Also known as Godai Maharaj – is a legend in the realm of Indian classical music. Born on July 20, 1921 in Banaras, into a family steeped in the tradition of Tabla and Pakavaj, he joined ranks with a long line of famous Banaras Gharana percussionists. Pandit Pratap Maharaj, his great grandfather was a sought after Tabla player of his time. Pandit Jagannath Mishra, his grandfather was a renowned Tabla and Pakavaj player and his father Bachha Lal Mishra, although not so well known as a performer, was a respected Tabla teacher. It was with him that Pandit Shamta Prasad started his education in Tabla. Unfortunately, Pandit ji lost his father at the tender age of seven. However, this proved to be a boon in disguise because the demise of his first guru led to his Shagirdi under Pandit Vikku Maharaj of Banaras who was a disciple of the legendary Pandit Baldev Sahai. It was under his tutelage that Pandit ji’s talent burgeoned. Inspired by the great styles of Pandit Anokhe Lal Mishra and Ustad Habibuddin Khan Sahib and tutored by the discipline of his guru, Pandit ji embarked on a preordained journey. But inherited though it was, Pandit ji put in years of gruelling hard work to make it the art the world witnessed. It is said that during his student years he used to put in 16/18 hours of riyaz (practice) every day. In fact, there is a story about his riyaz: When he was in practice in his house, people would see streams of water seep out from under the door and know that it was Pandit ji’s sweat.
In 1942, at the age of 21 Pandit ji participated in his first major music conference in Allahabad. His performance created a stir in the audience. The august musicians present in the conference were stunned and jubilated to hear Pandit ji. A star was born. From that glorious moment till the time of his death in 1995, Pandit Shamta Prasad carved out a niche for himself in the history of Indian classical music. He performed all over India as a soloist and as an accompanist. He also performed in some Hindi films like Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baje and Basant Bahar. From time to time he accompanied various Indian Cultural delegations to the West.
Pandit ji’s contribution to music is immeasurable, but the qualities that make his baj (tabla playing) a true offering to the art, are the reason for his greatness. A distinct style of the application of kaida, peshkar, laggi and especially the Chand are the mark of his music. Tala to him was not just a mathematical configuration of syllables and beats, it was an ensemble of rhythms. And these rhythms were compounded with such a resonance, it gave evidence to the power and flexibility of his fingers. But it was controlled power that did not compromise clarity and melody. It is rightly said that Pandit Shamta Prasad played the Tabla with his heart and soul.
Pandit ji imparted his knowledge to many students. Among the most well-known of his shagirds are Parthasarathi Mukherjee, Naba Kumar Panda (AIR Cuttack) and Satyanarain Vashist. His two sons, Kumarlal and Kailash are also Tabla players, although not in the same league as some of his other students.