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Remembering SUVO GUHA THAKURTA on his 101st Birthday – Kothabriksha

Last updated on July 10, 2020

Dakshinee, a premiere Rabindrasangeet institution established by a young man in his twenties, post – independence in 1948, has completed 71 years in May 2019.  Presently located at Deshapriya Park West, Kolkata, the music school has around 2500 students in its register, and the number increasing at an overwhelming percentage every year, not only signifying the popularity of Tagore’s music but also re-establishing the need for discipline and authenticity in any learning method, be it music or any other art form.

Shri Suvo Guha Thakurta

“So, what do you think about the popularity and acceptance of Tagore’s music amongst the young generation?”, we asked the principal of Dakshinee, Sudeb Guha Thakurta (Bapi da, as we call him), The eldest son of Suvo Guha Thakurta.

“The number says it all. The continuous and exponentially increasing enrollment of young people, in first year and Adya answers your question regarding popularity of Tagore’s music amongst the younger generation.” Replied the veteran trainer.

Dakshinee’s history is incomplete without another name, Rano Guha Thakurta. Rano, second son of Suvo, in his seventies, relentlessly taking the Special Class (6th year, after completion of the Diploma Course), for more than four decades now, teaching treasures of Tagore’s music and idealogies.

Here we are going to remember Sri Suvo Guha Thakurta, one of the main proponents of Rabindrasangeet in Kolkata, who helped to liberate it from the confinements of Bramha-Samaj and Santiniketan. We met Shri Sudeb Guha Thakurta and asked him some questions about the idealist and Teacher Shri Suvo Guha Thakurta, the birth of Dakshinee and its flourishment in post colonial Kolkata.

How do you see the contribution Suvo Guha Thakurta and how is he relevant in today’s age? We asked the principal.

“To respond to this question, I have to go back a long way to the early 90’s to trace and understand the background of my father, Lt. Suvo Guha Thakurta. He was born on 10th July, 1918 in Barishal, East Bengal (presently Bangladesh) but his childhood days were spent in economically adverse conditions.

He lost his father when he was six months old, as he was a very late child. His early days were spent in Barishal, in the lap of raw nature, and in a land cut across by numerous rivers and rivulets. At the age of six, along with his elder siblings, he came to Kolkata as a refugee. He studied in Hare’s school and was always guided by his elder brothers.

The whole family was accommodated in rented houses at different phases of time until 1940 when my uncle bought a house in Kolkata. Before that, while staying in North Kolkata for a long period of time, my father started to connect with people. He met two beautiful persons and later became very close friends. Dilip Chatterjee and Bithindra Gupta. It’s only on the insistence of these two friends that Baba started visiting Brahmo Samaj.”

Was there any experience that triggered his emotions?

“Yes, At this point of time (1934-35), he regularly started attending upasana sessions at Brahmo Samaj. One such session, to his utter surprise, he saw Rabindranath as the acharya. He was absolutely elated to say the least. That was like a turning point. After that, he was exposed to the lectures and discussions by eminent scholars who were invited as Acharyas to the Brahmo Samaj. Though the main predetermined topic of discussion was Brahmasangeet, yet during the discourse, the debates and lectures slowly turned towards Rabindrasangeet, Rabindranath and readings from Shantiniketan. During these days of continuous visits to the Brahmo Samaj, he developed a consciousness which got heavily influenced by the philosophy of the Brahmo Samaj, Rabindrasangeet and the depths and details of Rabindranath’s works.”

When did he start learning Rabindrasangeet?

“His first cousin was Arundhati Debi. Seeing his developing interest in Rabindrasangeet, she persuaded him to join Guru Sailajaranjan Majumdar’s classes in Shantiniketan. He decided to join the class in Shantiniketan and in a way took the first step in establishing a relationship with one of Rabindranath’s most trusted people, Acharya Sailajaranjan Majumdar. He also bridged the gap between Kolkata and Shantiniketan.

Along with Arundhati Debi, another person pushed him a lot towards learning and pursuing Rabindrasangeet, she was none other than Mohor Di, or as the world knows her, Kanika Bandhopadhyay. Both of them, Arundhati Debi and Kanika Bandopadhyay have been instrumental in shaping up Baba for whatever he became in his later life.”

How did his knack for teaching or notating a song come to the forefront?

“After 2 years of regular classes, Acharya Sailajaranjan asked Baba to write notations for the songs that were being taught in class. Sailaj da noticed that he had an innate ability of transforming a tune into a page of perfect musical notation in no time. Baba was given the responsibility of Notating numerous songs, the hand written pages of which have been archived very carefully. Later on Dakshinee started classes in 1948 using these notations as reference. The first official notation books (1-57) from the university were published during 1961, Tagore Centenary. There are a few of the notations followed by Dakshinee that are slightly different from the ones published from the University. I think the reason for that is the work of notating a song was done by more than one person.

There were three different lineages that branched out from Shantiniketan. Anadi Kumar Dastidar’s gharana and his style of notation systems. Dinendranath Thakur gharana, which was mainly carried forward by Shantideb Ghosh and later Suchitra Mitra, the third and the most illustrious was the Sailajaranjan gharana which had a real boom and almost all the veteran artirts during their growing period had learnt and flourished under the tutelage of Acharya Sailajaranjan Majumder.”

Dakshinee during Saraswati Puja Celebrations

How did the idea of creating a school seep into the mind of Suvo Guha Thakurta?

“Rabindranath was very worried and apprehensive that his songs and creations would remain restricted within the Boundaries of the small town of Shantiniketan. So, in 1938, Sailaj da asked Baba to utilize his resources and entrepreneurial instinct to contribute towards spreading of the ideas and songs in a larger sample area, in the city of Kolkata.”

So how did it all start?

“In the year 1941, at the age of 23, with the approval of Rathindranath Thakur and Indira Debi Choudhurani, Baba created a Visva Bharati affiliated school of Rabindrasangeet in South Kolkata, Gitabitan. The world war II was ravaging the world at that moment and this young boy was developing ideas for building a school to spread Rabindrasangeet in Kolkata. His only demand was that the school would be exclusive for the teaching and spreading of Rabindrasangeet.”

What made him leave Geetabitan just when it started flourishing?

“There was a difference of opinion between Baba and the other senior members/teachers who wanted to introduce other forms of music in the curriculum. The difference was mainly regarding the operational aspect of the institution. He mentioned to them that he had given his word to Rathi Thakur regarding the exclusivity. There was a section of people in Gitabitan who were really upset with Baba leaving the organisation. He was a great administrator and so was respected by one and all. He left Geetabitan in 1946 and started saving funds for building his own school exclusively for the teaching of Rabindrasangeet.”

(From Left) Kanika Bandopadhyay, Ustad Allauddin Khan, Sailajaranjan Majumdar, Suvo Guha Thakurta

This is interesting; this is the journey of a visionary as well! When did he start Dakshinee?

“He started Dakshinee on 8th May, 1948. Dakshinee took off with only 12 students on its rolls and by 1955 had 600. It moved into its current premises at 1, Deshapriya Park West on 16th October 1955, ceremonially inaugurated by Smt. Chitralekha Siddhanta, better known as the ‘Nightingale of Bengal’ at the time. It had Subinoy Roy, Suchitra Mitra, Sunil Kumar Roy and Kamala Basu among the first batch of teachers. We have been talking about Kolkata, but his contribution spreads wings in our neighbouring country as well. One of his first students in Dakshinee was Kalim Sharafi, who later became an eminent singer and a political activist in Bangladesh. Before leaving for Dhaka in 1950, he became a teacher at Dakshinee for a very short period of time. His political activism remained unabated as well as his cultural activity. After Dakshinee’s inception, 71 years have passed, even this year, 316 students have enrolled to start training at Dakshinee. It has been a long journey”

Pt Ravi Shankar after a Sitar recital at ‘Dakshinee’ – 1958

According to you what is the X-factor that Dakshinee has which attracts people of all ages (mainly young) to join the 5-year Diploma course?

“There are a lot of reasons. Firstly, the institution is not individual-centric. Whenever the form of teaching becomes individual-centric, people tend to get attracted to the charm and popularity of the particular person and not to the greatness of the art form. There has been a lot of institutions which were/are individual-centric, but none of them have survived as long as 71 years. The simple reason is with the passing away of the person in charge, the institution will lose its glory and popularity. This is the reason why Baba never wanted Dakshinee to rely on the abilities of one single person.

Secondly, the importance of time and discipline. In the whole operational time, there has been no class that was called off and no class that has started late. In any art form, the factor which guides its development and sustainability is discipline and consistency. Baba had set the trend and I carried forward this legacy of addressing discipline as one of the most important aspects of Dakshinee’s policy. Thirdly, authenticity. In times when everything is getting distorted, the puritan and traditional approach attracts people. There is uniqueness and an analytical approach in the content that Dakshinee produces in its performances and the way of teaching.”

Now trying to understand a different aspect, why has Dakshinee never ventured into experimental music arrangement or why does it not encourage use of western instruments in accompaniment?

“To answer your question, I would like to ask another question, why did the most popular and influential rock band in the world not use any Indian or Central Asian instrument? I’m talking about ‘The Beatles’, or as a matter of fact you take any band, ‘The Rolling Stones’ was a favourite, but did they feel the need to bring in instruments of other musical cultures to enrich their own music? We are a self-degrading community and country, we don’t know what we have and reach out to other cultures to enhance and enrich our own culture. But on the other side of the same coin, if someone knows the application of a western instrument very well, I have no problem in using it. There have been productions in Dakshinee where the Esraaj and the Piano were played together. So, it depends on one’s musicality and sense of application whether an instrument is suitable in a song or how much it should be used to enhance the spirit of the song. That’s my opinion.”

In your teaching career, what have you tried to convey to your students? As we know that a song is much more than just Lyrics and Music, how do you guide your students with expression?

“I tell them to read the song as many times as possible. After reading and internalizing the idea or emotion of the song, we should be exposed to the the technicalities like the tune, scansion of the lyrics, the rhythm pattern and delivery of the song. I always stress on the style of singing. The ‘gayaki’ is the most critical part of rendition.”

Alumni Buddhadev Guha & Principal Sudeb Guha Thakurta in a Convocation Ceremony

We have been talking about the founder of this institution, Shri Suvo Guha Thakurta, after him you have been a pillar of strength for this institution and the people associated to it, how do you see Dakshinee 10 years down the line?

“I’m searching for a new person who’ll take over my duties. Yes, I have tried to live up to the expectations of my father, I have been accepted as an able mentor and as a principal, but you never know, the next principal may be better, always remember, no one in this world is indispensable. I have been recognized with love and respect across the globe. I got to interact with students like you who have been with Dakshinee for such a long time, this is a huge reward. I can’t ask for more. The future is that Dakshinee will continue to relentlessly work towards the one and only mission of spreading the music and ideas of Rabindranath Thakur amongst the masses all over the world. This was the dream of my father, and Dakshinee will strive each day to fulfil that dream.”

A still from one of the recent shows of the allegorical drama ‘Phalguni’ by Dakshinee

We are thankful to our principal, Shri Sudeb Guha Thakurta for taking out time from his busy schedule to talk to us. We, the ex-students of this great institution, practically questioned our Principal, like professional reporters, and to which he reacted with vigour and enthusiasm far more than ours. That was the least we could do for our school, where we learnt music, not only Rabindrasangeet, but Music. On this day, we pay our homage to our very own Suvo da, on his 101st birthday.

10th July, 2019

Seva Mitra Hall, Dakshinee Bhavan

Interview: Pratyay Raha & Dipanjan Paul

Written & paraphrased: Pratyay Raha & Pritam Chowdhury

Photograph courtesy: http://www.dakshinee.co.in

© Kothabriksha 2019, All Rights Reserved.

Published inFeature Writing

2 Comments

  1. সুমিত মিত্র সুমিত মিত্র

    Teaching of Rabindrasangit in a pure form was the prime concern of the founder of Dakshinee who came from Barishal & take a refuge under the ideals of Brahmosamaj during pre independence period.The present Principal’s contribution is to strengthen the long journey of this institution against all odds & to make a solid pillar of Dakshinee by exploring other areas like Dance,Dramas of Tagore in India & abroad.We are hopeful that the legacy will continue even after departure of Bapida from the stage.

  2. Dr Swapan Saha Dr Swapan Saha

    Excellent…..
    Meaningful pictures and words.

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