Music doesn’t see Hindus and Muslims through a binary lens: Tabla maestro Durjay Bhaumik

Story by  Tripti Nath | Posted by  Aasha Khosa | Date 02-03-2024
Tabla maestro Durjay Bhaumik
Tabla maestro Durjay Bhaumik


Tripti Nath/New Delhi

“Music has no language. It has a universal appeal. It does not discriminate on the basis of religion; It is like a free-flowing river that offers the same water to everybody. It holds equal appeal for everybody irrespective of caste, creed, or religion,’’ says Delhi based Tabla player Durjay Bhaumik.

“Over the years, I have had the privilege of playing with some of the greatest maestros of Indian classical music including the late Sitar maestro Ustad Abdul Halim Zafar Khan and the late Ustad Imrat Khan. In recent years, I have accompanied on the Tabla many gifted Sitar maestros like Sujat Khan, Shahid Parvez, and Shahid Zaffar. I have also played the Tabla along with Sarangi players Murad Ali Khan, Kamal Saabri, Dilshad Khan, and many others.”

He says, “In everyday life, I play with so many Muslim artists that it is difficult for me to see Hindus and Muslims through a binary lens. It is merit and not religion that makes us decide who we choose as accompanying artists.’’

Tabla has been Durjay’s constant companion for over four decades and he takes great pride in emphasizing that India has played a very significant role in popularising the Tabla. “Music has two aspects worldwide- rhythm and melody. Tabla is ranked number one in rhythm. It can go with any kind of music. Its literature is matchless. It has a language and therefore one can articulate what one is playing.’’

Durjay who hails from Kolkata began learning to play Tabla from his Guru, Dulal Natta at the age of four in the North 24 Parganas. He continued learning from the same Guru till the age of 21. After coming to Delhi in 1999, he began learning the Tabla from Taalyogi Pt. Suresh Talwalkar. Durjay continues to visit Pt. Talwalkar in Pune from time to time. 

Tabla maestro Durjay Bhaumik

As a child, he remembers going back home crying after being caned by his Guru who had zero tolerance for any indiscipline by disciples. “My parents had immense interest in music and my mother would keep singing Rabindrasangeet at home. They did not empathize with me when I complained of having been caned by my Guru. Instead, they told me that the Guru may have caned me because I may not have played the Tabla well. The beatings I braved from my Guru 46 years back, hurt me then but today, I look back at him and my parents with tremendous gratitude. I thank God that I had a perfection-seeking Guru and such a clear-sighted mother who would find time from her daily chores to accompany me to classes to my Guru’s house.’’

He also mentions how his mother helped him overcome the dilemma of choosing his career. “I began playing the Tabla in concerts at the age of 16. My maiden performance was in Calcutta. After I had completed my B.Com from Calcutta University, I was not able to make up my mind on whether I should go ahead with further studies or music. I had started taking coaching classes for Chartered Accountancy but my mother gave me the confidence to follow my heart and not my head. And after that, there has been no looking back.’’

At 50, Durjay is convinced that Indian classical music is also a lifestyle. “ The Guru teaches you patience and etiquette. Anybody learning classical music is not going after name or fame. Instead, they are seeking perfection. Tabla offers enormous scope but institutional learning is not the right way to learn Indian classical music. It is best taught by the age-old Guru Shishya Parampara.’’

Although he began teaching Tabla online during the COVID outbreak and continues to teach Tabla online to American, Austrian, and Bangladeshi students, Durjay feels that the online medium has a limitation when it comes to imparting the Guru Shishya Parampara. Therefore, he encourages his students to visit India and spend time learning from him offline.

Over the last 25 years, he has taught Tabla to more than 50 students. Asked if his disciples included women, he says, “There are very few women Tabla players. I have been teaching Tabla for almost ten years to Jun Haraguchi, a Japanese lady from Nagoya but what gave me exceptional joy was that in 2019, I got a chance to watch her performance before mine in concerts in Nagoya, Kyoto, Osaka, and Tokyo.’’

This Tabla maestro is choosy about accepting requests from aspiring students. “ I teach only those students who are serious about learning. First and foremost, they must be respectful of the music and the Guru. Let me also emphasize that the Guru Shishya relationship is very sacred.’’

Tabla maestro Durjay Bhaumik (Extreme left)

An independent Tabla player, Durjay has his hands full. His talent is much sought after and takes him all over the world from the Ram temple in Ayodhya (Uttar Pradesh) to Dartington, a village three hours from London.

A graded artist with the Indian Council of Cultural Relations, the cultural arm of the Ministry of External Affairs, Durjay has also played the Tabla with as much ease with the Brazilian drums as he has with the piano at the Vienna Youth Choir, the Cello, the Guitar besides the good old Indian Shehnai, the Sarod, the Sarangi, the Santoor, the Sitar and the Flute.

Although Durjay has performed in 3000 concerts in 34 years, he rates his Tabla performance during the 2023 Shankarlal festival in Delhi, as one of the most fulfilling. Once a year, Durjay goes to 24 North Parganas where his Guru, now 88, invites him to play at a festival. “It is very satisfying to see that my Guru feels very proud of me. He has tears in his eyes when he talks about me.’’

It is not easy to be a Tabla artiste. “ Like all musicians, I get up at 5.30 a.m. for my Riyaz no matter which part of the world I happen to be visiting. Sometimes, I get invited to play at 24 hours' notice. There have been times when I have landed at the airport after my performance in one city and have had to head out to another city straight from the airport.’’

On days that he is in Delhi, he finds time for his wife, daughter, and disciples. “I consider myself truly blessed to have a very understanding wife. A vocalist herself, Kakoli takes care of not only our daughter, home, and her disciples but also nurtures NADD (Noble Art Documentation and Development Foundation) which she conceptualized in 2011. The Foundation maintains a digital library of all concerts held during the Music for Harmony Festival across India every year between October to March. This project is supported by the Ministry for Culture. ‘’

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He explains that the name Music for Harmony is inspired by the philosophy of the great Bengali poet, Sukanto Bhattacharya who said that we must create a better world for future generations. “ Through the Music for Harmony festival, we try to give equal representation to musicians from all communities regardless of caste, creed or religion.’’