Manju Mehta is one of India’s most renowned female sitarists. A senior disciple of Pandit Ravi Shankar, and hailing from a very well-known family of musicians in Jaipur, she combines beauty, creativity and tradition to bring out the “Rasa” (colours) of Indian Classical music.
Although Manju may initially attract attention due to being a woman in a traditionally male-dominated arena, it’s her amazing sense of melody, rhythmic control and the sheer beauty of her improvisation that make a lasting impression. She possesses the essential artistry of Indian music in the ability to breathe life into the raga form, earning high praise from the masters of the field. “She is a creative performer of exceptional calibre, “warmly notes sarod player Ustad Ali Akbar Khan.
Manju took up the sitar at age thirteen, thanks in part to the influence of her “first guru”, her eldest brother, Shashi Mohan Bhatt, then a student of Pandit Ravi Shankar. “Having a sitarist brother in the family, it was easy to pick the sitar as my main instrument,” she says. Manju’s parents,Manhohan and Chandrakalav Bhatt, both accomplished musicians in their own right, enthusiastically encouraged Mehta and her siblings. “No matter what time of the day it was, there was always someone in the family practicing their music,” she says of her childhood, recalling her younger brother Vishwa Mohan Bhatt plucking away at his Hawaiian guitar and her nephew, Krishna Mohan Bhatt, trying his own hand at the sitar. Both are now internationally recognised musicians, with Pt. Vishwa Mohan Bhatt performing with the likes of Eric Clapton, Ry Cooder and Jerry Douglas.
Manju’s distinct style combines the tantrakari ang [instrumental-based style] with the gayaki ang [vocal-based style]. In the latter approach, the sitarist attempts to capture the ornaments, grace notes, and microtonal inflections that give Indian vocal music its character and beauty. Both her fixed compositions and her improvisations are truly memorable. Her performances, while innovative, stay true to the traditions of her “gharana” (musical lineage), never degenerating into mere pyrotechnics. The quality of her tone, the ability to be different within traditional confines, and her inherent musicality all combine to make her a unique performer.