The duo of the Banerjee Sittings Nikhil and Tapan were born prodigies. Their father the late Jitendra Banerjee was himself a well versed musician who imparted the earlier lessons in vocal and instrumental music to his sons form their infancy.
At the boys grew up they were put under the tutelage of teachers specialized in their respective instruments. The elder Nikhil took early lessons on the sitar from Benjamin Gomes a senior disciple of Ustad Inayet Khan and later from Ustad Mushtaq Ali khan of the Senia Gharana sitarists of Benares. Mushtaq ali took special interest in Nikhil and it was under his tutelage that he developed the perfect and bold deployment of the Mizaab and the neat execution of the left hand fingers for neat meend and forceful gamakas.
By nature Nikhil was a quiet young men yet the remarkable aspect of his personally was his ability to observe the best in all musicians whether vocalists instrumentalists or percussionists. He was fortunate to receive attention from some of the well known maestros of his time including Radhika Moham Moitra and Kumar Birendra Kishore Roy Choudhury of Gouripur while the former initiated Nikhil into the motifs and the technique of improvising the variations of the todas the latter introduced him to the Senia Beenkaar technique in ala-jor-jhata.
Finally it was his chance meeting in Calcutta with the legendary Baba Alauddin Khan of Maiher during the late forties Baba evolved quite a different style for him. While the Vilambit compositions were based on the Gwallor’s Khayal gaayeki the fast ones were as per the Punjab’s tappa Gayeki with sparkling zam Zamaa. It was unfortunate that Nikhil’s sojourn at Maiher was short because of his father’s failing health and a little later his demise.
Nikhil’s perseverance brought him close to Ustad Ali Akbar khan and his sister Annapoorna Devi. He even gave a number of jugalbandis with Ustad Ali akbar khan and soon established himself as a leading soloist of his own right.
Towards the latter part of his life he developed an individualistic style by deploying all the best that he ganered form his illustrious gurus. The late Hiren Roy a master craftsman of Calcutta held Nikhil in much affection and worked hard to create a couple of specially crafted sitars for him by adding several improvisations such as increased number of strings on the top from six to ten. This resulted in exceedingly rich resonance from Nikhil’s sitar reminiscence of Baba Alauddin Khan’s sarod. There was immerse depth in his ala jar besides neat and bold phrasing in the fast tempo renderings with masterly command over rhythm.
Nikhil had done short stints of teaching in the US at Berkley but did not have many disciples at home quite natural for one who did his riaz for as many as eighteen hours on most days. It is interesting that a large number of present day up and coming satirists are inspired and influenced by Nikhil Banerjee’s approach to the sitar and have adopted his style and technique.
Nikhil Banerjee ranks among the great musicians of modem India. One of the outstanding disciples of Baba Alaudin Khan he was one of the quartet of the sarod maestro Ustad Ali Akbar Khan the Sitar Virtuoso Pandit Ravi Shankar and the Flautists Pannalal Ghosh who made the Maiher Gharana a domination force of our instrumental music scene.
Maluha Kalayan 45:32
Tabla Accompanist Anindo Praksh Chatterji