My foreign students have Indian identities: Hariprasad Chaurasia (Interview) (With Images)

March 3rd, 2011 - 1:31 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, March 3 (IANS) Classical flute exponent Hariprasad Chaurasia is helping the West relate to Indian culture in a rather unusual way. He has encouraged at least 22 of his foreign students, mostly from the US and Europe, to adopt Indian identities at his gurukuls.

“They love the flute, they love me and they love India. And they want to acquire Indian identities. At least 22 of my foreign students have changed their names to convert to Indian music, Indian spirituality and the Indian way of life,” the 73-year-old flute maestro told IANS in the capital.

His gurukuls in Mumbai and Bhubaneswar are called ‘Hari Ka Vrindavan’. The foreign students mostly hail from the US, Estonia, Britain, France and other European countries and are addressed by their Indian names like Shankar, Sita, Shiva and Chitra.

“They sit on the floor, meditate, practise yoga every day, pray, eat Indian food and even craft their own flutes (with Assam bamboo wood). They follow the guru-shishya (student-teacher) tradition of the ‘gurukul’ (traditional spiritual retreat).”

Chaurasia was in the capital to perform at the Shriram Shankarlal Music Festival this weekend.

The flute exponent spends time between his two gurukuls and the Rotterdam Music Conservatory in the Netherlands, where he heads the department of world music.

The regimen at his gurukul is rigorous. “The training session begins at 6 a.m. with yoga and ends at 9 p.m. The students are taught to write music, compose music, speak about music and learn western and north Indian and south Indian musical traditions. The motto is serve the ‘guru’, learn from him, and be happy,” he said. Gurukul as a knowledge hub in India dates back to the Vedic age.

Chuarasia, who was honoured with the French Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts des Lettres in 2010 and knighted by Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands in 2004, has his pulse on the popular movie music of Bollywood.

“Movie music will revert to its traditional roots. In the last decade, the music of ‘Lagaan’ (directed by Ashutosh Gowarikar), was one of the best examples of folk, traditional and contemporary music coming together to form a distinctive melody. The film industry is governed by ebb and flow - the current phase of modernisation in movie scores will make way for tradition,” the musician said.

Chaurasia, who began his career as an All India Radio musician in the 1950s in Bhubaneswar, “gave up his job after he was transferred to Mumbai in the early 1960s”.

“I debuted as a movie musician in a (late) Madan Mohan production in 1962. It opened the floodgates to prosperity,” Chaurasia recalled.

The maestro said he worked with “almost every screen stalwart including Satyajit Ray, Hemant Mukherjee, S.D. Burman and Anil Biswas”.

“Flute, the youngest of all classical instruments but the world’s oldest folk instrument, was one of the most popular sounds in movie playback score in the 1960s,” Chaurasia said.

The musician, who has been associated with the Bengali movie industry in Kolkata since the early 1960s, lamented “that Bengali cinema was currently a fusion of Bengali and Western sensibilities”.

“In the 1960s, filmmakers in Bengal did not look beyond the state for intellectual and cultural substance in cinema. Now filmmakers will have to reconnect with the vernacular,” the maestro said.

Chaurasia, one of the early pioneers of global fusion music, is known for his collaboration with George Harrison of the Beatles.

He owned “a castle on Henley on the Thames, where I stayed in 1972 for a collaboration project. Harrison was a Krishna devotee and often visited Vrindavan. I am still in touch with his girlfriend Olivia,” he said.

But the maestro’s “real knowledge of Western music came from a six-month fusion concert tour with 15 top world musicians in a chartered aircraft across Europe and the US in 1973″, the musician said.

Born in Allahabad, Chaurasia owes his “training in classical music to his ‘guru ma’ Annapurna Devi, the daughter of Ustad Allaudin Khan of the Maihar gharana”.

“Before his death, Ustad Allaudin Khan told me to learn music from his daughter. I followed my heart years later and studied music from Annapurna Devi, who was then living with sitar maestro Ravi Shankar,” he said.

(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at

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