the cover of that book, which Panditji saw. I gave the book to Sheema as a gift, and got another copy later, the one which you see here.

Parting on the Sunday afternoon is a memory for a lifetime.