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Nikhil Ghosh

The Oxford Encyclopaedia of the Music of India

Nikhil Ghosh (b. Barisal [now in Bangladesh], 28 Dec. 1918; d. Mumbai, 3 Mar. 1995) Renowned tabla maestro, acclaimed teacher, educationist, and musicologist. 

He received the Padma Bhushan in 1990 and the Hafiz Ali Khan Award in 1995.

His father Akshay Kumar Ghosh was a sitar player, who studied with Bhagwan Chandra Das of Dhaka, of the Seni gharānā. Both Nikhil Ghosh and elder brother flautist Pannalal Ghosh (Amal Jyoti Ghosh) received initial training in the sitar and vocal music from their father, and grandfather Hara Kumar Ghosh, a dhrupad singer and pakhāwaj player. His other older brothers Bipul Jyoti, Nirmal Jyoti, and Sunil Jyoti besides his younger sister Smriti Kona were exceptionally gifted vocalists.

Nikhil Ghosh pursued vocal music and received training from Bipin Chatterjee, Jnan Prakash Ghosh, and Feroze Nizami of the Kirānā gharānā. He also simultaneously trained in the tabla under Jnan Prakash Ghosh, after which he received exclusive tabla tutelage under legends Amir Hussain Khan and Ahmedjan Thirakwa. In the mid-1940s after discussions with Jnan Prakash Ghosh, he chose to pursue the tabla as a full-time career, and soon achieved repute as a soloist and performed with four generations of musicians as an accompanist, including luminaries such as Faiyaz Khan, Allauddin Khan, Hafiz Ali Khan, Omkarnath Thakur, Vilayat Hussain Khan, Bundu Khan, Baḍé Ghulam Ali Khan, Amir Khan, Kesarbai Kerkar, Rasoolanbai, Siddeshwari Devi, Begum Akhtar, M.S. Subbulakshmi, Pannalal Ghosh, Ravi Shankar, Vilayat Khan, Ali Akbar Khan, Nikhil Banerjee, Salamat and Nazakat Ali Khan, Pandit Jasraj, Shivkumar Sharma, Rais Khan, and Amjad Ali Khan, and also his sons Nayan and Dhruba Ghosh.

Nikhil Ghosh was particularly noted for a large repertoire in the tabla, vocal music, and stringed instrumental music, his vast experience as a performer, and a rich aesthetic sense. His dynamic solo recitals, mellifluous accompaniments, magnificence of tone, and an intuitive musicality were four important virtues that singled him out from most of his contemporaries. His command on

Nikhil GhoshClick to view larger

Nikhil Ghosh, legendary tabla maestro, the founder of Saṅgīt Mahābhāratī

technique and the works of past masters and composers from the Delhi, Farukhābād, Ajrāḍā, Lucknow, and Punjab schools of tabla playing bore a stamp of authority.

He provided a variety of percussion accompaniment to several film music compositions initially, and soon rose to compose music in partnership with Arun Kumar Mukherjee for films like Bimal Roy's ‘Parineetā’ (1950s), ‘Gopināth’, ‘Shamsher’, ‘Samāj’ and a few more.

As an organizer, he raised funds through music festivals for Partition refugees and victims of natural calamities (floods, etc.) with the support of top-ranking musicians from the classical and the cine world.

As an educationist, he took steps for institutionalized mass education, and developed a comprehensive notation system for vocal and instrumental music, which was published in 1968 under the title Fundamentals of Rāga & Tāla with a New System of Notation. The work received worldwide acclaim. This was successfully implemented in the institution Saṅgīt Mahābhāratī, which he founded in 1956 in Mumbai, wherein he introduced graded syllabi up to the graduate and postgraduate levels, children's education, and a pioneering teachers' training course. Above all, he initiated the ambitious project of compiling this Encylopaedia of the Music of India, published by the Oxford University Press.

As a guru, he imparted training to disciples like Govindrao Parsatwar, Kartik Chandra Ghosh, Dulal Roy, Eknath Pimpale, Datta Yande, Bhadrakash Munshi, Aneesh Pradhan, Shiv and Ravi Naimpally, Ashish Ghosh, Rashid Mustapha, Aslam Hussain Khan, Gert Wegner, Mitchel De Laporte, and Keith Manning besides his noted sons, sitar and tabla player Nayan Ghosh, sārangi player Dhruba Ghosh, and vocalist-daughter Tulika Ghosh.

As an administrator, he successfully steered the day to day running of Saṅgīt Mahābhāratī in Juhu, Mumbai, for four decades till his demise in 1995.

All along, his wife Ushadevi Ghosh, whom he married in 1955, provided immense support in implementing much of his vision and projects.