Over 200 years ago, a family of music-trained priests traveled to Delhi from Vrindavan at the behest of a wealthy patron. For years, “Pandit” musicians have organized performances and given music lessons to their disciples; their music developed under the ‘Delhi gharana’ of Dhrupad music.
The most famous of these was Goswami Shree Lal Ji, better known as the composer and poet Kunwar Shyam. Kunwar Shyam’s compositions in the Dhrupad style have been performed by Pandit Jasraj and DV Paluskar. One of the compositions was also used in the 1953 film Ladki, starring Kishore Kumar and Vyjayanthimala.
When the family arrived in Delhi in 1810, their boss gave them a house in Dharampura, in the back streets of old Delhi. Now known as Goswamiji ka Mandir in Dharampura, much of the property was sold but the family was able to keep part of it.
A temple hall that the family said once could hold “over 100 people” is unrecognizable today. Five stores operate on the premises.
Kunwar Shyam’s great-grandson Manmohan Lal Sharma (86) was the last member of the family to receive formal music training. Sharma’s sister-in-law Indira Goswami, 65, fondly remembers the performances of the house musicians. “Ustad Alladiya Khan Pakhawaji used to perform in the temple with my stepfather. Her pakhawaj is still in our house, ”she said.
“People said that if you are praised for your music by Goswamiji, it is as remarkable as the praise received during the sangeet sabha of Allahabad,” she adds.
Today, traces of “Kunwar Shyam Gharana” – a tradition of Dhrupad Bhakti music – can only be found in the crumbling music books his descendants inherited.
In recent years, Sharma and her family members have attempted to archive the manuscripts of Kunwar Shyam’s compositions. They created a website in 2014 with some of the compositions, as well as recordings of the songs sung in the traditional way.
The family is busy deciphering moth-eaten manuscripts, believed to have been written by Kunwar Shyam and his followers. “I have been in contact with musicians to organize a concert to present these compositions,” explains Sharma’s daughter, Meenakshi.
“Our family history is disappearing. With the advent of radio and television, the tradition of music as a temple art form disappeared, ”says Abhay, Indira’s son.