Late Pandit Kaviraj Ashutosh Bhattacharya
("Ashu Babu") 17/03/1917-08/02/2004

Ashu Babu is the nickname of my respected guru-ji of tabla, Late Pandit Kaviraj Ashutosh Bhattacharya, a truly great man, famous as both an extraordinary tabla player and teacher and reputed Ayurvedic doctor. Guru-ji was born in the holy city of Varanasi (then known by its British name of Benares), the son and grandson of famous Bengali Ayurvedic doctors. As a boy he expressed an interest in learning drums and started learning pakhawaj at the age of 8 from Pandit Ram Nath Mishra. A few years later he saw a performance of Pandit Kanthe Maharaj, one of the great tabla players of the Benares Gharana and decided he wanted to learn tabla from him.

As a young man he was already a rising star, playing his first conference, in Allahabad, at the age of 21 with the legendary Ustad Allauddin Khan (known as "the grandfather of modern Indian Classical Music). Shortly thereafter he was to follow in the footsteps of his father and grandfather in studying Ayurvedic medicine in Delhi. At the same time as taking lectures, studying and gaining practical experience in his medicine guru's clinic, he was maintaining his tabla practice, giving lessons on Sundays and performing concerts and radio recitals with the likes of Pandit Ravi Shankar, Ustad Ali Akbar Khan and Ustad Vilayat Khan.

After completing his degree and returning to Varanasi, he set up his medical practice and continued to give tabla performances, learn from his guru-ji and practise around 6 hours a day, receiving many awards for his musicianship. During this period he played with most of the "greats" of 20th century Indian classical music, including Ustad Hafiz Ali Khan, Ustad Mushtaq Ali Khan, Pandit D.V. Paluskar, Pandit Nikhil Banerjee, etc etc. In 1952 he performed in "that concert" - Ustad Allauddin Khan, his son Ustad Ali Akbar Khan and Pandit Nikhil Banerjee accompanied on tabla by Ustad Kanthe Maharaj and his senior disciple, Ashu Babu, gave a 3 1/2 hour performance together in the early morning during an All-India Music Conference in Calcutta. Despite such incredible achievements, he always thought of medicine as his profession and music as his hobby, so he never took money for concerts except for expenses like travel, food and lodging.

When I first met Guru-ji in 1994 he had recently had a heart attack and only rarely played tabla. However then and over the following years he continued to show a great love for and devotion to tabla and Indian classical music, teaching daily right up until his last days in early 2004. I was constantly amazed by his incredible knowledge of tabla, always producing new and innovative kaidas, paltas, tihais and tukaras in every taal, always demanding the most from his students and especially always emphasising the basics of clear sound and good "fingering". Among his favourite expressions were "Ek sade, sab saden; sab sade, sab jayen" ("Know one, know all; try all, all will be nothing") and "Everything depends on practice!"

One of his beliefs which I draw much inspiration from is that music should be a divine experience. He often said that nowadays, Indian classical music has no depth - it's very showy and fast and tricky, but without the depth of former days. Nowadays, audiences shout "wow, amazing" and enjoy lots of applause, whereas before audiences would be sighing "aaah" and the music would inspire them to tears. Nowadays many musicians rehearse together and work out impressive sections, whereas before musicians would often meet for the first time on the stage. This sort of music can only come from years of intense practice and devotion, from thinking of music as an offering to God and allowing inspiration to come from spontaneity, which can only happen when one is completely free with one's instrument ("due to toooo much practice," said Guru-ji). In many ways he was a true "musical saint".

It is this attitude which I try to bring into EthnoSuperLounge by bringing musicians together in a free-spirited improvisational atmosphere. Obviously we are not at the standard of musicianship of the likes of Ustad Allauddin Khan, so we cannot hope to attain the same experience, but I think that when those magical inspirational moments come it makes it all worthwhile. And so I have dedicated the EthnoSuperLounge Live! CD and this website to my beloved guru-ji.

by Shen Flindell (tabla student of Late Pt. Kaviraj Ashutosh Bhattacharya from 1994 to 2004)


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