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Azamgarh’s Hariharpur Sangeet Gharana: A forgotten legacy left to die


Hariharpur Sangeet Gharana is famous, but not at all well known. This fame was earned due its rich 400 years old legacy of classical music. Hariharpur is a small village in Azamgarh village of Uttar Pradesh, with a total population of about 10,000 residents –mostly farmers. The Second Angle learned that in this village, some 50 households preach classical music to keep this oldest music form safe from the lime lights of fast musical tracks such as ‘Bhojpuri’, despite being affected by poverty and drought.

Azamgarh is one of the most backward districts of the country, with per capita income of about Rs 12,471 per year against the national average of Rs 1.03 lakh per year. In Azamgarh, barely 2 kilometers from the district’s roadways headquarters is Hariharpur, where one can find children as old as four years old practicing classical music on the strings of Tabla or Sitar. Pandit Shambhunath Mishra, a retired music teacher from a government college and one of the oldest members of Hariharpur Sangeet gharana says, “We have music in our blood. We have inherited it from our forefathers”.

A yound kid from Hariharpur Sangeet Gharana practicing classical music on Tabla tunes. | Image: The Second Angle

The History of Hariharpur Sangeet Gharana:

The origin of this curious passion of music in a small town of Azamgarh finds its roots in a legend which goes back to 400 years. According to the legend, Swami Harinam Das and his brother Swami Sarnam Das were two saintly singers in the royal court of Nepal Naresh. Later, they moved to Azmgarh where Nawab Azam Shah, the Nawab of Azamgarh granted them 989 bighas of land to practice and spread their art, after being impressed by them. One of the brothers died, while the second brother married to have three children on who further became founders of the three pillars of Hariharpur Sangeet Gharana. Today, all the Brahmins (all Mishras) from Hariharpur are associated as the heir to these two brothers, and their art of classical music as well. The place Hariharpur is said to have got its name from greenery of the land they were granted, where green means ‘Hara’ in Hindi and hence Hariharpur.

Once 120 Brahmin families of this sangeet gharana used to practice and preach the art of classical music, are now reduced to some 50 odd households due to poverty and lack of work opportunities. These families, even today, try their best to keep the strings of their musical legacy moving. Nonetheless, the gharana has produced some of the finest loyals of Indian Classical Music such as Pt Chhanulal Mishra (Padma Bhushan), the late Pt Samta Prasad Mishra, Pt Ganesh Prasad Mishra, Pt Pannalal Mishra, Pt Deenanath Mishra, among others. However, despite having such extraordinary background, the members of this gharana face difficulty in sustaining their legacy because of lack of resources such as infrastructure and educational facilities.

The musical legacy on the verge of extinction:

Most of the Mishra family here has now adopted farming as their profession after getting no aid from the government and the music community, though they haven’t left the music at all. Even after adopting farming, their lives do not seem easy because of constant droughts. About aid provided to them by the government administration, Pt Shambhunath Mishra says “Aap Delhi se aa gaye, yahan Azamgarh ka koi adhikari aaj tak nahi aaya siwaaye apne kaam ke (You came here all the way from Delhi, but no officer from even Azamgarh district has ever come here except for their work)”.

Now, the newer generation has started migrating out of the town for better work opportunities and exposure in Music. Pt. Bholanath Mishra, the younger brother of Pt Shambhunath Mishra, left his town at a very young age to work for All India Radio as a vocalist. He is now the President of Swar Lay Chhand, a Delhi-based society of Classical Musicians. Pt Shambhunath remembers that his younger brother Pt Bholanath Mishra said, “Bhaiya, hamara jeevan kharab ho jayega agar yaha ruke. Kunwe ke mendhak ban ke rah jayenge (Brother, my life would be ruined if I stay here. I’ll become frog of a well forever)”, when he decided to leave the town.

Other residents of Hariharpur have now started working for Bhojpuri film industry and local Orchestra shows in marriage functions to escape from destitution and have left their legacy of classical music to its fate. “Bhojpuri is not a part of Hariharpur Sangeet Gharana, but we can’t help. Without money we cannot survive and we do not get money for performing classical music”, says Rakesh Mishra.

Recently, Delhi based Indian Trust for Rural Heritage and Development (ITRHD) has started working on Hariharpur project –to preserve the town’s unique musical heritage. They have solicited Pt Chhanulal Mishra to occasionally return to the town along with other classical music legends to inject fresh life to the dying tradition of music in the town. ITRHD has also started a school in the town where close to 80 students are currently given food, clothes, education and training, to help them sustain the tradition.


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