Pandit Budhaditya Mukherjee is known to be an astounding genius among string instrumentalists and plays both the surbahar and sitar in the North Indian classical style. The more difficult to play instrument, surbahar, is a much larger bass version of the sitar, using much thicker strings. For ease of understanding, surbahar’s size difference with the sitar may be compared with the size differences between the double-bass and the cello respectively.
The much thicker strings on the surbahar substantially help in prolonged sustenance (continuity) of sound after it is plucked by the steel plectrum (mizraf) worn on the right hand index finger, to initiate the sound production. The prolonged sustenance of sound ‘after plucked’ is especially important as the music progresses, because it is only after the initiation of the sound by each pluck can improvised musical nuances be propagated towards an aesthetic flow, allowing the joy of the music to maintain its flow.
Upholding with great distinction the traditions of the Imdadkhani Gharana (named after Ustad Imdad Khan), a North Indian school of sitar and surbahar music, Pandit Budhaditya Mukherjee’s name has long been synonymous with genius dexterity on sitar. Considered the leading sitarist of his generation, Budhaditya has received his entire training in sitar and surbahar from his illustrious father, the late Pandit Bimalendu Mukherjee, the well-known sitarist and doyen of the Imdadkhani School, who initiated his son into sitar at the age of five. Since then, responding to the finesse of his father’s profound teachings, Budhaditya’s music has blossomed into a unique lyrical magic with clarity that reflects the vocal style performed on the sitar known as Gayaki–aṅga.
Ustad Imdad Khan was initiated into vocal music and then later inducted into sitar playing by his father. He learnt from a number of stalwarts and thereafter was inspired to institute a completely new style of sitar and surbahar playing. This eventually led to the establishment of a new Gharana (lineage-based school) called the Imdadkhani Gharana, also called the Etawah Gharana, named after a village outside Agra where Imdad Khan lived. The lineage proliferated over from Etawah to Kolkata, Indore, Hyderabad, Mumbai and subsequently throughout India. Ustad Imdad Khan’s son Ustad Enayat Khan was hailed as one of the most renowned sitarists of the early 20th century. Enayat Khan made the art of sitar playing more affable and popular for larger audiences in Calcutta. Furthermore, Enayat Khan changed the design architecture of the sitar to better suit the style of his lineage. Incidentally, Budhaditya Mukherjee plays the very same surbahar that belonged to deft hands of Enayat Khan.
The Imdadkhani Gharana inculcates a distinctive characteristic for the sitar playing called the Gayaki–aṅga. The Sanskrit word aṅga (limb) is used to signify a part or parcel thereof. The style refers to the technique where the sitarist matches very closely the articulate potency and variation of human voice. Thus the intonations of classical singer somewhat mirrors the inflection of the instrumentalist.
Under the Imdadakhani Gharana, the rāga and ālāpa were combined in a way that was prevalent in the khayāla singing. The entire vocal embellishment of the khayāla style was adopted and integrated into the Gayaki–aṅga sitar playing.
According to the capacity of the instrument, the string deflections were enlarged to at least five notes. Maximum exploitation of ān or the continuity of the sound after the string plucking was facilitated. Also, the plucking was constrained to the right index finger. The rhythmic pattern was enriched by incorporating all the khayāla tāna, percussion sounds and adoption of several rhythmic variations and subdivision of tempo. Major structural transformations to both the sitar and surbahar accompanied the development of the instrumental style have come to be known as the Gayaki–aṅga. These are the major achievements of this school and lineage.
In 1977, Budhaditya Mukherjee graduated with first rank in his class and earned a gold medal in Metallurgical Engineering. However, even after having achieved such academic laurels, his immense love and dedication for the sitar caused Budhaditya to devote himself whole-heartedly to it.
Today, he has not only kept alive the creative concepts of the polestar teacher of his school, Ustad Imdad Khan, after whom the Imdadkhani Gharana is named, but also improved upon them. In the process, he also has popularized immensely the traditions of this school’s style of playing. The depth of his ālāp – the opening section of a North Indian classical performance, the intricate tānkari – a rhythmic progression of notes woven together in a fast tempo, and complete mastery over the string instrument have truly reciprocated the teachings of his Guru and father, Pandit Bimalendu Mukherjee.
Having specialized in the disciplined development of various rāga-based on the Gayaki–aṅga style of his school-lineage, Budhaditya Mukherjee has enthralled audiences at over 1,500 concerts in India, as well as about 1300 recitals in over twenty-five countries, including United Kingdom, United States of America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and in other countries throughout Europe. These performances also include twelve well-known international festivals where he represented India as the sole performer.
On 30th June 1990, Budhaditya Mukherjee created history by becoming the first ever musician to perform at the House of Commons, London. In 1994, the Madhya Pradesh State Government honored him with the coveted national award, Kumar Gandharva Sanman Award. Pandit Budhaditya Mukherjee was a visiting expert in the sitar at the Conservatory of Music in Rotterdam, Holland from 1995 to 2005. Additionally since 1983, many students have benefited from his valued teachings at the Instituto Internazionale di Studi Musicali Comparati in Venice. On 22nd July 2011, Pandit Budhaditya Mukherjee was awarded the prestigious Sangeet Natak Academy Award. On 14th December 2016, the Bengal Government bestowed upon him the state’s prestigious Sangeet Maha Sanman Award.
Despite worldwide acclaim and numerous accolades that have come his way, Budhaditya Mukherjee treasures most the words of appreciation he received when he was aged twenty. After his first performance on stage in Calcutta in 1976, the renowned writer, director and filmmaker, late Satyajit Ray said: “Simply fantastic! I was stunned after hearing him. He is incredibly good. Really extraordinary… His performance soul-filling.” Two years later, after listening to his recital on the Akashvani Sangeet Sammelan broadcast, the all-time great vīṇā maestro, late S. Balachander said “When I listened to the sitar recital of Budhaditya Mukherjee, I felt that I was listening to the Sitar Artist of the Century. May God bless him with a long life and a most befitting future.”
In his early sixties, Pandit Budhaditya Mukherjee has 46 commercial musical releases to his name worldwide by various reputed music companies. Budhaditya Mukherjee was most recently selected to represent an ensemble of Indic classical musicians at the BBC Proms and performed at the Royal Albert Hall on 25th August 2017.