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Santosh Dakuya, Bena
Address: Village : Chhoto Shalbari
P.O: Nagurhat, P.S: Boxirhat
Block: Tufanganj, Cooch Behar 736159
West Bengal

53 year old Rajbongshi, Santosh Dakua is an extraordinary instrument maker and player. His father was a musician, singing and playing various instruments and Santosh`s initiation into music started under him. After he lost his parents at the age of 14, Santosh went to live with his uncle and tried his hand at making instruments, influenced by his grandfather, who was the owner of a Kushan pala group. Moving around with the group, Santosh gradually improved his skills at both making and playing various instruments. For about three years, he also received training on instrument playing from his guru, Phul Kumar Barman, a harmonium player who was part of the group. But Santosh is an entirely self taught instrument maker. 

It has been 8 or 9 years since he has returned to his village and acquired a piece of land on which he has built his home, but Santosh continues to roam around with performing groups. He has 2 sons and a daughter - but feels that they lack the requisite musical skills or passion - they do not possess his strong connect with music. 

Santosh has made numerous instruments like the Bena, Mokha Bansi, Dotara, Sarinja, violin, Khamok and  Ektara. He does not make them commercially and so, makes these instruments when he is in the mood for it or when he requires it to accompany a particular genre of song. For instance, he would earlier accompany Padabali Kirtans with the violin, but now uses the flute. As for the Benas, he makes these only when requested to, since there is no market for it. He has made Benas for the various Kushan groups he has moved around with since his teens - about 7 in all. However, his current  focus is on flutes, since that is what he plays the most these days.  

He will not compromise on his stringed instruments and  uses only horse hair and will go to great lengths to procure them, if needed. Santosh has also got some training in classical music - having learnt it out of books with the help of a few masters. His meagre education up to Class II did not stand in his way!

Santosh accompanies folk performances as a music hand, playing on tabla, harmonium, or flute (Aar Bnaashi) as required and occasionally sings. He claims though that his singing is not appreciated very much and that he is thought to go out of tune! 

Other than West Bengal, Santosh has performed in many places, including Tripura, Assam and the Suraj Kund Mela in Haryana - accompanying performers of Bhawaiya, Padmapuran gaan (aka Bishohora),  Naam Kirtan, Padabali Kirtan, Jatra and Kushan Jatra, and a large variety of Rajbongshi folk plays on the flute, violin etc. He performs less for Kushan jatra however, because these are usually daily shows extending over numerous villages for 20 to 30 days at a time. One performance often leads to an invitation for the next. With the kind of income he makes, Santosh cannot afford to be away from his family for such a long stretch.  He finds it more convenient to work in short bursts. 

The extremely talented Santosh earns only Rs 300 or Rs 400 from each performance, and is away no more than 45 days each year, including travel time. During the off season, which is from the summer till the end of the monsoons (Baisakh to Kartik), he does small jobs, including working people`s fields and also tutoring a few students in far off villages on the flute and the violin for paltry wages. Yet Santosh is contented with his lot. It is his music that keeps him going.
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Santosh Dakuya : Bena of the Rajbongshis