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OBITUARY | Dwijen Mukhopadhyay was the last surviving colossus of Rabindra Sangeet

After Hemanta Mukhopadhyay, Dwijen Mukhopadhyay was considered the only other singer who sang both Rabindra Sangeet and other Bengali songs with equal ease and expertise for decade after decade

Statesman News Service | Kolkata |

Dwijen Mukhopadhyay, the gifted voice behind immortal Mahalaya song from Mahishasurmardini composition, Jago Durga, is no more. The legendary artiste, revered as one of the greatest Rabindra Sangeet singers of all time, died in Kolkata on December 24 following a prolonged illness. He was 91.

Born on November 12, 1927, into a well-to-do family in Kolkata’s Shampukur locality, Mukhopadhyay started his singing career in the 1940s, and recorded more than 1500 songs in his lifetime.

Contemporary to Rabindra Sangeet greats such as Debabrata Biswas, Hemanta Mukhopadhyay, Subinoy Roy, Suchitra Mitra, Chinmoy Chattopadhyay and Sagar Sen, Mukhopadhyay has nearly 800 recorded songs of Rabindranath Tagore to his credit.

The singer however did not confine himself to this one genre. Introduced to the folk music of Bengal, and Hindi film music, by eminent composer Salil Chowdhury, Dwijen Mukhopadhyay lent his voice to several hit Bengali Adhunik (modern) and Hindi film songs.

The duo of Salil Chowdhury and Dwijen Mukhopadhyay reached the peak of fame towards the last years of 1940s.

While he had been singing for All India Radio, Mukhopadhyay started recording for HMV Columbia too in 1946.

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When he was taking his voice test at a recording studio in Mumbai, among those present was Lata Mangeshkar herself. His duets with Lata Mangeshkar in films ‘Madhumati’ (1958), ‘Honeymoon’ (1960), ‘Maayaa’ (1961) and ‘Sapan Suhaane’ (1961) are evergreen, and Bengalis cherish Chowdhury’s compositions like ‘Pallabini go Sancharinia’, ‘Shaymalbarani ogo Kanya’, ‘Klanti Name go’ and ‘Ashar Chalane Bhuli’ to this date.

It is said legendary composer Sachin Deb Barman had advised him to concentrate more on Bengali songs, and Mukhopadhyay returned to Kolkata from Mumbai accepting his advice.

After Hemanta Mukhopadhyay, Dwijen Mukhopadhyay was considered the only other singer who sang both Rabindra Sangeet and other Bengali songs with equal ease and expertise for decade after decade.

Though he never had a chance to get traditional Rabindra Sangeet training at Santiniketan, with legends such as Pankaj Mallick, Santideb Ghosh and Niharbindu Sen as his teachers, the avid learner did not take much time to be accepted as a great Rabindra Sangeet singer himself.

Mukhopadhyay was revered on both sides of Bengal — before and after Partition.

Awarded with the prestigious Padma Bhushan in 2010, Mukhopadhyay had been a recipient of several awards and honours. In 1982, Mukhopadhyay was honoured with the Debabrata Biswas Memorial Award. Indira Gandhi Award came in 1991, and Rajiv Gandhi Award the year after. He also got the Uttam Kumar Lifetime Achievement Award in 2002. The West Bengal government honoured him with Banga Bibhushan in 2011. The same year, the Bangladesh government awarded him the title of Banga Bandhu, and Kalyani University conferred a D Litt on him.

Considered a doyen of music, Mukhopadhyay however did not learn music as a child. No one in his family ever thought he would become a singer. It was only a chance participation in a competition in college that made music his destiny.

Mukhopadhyay had not been keeping well since August this year. Last month, doctors found a tumour in his stomach. Further tests led to the detection of cancer too. The doctors, however, could not do much as the 91-year-old was too old to respond to the treatment.

After a 12-day stay in SSKM hospital, he was brought home only a few days ago. Survived by a son and a daughter, Mukhopadhyay breathed his last at his Salt Lake residence, his home for the last more than three decades, on December 24.

Mourning his death, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee tweeted: “Huge loss for the music industry of #Bangla. This is also a personal loss. We had felicitated him with ‘Banga Bibhushan’ award in 2011. Condolences to his family and fans.”

His mortal remains were kept at Rabindra Sadan, the city’s cultural centre, for people to pay their last respects. Later, his last rites were performed with full state honours.

Paying tributes to the eminent singer, Indrani Sen said: “He was like a guardian to all of us and members of the music world… His death is a loss to the industry.”

Singer Shraboni Sen said: “I was really fortunate that I could see him since my childhood. He used to sing Rabindra Sangeet, Adhunik geeti and other kinds of songs. He was a guardian to the music industry. I had a great relation with him.”