Friday, 10 June 2011

Cultural maestro

Birjit Rajkumar

Nilmadhab Mukherjee
I have had the privilege of being a disciple of this great artiste – Guru Nilmadhab Mukherjee, who was born to late Aiga Aatal Mukherjee and late Radhika Devi in the year 1920 at village Luwarpuwa, Karimganj district, Assam.

With a firm determination to achieve his goal in life, he proceeded to Manipur on foot in the year 1951. On reaching there, he placed himself under the tutelage of Ojah Gopal Macha in playing the mridanga, and later on, Ojah Lacrangjoa.

With utmost sincerity and devotion, he learnt the art of playing the mridanga in various forms. Within a very short time, he could play ten mridangas at a time, with full synchronisation. Completing his mridanga course, he returned to his native village in the year 1952.

He performed in various districts of Assam, Tripura, Sylhet-Bangladesh, and all over the region.
Again in the year 1955, he went to Manipur and underwent training in Manipuri dance in ovindajee Nartanaloya. During his stay in Manipur, he acquired knowledge from many other gurus.During this period, he was invited to Bombay as a top artiste from Manipur, where he participated in every important function with distinction, and stayed there for four years.

Meanwhile, the All India Music Conference was to be held in Bombay. He participated in this programme with the utmost zeal and skill, and became the topmost artiste of the music conference.

In the meantime, a delegation from Paris came over to Bombay to select artistes from India to participate in the International World Music Conference. With great enthusiasm and demonstrating various artistic skills, especially the Aangnath dance (a creation of his own), he overwhelmed stalwarts like actress Vyjayanthimala, Kathak dance exponent Pandit Birju Maharaj, Gopi Krishan, etc., and was selected for the world meet.

He went to Paris and performed in forty two venues, almost every day, in various forms of dance such as Aangnath dance, Kartal dance, Dasavataar dance, Dolchalan, etc. But alas, his health deteriorated and his absence in the programme became a great cause of concern for the authorities.

After regaining his health, he completed the remaining programmes with utmost felicity. During this period, he performed in many cities abroad such as Brooklyn, Zurich, etc. He also performed his Aangnath dance in an American film titled The Three Headed Cobra. He was also invited to do a television programme in London, in which he was well honoured.

After the International World Music Conference, he returned to Bombay. The Goverment of India honoured him by appointing him as the honorary Principal of Ahmedabad Music College. However, in the year 1958, during his stay in Ahmedabad, he received a telegram carrying the news of the sudden demise of his mother, and had to rush back to his native village.

In the same year, arrangements were going on in full swing to create a friendly atmosphere for the hills and plains Combined Music Conference, which was to be held in Shillong, under the leadership of the then Chief Minister of Assam, Bimala Prasad Chaliha, and Chief Justice Baharul Islam at the Governor House.

For that music conference, a search was going on for a talented artiste from the North East. As a result, he was invited to perform there. His performance left his audience spellbound. After the programme, he wanted to go back to Ahmedabad to resume his duties, but the Chief Minister refused to let him go, telling him that he was a gem of Assam and that he had to stay in Assam. As a result, an academy was established in Shillong in the style of the Manipuri Nartanaloy in 1958. During this period, having got the opportunity, he again went to Manipur and took the Nartan Visharad degree in mridanga, songs, dance and drama, acquiring first division in the year 1960.

In the same year, he was conferred the title Nritayacharya in the first Mahasabha Utsav, which was held in Luwarpuwa. A good singer, he passed the audition test and became a regular singer of the All India Radio from 1961 till 1974.

In 1962, he was appointed the founder artiste in the State Publicity and Cultural Department of Assam. Thereafter, he permanently settled in Guwahati and established the Purbanchal Kalaparishad in the year 1975.

In the year 1986, he was promoted and transferred to Silchar as a manager cum producer in the Cultural Department. During this period, he was bestowed with the title of Mridangacharya, Mridangachuramoni and Barak Ratna.

In the year 1990, he retired from service. Later on, the Government of Assam conferred on him the Silpi Award, and he received the Silpi pension, in addition to his general pension. He was also a good writer. He wrote many books, among which are Nilmadab Geeti, Surar Mingal, etc.
Incredibly, at the age of 90 years, he performed the Aangnath dance for full 30 minutes at Shilpgram, Guwahati, at the invitation of State Education Minister of Tripura, Anil Sarkar, for the Barak Gumuti Festival.

This programme was his last performance. Suffering from diabetes and other age-related ailments, he had a heart attack and passed away on May 27 this year.

Though his presence will be missed, but the glorious achievements in his life will be written in golden letters in the annals of Bishnupriya Manipuri history.

Courtesy: The Assam Tribune
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