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Nikhil Banerjee

Though an extremely accomplished musician, Nikhil Banerjee never stopped studying the almost fathomless depths of Indian classical music, continuing his training with Allauddin Khan's son, Ali Akbar Khan, and daughter, Annapurna-Devi. Ali Akbar Khan recalls, "After the first few years with my father, Nikhil was sent to learn from me. Nikhil learned from me for a total of 15 years. I brought him to play with me on the radio, on stages all over India, and on movies in Calcutta. After I left India to come to America, he received guidance from my sister, Annapurna."

Nikhil Banerjee and Ali Akbar Khan performed over a thousand jugalbandis (duets) over their many years together and developed a deep teacher-disciple association and personal relationship that lasted to the end of Nikhil Banerjee's life. "I am very much influenced by and have learned from Ali Akbar Khan," Nikhil Banerjee said. "I consider him one of the greatest living musicians of the world."

Of Nikhil Banerjee, Ali Akbar Khan said, "I felt Nikhil to be like my own brother. Whenever I played with him I enjoyed it so much. Nikhil's death was a great shock to me. A very sad thing was that my father taught him in quite a different style than all of the others. Therefore Nikhil was quite different from the other artists."

Nikhil Banerjee's mastery of technique and incredible command of his instrument was recognized throughout the world of Indian music. Although his technical virtuosity was stunning, it was balanced by a meditative, introspective, and lyrical approach that, owing to his seriousness and dedication, reached a depth of expression rarely achieved by others. A dedicated artist, he was happy to share his exceptional gift. He was known and respected for his wisdom, gentle character, generosity, and commitment to his music. To Nikhil Banerjee, music was a path of self-realization, to be performed in a spirit of prayer. While playing, he would completely immerse himself in the Raga. As he told his students, "Submit to the notes of a Raga, do not strike it, but try to embrace it with the purest feelings of your heart."

Nikhil Banerjee played a significant role in the extraordinary rise in popularity of Indian instrumental music, and the sitar in particular, over the past half century. To many Indian classical music enthusiasts, he was the most outstanding sitar maestro of the modern era. A warm and accessible person, shy and unpretentious, he deliberately shunned publicity. He played with dignity, without flamboyance or theatrics, concerned more with the integrity of the music than the response of his audience. As a result, he received very little media attention.

"Deeply absorbed in his art, he had no interest in becoming a media celebrity. There was a mystical element in his music, a contemplative, detached intensity. His music displayed a rare assimilation of classical exactitude and emotional freedom. Nikhil Banerjee's art was an amalgam of the best in Indian Hindustani music in all its beauty, grandeur, and dignity. His music was more ennobling, more fulfilling, and deeply contemplative. Few artists have been able to bring out its character with such imaginative depth and sensitivity."

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Nikhil Banerjee

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