“The passing of an era” is how Punjab Gharana tabla stalwart Pt Yogesh Samsi described the death of Pt Lachhman Singh Seen of Jalandhar. At the end of his long life, the Ustad, who died aged 94 on June 13, literally embodied classical music in all its hues, teaching a host of disciples in the region, including Punjab and India. Himachal.
Ustad’s remarkable journey began in Jammu, where he learned the sitar from Pt Jiya Lal Basant. He also learned to play the tabla. There were no musicians in this boy Rajput Thakur’s family, but his passion was such that he moved to Lahore, the biggest center of music at the time. Here it was taught by none other than Ustad Mian Qadir Baksh, then known as the ‘khalifa’ of Punjab Gharana.
Training alongside Ustad Alla Rakha, who belonged to Jammu and had also moved to Lahore, a young Lachhman Singh Seen honed his skills for a few years until the score in 1947. He then returned to Jammu, where his prodigious “riyaaz” was noticed by another dean of music, Pt Uma Dutt Sharma (father of the winner Padma Vibushan Pt Shiv Kumar Sharma). Legend has it that when Pt Uma Dutt returned home at night, he would hear Seen practicing, and when he woke up the next morning to visit the temple, the tabla would still be heard!
Ustad Lachhman Singh Seen soon moved to Jalandhar, a larger musical center, and it was here that he taught for the rest of his life, focusing on imparting his knowledge rather than building his own career. . His followers include such established names as Pt Kale Ram, Pt Sushil Kumar Jain, Neeraj Shandil of Shimla, sons Manu and Kinnar Seen (based in USA), late Pt Pawan Kumar Verma, who was his son-in-law and grand- son Avirbhav Verma.
Simple person, Ustad Lachhman Singh Seen was content with his space and never competed for recognition. But his talent reverberated and he was invited for a major multi-city tour of the United States and Canada in 2002 when he was in his 75th year. He was honored with the title of “Mian” during one of his many visits to Pakistan.
His journey to acclaim began as early as the 1940s. At the famous Tansen Vishnu Digambar competition in Calcutta, he performed a solo that had long remained etched in the memory of music lovers. Son Manu recalls: “He was truly a scholar-musician, equally passionate about ‘vidvata’ (intellect)”. He enjoyed collecting old bandishs (compositions) in traditionally Punjabi ragas including Multani Kafi. He also enjoyed tracing ragas in folk songs and demonstrating them on the sitar. “Baba Bulleh Shah was a favourite; I also remember how he taught me ‘Aavo ni saiyyon’. Another favorite was “Raat damme damme jandi” in Raga Asa Mand. When I was learning Raga Gaoti from Ustad Shahid Parvez Khan, I remember my father telling me that we know this raga as Shuddha Bheem in Punjab. He was so knowledgeable.
The teaching has continued through the generations. Shimla-based tabla exponent Neeraj Shandil says, “I had heard he was disciplinarian in his youth, but by the time I went to see him, he was so loving. He was my Dada Guru as I learned from his disciple Pt Sushil Kumar Jain. I remember the ‘topkhani gat’ he taught me – a 16 beat ‘drut’ composition, so called because the sound of the tabla ‘bols’, when performed with great vigor, sounded like a cannon.
Shandil recalls Ustadji used to wake up at 4 a.m. even when he went to see him in the 1990s. “He sang and I accompanied him. His motive was that you had to be as proficient in tabla ‘sangat’ as you were in soloing,” he says.
Indeed, the dean was also acclaimed for his subtle ‘sangat’ tabla which started in his teenage years in Jammu. Ustad Amir Khan chose him from two older players. Disappointed by the two accompanists provided to Harivallabh, Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan had one day insisted that Ustadji go with him to Ludhiana where the maestro was to perform next!
The passing of Ustad Lachhman Singh Seen is the passing of a generation of musicians whose lives embodied music, for whom music itself was the goal and the reward.