It’s a little past noon in the sleepy village of Hariharpur in Uttar Pradesh’s Azamgarh , surrounded by lush green fields and mango orchards and four others, all with the surname Mishra are doing what they always do, usually in the evening, sometimes in the afternoon – riyaaz (music practice).
A melodious alaap (an improvised introduction to a raga at the beginning of the song), accompanied by the serene strains of the harmonium wafts down the streets of the village, on the walls of which musical instruments are painted.
Vocalist Roshan Mishra, who also plays the harmonium, Sahil Mishra on sarangi, Yash Mishra on tabla and Ashish Mishra on cymbals are following in the footsteps of those who came before, laying the foundation of the Hariharpur Gharana (a style) of music at least 300 years ago.
“I want to be a classical vocalist ; I am under tutelage of my guru Panna Lal Mishra here,” said Roshan Mishra, 12, a student of Class 7 in Rahul Sanskrityayan Inter College, Azamgarh, speaking outside a house which has a tabla painted on it.
“We love classical music. Even the walls of our houses reflect it,” said Pt Ashish Mishra, a young tabla player.
The village has produced legendary classical vocalists and tabla players such as Pt Vasudev Mishra, Pt Munnan Mishra, Pt Rakhal Mishra and Pt Ramsajeevn Mishra and Tabla artists, including Pt Funnan Mishra, Pt Lakkhinarayan Mishra, Pt Manni Lal Mishra and Pt Vishwanath Mishra. The village also nurtured Saragi artists, including Pt Luru Mishra, Pt Sanwala Mishra, Pt Devi Prasad Mishra Pt Mahesh Prasad Mishra, Pt Shyam Bihari Mishra, Pt Bhairo Prasad Mishra and Pt Rajakeshwar Mishra.
But both Hariharpur Gharana and the village itself, where music once flourished , faced neglect, Ashish Mishra added.
He credited Azamgarh MP Dinesh Lal Yadav ‘Nirahua’ for making serious efforts to restore the glory of Hariharpur Gharana.
“Our MP Dinesh Ji is an artiste, so he understands the importance of classical arts. After being elected Azamgarh MP, he visited the village several times and apprised UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath about the Hariharpur Sangeet Gharana. Thereafter, the CM also visited the village and met both senior and young artistes. Recently union home minister Amit Shah visited the village and laid the foundation of Hariharpur Sangeet College on the outskirts of the village,” he said.
Once the music college comes up, it will be an epicentre of the Hariharpur Sangeet Gharana, Ashish Mishra hopes.
Shambhu Nath Mishra, 75, a vocalist, does not want to talk on political lines.
“I am a classical vocalist. So, I am happy that the governments at the centre and state paid attention to restoring the glory of Hariharpur Sangeet Gharana,” says the man who taught vocal music and harmonium at Agrasen Inter College, Azamgarh for four decades.
“Our gharana has a very glorious history,” said Shambu Nath Mishra. “Swami Harinam Das was a ‘Sangeet Sadhak’ (one dedicated to music) over 300 years ago. We are his descendants. His performances left the audience spellbound. The Nepal King patronised him. Later generations tried to conserve his musical heritage and passed it from one generation to the next.”
“Classical music echoed in every street of Hariharpur village till 1935. Legendary vocalists like Pt Vasudev Mishra, Pt Munnan Mishra, Pt Raakhal Mishra and Pt Ramsajivan Mishra, all were sangeet sadhak (in quest of music). In fact, music was a sort of meditation for them. They spent hours in ‘riyaz’ here,” he added.
His little village was once a hotspot of all three genres of music— gayan (vocal music) vadan (instrumental) and nritya (dance), Shambu Nath Mishra said proudly. “Tabla maestros such as Pt Funnan Mishra and Pt Lakkhinarayan Mihsra grew up here and learned the nuances of the percussion instrument from their gurus. Sarangi players Pt Luru Mishra, Pt Sanwala Mishra, Pt Devi Prasad Mishra and Kathak dancers like Jokhu Mishra and Shiv Ji Mishra also hailed from here.”
Artistes ensured that at least one of their children learned one of the three genres of classical music, said Bholanath Mishra, a classical vocalist of Hariharpur Gharana.
Now settled in New Delhi, Bholanath Mishra is the eighth-generation of a family of classical musicians that has been into music almost as long as the Hariharpur Gharana itself.
“I was initiated into classical music by my mother late Chandravati Devi. After that, my father renowned vocalist Pt Rakhal Mishra gave me formal training in classical singing. I learned khayal, chaiti, thumari and dadra from him.”
Bholanath Mishra has also been under tutelage of his elder brother Pt Deenanath Mishra, who lives in Kolkata.
“Music is a sadhna (worship) for all of us (he and his brothers). We trying to preserve and promote the classical tradition which my forefathers nurtured and forwarded to me through tutelage,” he said.
But between 1935 and 2010, as the artistes left for Kolkata (then Calcutta), Delhi, Mumbai, Bhagalpur and Muzaffarpur in search of better prospects, the Hariharpur Gharana faded.
In 1935, Pt Rakhal Mishra migrated to Kolkata and Pt Ramsajeevan Mishra went to Ara, Bihar. Sarangi exponent Pt Devi Prasad Mishra settled in Muzaffarnagar. As did, in 1936, Padma Vibhushan vocalist Pt Chhannu Lal Mishra’s father Badri Prasad Mishra, a tabla player. Chhannu Lal was born in Harihapur in 1936. After a few years, his father took him to Muzaffarpur where he learned vocal music under Ustad Ghani Khan of the Kirana Gharana and later shifted to Varanasi.
Sarangi players Pt Shyambihari Mishra migrated to Muzaffarpur in Bihar and Pt Bhairo Prasad Mishra and Pt Rajakeshwar Mishra went to Gaya, Bihar. Tabla artistes Pt Lakkhinarayan Mishra, Pt Manni Lal Mishra and Pt Vishwanath Mishra migrated to Bhagalpur, Kolkata and Delhi respectively.
Now things are changing, Shambunath Mishra said.
The revival started around a decade back when SK Mishra, chairman of Indian Trust for Rural Heritage and Development (ITRHD) , travelled to Hariharpur and set up the Hariharpur Sangeet Academy .
ITRHD chairman Mishra said, “As part of our efforts to preserve rural heritage, we set up the Hariharpur Sangeet Academy. It is a matter of great satisfaction that governments at the centre and state recognised our work and decided to build a music college, foundation of which was laid recently.”
MP Dinesh Lal Yadav Nirahua said, “Preserving cultural heritage is our responsibility and we are working seriously for it. As a result, the foundation of the Hariharpur Sangeet College, to be built at a cost of ₹22 crore , has already been laid. We will ensure that it is constructed as early as possible and starts spreading the glory of the centuries-old Hariharpur Sangeet Gharana far and wide”.
Shambhu Nath Mishra said: “Classical arts always need promotion. I wish that the new initiative takes shape in time and all forms of classical music and dance flourish in Hariharpur yet again. May the classical tunes keep echoing here for ever.”