“If not music, I would be riding a rickshaw”, Pandit Channu Lal Mishra

[Interview] The Child of destiny and Music: Sangeet Shiromani, ‘Pandit Channu Lal Mishra’ reveals his life and journey with music.

The Child of destiny and Music: Sangeet Shiromani, ‘Pandit Channu Lal Mishra’ reveals his life and journey with music. 

Indian heritage is blessed with some fabulous vocal exponents of classical music like Tansen, Abdul Kareem Khan, G.N Balasubramanium, Bhimsen Joshi, Rashid Khan and many more.

Pandit Channulal Lal Mishra is one such gem of a Hindustani Classical singer from Banaras (Varanasi) and a distinguished exponent of Kirana Gharana (school) of Indian classical music. Pandit Ji , was born on August 3, 1936 in Hariharpur, Azamgarh district of Uttar Pradesh. He learnt music from his father Badri Prasad Mishra, and was trained by Ustad Abdul Ghani Khan of Kirana Gharana, and later by Thakur Jaidev Singh. He was awarded the ‘Padam Bhushan’- the third highest civilian honor in 2010, the ‘Shiromani Award’ of Sur Singar Sansad, Bombay, Uttar Pradesh Sangeet Natak Academy Award, and the Bihar Sangeet Shiromani Award.

Today, Pandit Ji is considered as one of the classiest and finest vocalists of Indian classical music because of his splendid voice and exceptional blend of Banarasi Gayaki in Khyal, Thumri, Dadra, Chaiti, Kajari, Hori and Bhajans.

In an exclusive interview with the Padam Bhushan (the third highest civilian award of India) achiever, Pandit Channu Lal Mishra where he talks about his views on classical music.

How did you develop an interest in Classical Music at such a young age of 5 years?

When I was just five years old my father Shri Badri Prasad Mishra (Tabla artist) started motivating me to learn music. He used to wake me up at 4 o’clock in the morning and I used to do riyaz (practice) on a small Harmonium. My mother made me go through Ramayan and Sundar Kand path from which I acquired knowledge about literature .When I turned eight, my father shifted to Bihar, Muzzafarpur, due to a job transfer. There, we lived in a rented house and at that time the financial conditions of our family were not good. There, my father took me to Ustad Abdul Ghani Khan Saheb and asked him to take me as his disciple and polish me as a classical singer. I used to walk down to Ustad’s place in the scorching heat. I used to do all the household work in Ustad’s home and Ustad’s wife used to call me ‘Channu’ with love. After all the household work in the day time, Ustad gave me lessons of music in the night before dinner.

Did ever think of pursuing a career in popular rather than classical music?

Music is an ocean and Indian Classical Music is a drop of the ocean. Hindustani Classical music has always been my focus. In Classical Music itself there are different styles of singing.  I started with Shashtriya Sangeet. After some time I felt that this kind of music involves so much elaboration of ragas that at times it fails to bind the audience and creates boredom. Then I developed interest for other forms of Classical music such a ‘Thumari’, a familiar variety of semi-classical Indian music, it is distinguished by its sensuality and greater flexibility of Raga. Explaining the meaning of Thumri, Pandit Ji sings a Thumri which goes like this “Laage tose naina…naina re… piyarwa dekhe bina kal na parat din raina…Laage tose naina”. In the same way, I tried other forms of Classical music also, such as Dadra (a lighter version), Hori, Chaiti, Kajari, Biraha , Bhajan, Lok Sangeet and even learnt Ghazals.

What are your favorite Ragas?

I can’t express my liking for any one Raga. Music is divine and I feel all the ragas have their own beauty and essence. All of them are good, if sung well. It depends on how we express the words along with Sur and Taal.

Could you tell us the specialty of the Banaras Gharana (school)?

In my view the specialty of Banaras Gharana lies in “Thumri”. The other forms which add value to the popularity of Banaras Gharana are Dadara, Chaiti, Chaita, Ghato, Lavni, Savani. We use “Ho Rama” in the end while singing Chaiti, Chaita and Ghato.

Who is your role model in the Music Industry?

I have been worshiping my mentor, Ustad Abdul Ghani Khan Sahab and learnt the lessons of music from him, but I personally like the Khyal singing of Ustad Amir Khan Saheb, one of the most influential figures in Indian Classical Music (Khyal and Tarana) and the founder of Indore Gharana. I always thought that one day I would also sing like Ustad Amir Khan. By God’s grace now when I sing people recognize me as singer of Khyal and Kirana Gharana.

There are singers who have different life styles. Some practice music early in the morning where as some go for the riyaz in the evening. So which pattern have you been following? What are the changes which you see in your life style as compared from your initial days in this field?

I used to practice in both the shifts. I used to do one and half hours, of practice, early in the morning and devoted the same time in the evening. Ustad Abdul Ghani Khan Saheb used to say that, “do not indulge yourself in practice for whole of the day else you will lose interest.” I have left doing riyaz (practice) since 32 years but I have always been connected to music by teaching to my students. There is a good change in the lifestyle which I have adapted now. I am getting the fruits of whatever challenges and struggle I have faced in the initial days of my career.

If you hadn’t been in the field of Music, then in which field you would have made your career?

After a silence for few minutes and a deep breath, Pandit Ji says, “I would have been riding a rickshaw or would have been a poor farmer, because one needs to do something to fill the stomach, and we didn’t have a family business too. So, when I developed an interest for Classical Music, I devoted my life towards music and my passion for music colored a rainbow in my life”

Any memory or experience from you performances that stands out?

Once I went to give a performance in a program in Sarnath (Varanasi). While I was singing and the Tablaliya (Tabla Player) was playing the Tabla, suddenly the Tabla broke down. The whole audience was sitting and a lot of pressure was there. I asked the musicians who were playing for me if there was anyone who could play ‘Dholak’?. Then a musician named ‘Surjan Singh’ came up and accompanied me. Then I sang the whole composition which was to be sung on the beats of Tabla. The audience and the musicians were surprised that I managed to sing on Dholak beats, but it was a memorable experience for me.

What is your favorite thing to see in the audience while you are on the stage?

The patience and the motivation which I get from my audience encourage me to sing. When they applaud on my performance I feel alive. I feel if an artist is not getting praised by audience then there is something lacking in the artist. Pandit Ji, backs his statement by singing few lines, “Tujhe aitbaar e ulfat.. Jo na ho saka abhi tak..To main samajh gaya yakinan abhi mujh mein kuch kami hai”, which means if you are not getting pleased by me then for sure there is some weakness in me.

You must have noticed that today the world is going around hip hop and fusion music. When Music is growing with such fast pace what would you suggest, to save Indian Classical Music? 

To make Classical Music popular we should keep in mind that the slow elaboration of ragas should not be stretched for a long period of time as it creates dullness in the music and the audience starts getting bored. The music should be presented keeping in mind the patience and the liking of audience.

After singing for 50 years, you made your debut in Bollywood at the age of 75 by singing a track ‘Saans Albeli’ for Director Parakash Jha’s movie ‘Arakshan’. How was the experience? 

Prakash Jha contacted me after Prasoon Joshi (Lyricist) suggested him my name for the song. I got ready to sing the song on the demand that the lyrics of the song should be good and decent. I was expecting the rough draft of the song but it was not provided on time. When I was given the full draft it was quite late and I rehearsed the whole song in a day and then gave the final recording. It was a fine experience, singing a duet with Shreya Ghoshal. It is a beautiful composition by Shankar- Ehsaan- Loy.

What would you like to say about the reality shows (music) today?

It is a sheer advertisement of the channels and promotional funda. The children which sing on those platforms are not trained as per their talent, and simply imitate the senior singers. It is just a business and not learning.

What message would you like to convey to the young generation who want to pursue their career in Music or Classical Music?

I would suggest that all the learners should keep patience while learning music, and should believe in what they are doing. They will excel in that, only then they can pour the epitome of music within themselves.

Watching the wall clock in his room Pandit Ji reveals a fact that his real name is “Mohan Lal Mishra”, but he got renowned with the name “Channu Lal Mishra”, which was given by Ustad Abdul Ghani Khan’s wife. She used to call him “Channu” with love.


Gargi is such a Journalist by profession and a poet by heart. For her, the empty white paper is a room for meditation and the ink on the paper takes her on the path of enlightenment. A wanderer by caste, in search of the philosophy of life, Gargi wants to dedicate her writing to the society's changing thought process and lovers of literature. more


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Gargi is such a Journalist by profession and a poet by heart. For her, the empty white paper is a room for meditation and the ink on the paper takes her on the path of enlightenment. A wanderer by caste, in search of the philosophy of life, Gargi wants to dedicate her writing to the society's changing thought process and lovers of literature. more

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