Shantidev Ghosh, the greatest exponent of Tagore music and dance is no more. He made a legend about himself in his lifetime. The legendary figure is no more physically, but the story of his dedication to understand the works of Rabindranath Tagore, particularly his music and dance, will survive in the history of Bengali culture as a rare instance of what specialization is and how difficult are the ways to lead on to that difficult target. Shantidev was brought to Calcutta from Shantiniketan where he had lived the last 89 years of his life to shape up his career as a musician, writer and performer and admitted to hospital to only breath his last there at the age of 90 a few days ago. His last rites were performed in Shantiniketan where he was given a tearful farewell by his countless students and admirers.
Shantidev Ghosh was born on 7 May, 1910 in the village of Bajapti near Chandpur in Bangladesh. His father named him Shantimay which is quite in consonance with the names of his illustrious younger brothers Sagarmay Ghosh, and Shubhamay Ghosh. Kalimohan Ghosh, a hard-core Swadeshi activist came close to Rabindranath Tagore and helped him materialize the Shriniketan concept. Kalimohan brought Shantimay to Shantiniketan for a visit only when he was six months of age. Rabindranath Tagore affectionately changed the middle part of his name and called him Shantidev instead of Shantimay. Since then Kalimohan's eldest son was known to all and has gone down in history as Shantidev.
Shantidev came to settle in Shantiniketan at the age of one and since then he lived there till the end of his life. He showed symptoms of love for and excellence in music at an early age. Tagore asked his father to educate Shanti in music and himself shared some responsibility of training him up . The illustrious Dinendranath Tagore also trained him up in the art of singing Tagore songs. He learned Hindustani classical music from Bhim Rao Shastri who came to Shantiniketan as a classical music teacher from Tagore. Shantidev had a keen fascination for dance. Rabindranath took interest in this aspect of his talent, because he really required a dependable exponent of the concept of dance which he was going to build. Shantidev began to take lessons on dance from 1926. Tagore sent him to South India in 1931 to learn the art of Kathakali dance. He spent three years, 1937-1939 in Sri Lanka, Burma and Indonesia to learn Kandi dance and the dance forms of Java and Bali.
In 1930 Shantidev Ghosh was appointed a music teacher in Vishva Bharati, the University which was founded by Rabindranath as an extended version of his Shantiniketan School. He became the director of the Sangeet Bhaban in 1939.
He was made Adhyaksha or the Principal of the Sangeet Bhaban in 1945. As the Vishva Bharti was made a central University of India, Shantidev Ghosh was appointed the head of the department of Tagore music and dance. In 1946-68 and 1971-73 periods he was made the principal of the Sangeet Bhaban. He retired in 1974. Afterwards he worked with the University Grants Commission for two years as a research fellow.
Shantidev was given many awards. He was made Fellow of Sangeet Natak Akademi in 1977. He received the Sureshchandra Memorial Ananda Award in 1980. The Central Government of India conferred him the title of Padmabhusan in 1984. The same year the Vishva Bharati awarded him with its highest title: Deshikottama.
Apart from his autobiography, Shantidev Ghosh wrote some important books on Tagore music and dance. In fact his works made ready the background for Tagore music and dance criticism.
Important among his books on Tagore music and dance are: Rabindra Sangeet (Tagore Songs), Rabindra Sangeet Vichitra (essays on Tagore Songs), Gurudev Raindranath O Abhunik Bharatiya Nritya (Tagore and Modern Indian Dance), and Music and Dance in Rabindranath Tagore's Educational Philosophy. Shantidev has called his autobiography Jibaner Dhrubatara (The Polestar of My Life). The Pole Star or otherwise the guiding principle of life means nothing other than Rabindranath Tagore himself. Shantidev is one of those rare scholars and performers whose only object of lifelong attention was Rabindranath Tagore alone. He was taught and brought up by Tagore and he lived a long chequered life for his sake only.
Initially Shantidev's activities as teacher and performer was limited to the environment of Shantiniketan. But after the birth centenary of Tagore in 1961 he was introduced to the larger Bengali environment as a great performer of Tagore songs. The wealth of his voice and his great insight into the aesthetics of Tagore compositions was very greatly felt by the Bengali listeners all around.
As of today there is none who can equal him as a performer of Tagore song and dance and equally as a commentator of Tagore's ideas as related to his compositional styles and choreographical methodologies. I had the opportunity to meet Shantidev and exchange views with him on Tagore on several occasions. On every occasion I was moved by his profundity of understanding of Tagore. He made Tagore his guru or spiritual guide and lived the whole life with the missions to train up generations in the art and craft of his songs and dance. I wonder if there could any one to replace him.
Recording Note: this recording was made by Sam Negri and Julian Crandall Hollick one morning in December 1986 in Santidev Ghose's bedroom at Shantiniketan. Santidev sat cross-legged on his bed and sung into our microphones. There was no real possibility of adjusting either the position of the microphones, or of Santidev himself, and the metal clappers he plays do distort on occasion towards the end of the CD. Nevertheless, most of the songs are well-recorded in early digital format, using a possible Beta machine and a Sony Digital microprocessor, along with Neumann KMY 81 shotgun microphones.
Reprinted with permission from The Independent, Dhaka, Bangladesh. December 1999
Ghosh Sings Rabindrasangit