A Melee of Melody:
Sangeetotsav at Bhopal
By Dr. Rajiv Trivedi
It was Honourable Governor of Madhya Pradesh, Shri Bhai Mahvir who broke the subdued mood of the city by inaugurating the four-day festival of Carnatic and Indian Classical Music at the cosy, convivial concert hall of Bharat Bhawan, Bhopal Antarang. Mr. Jayant Kastuar, Secretary, Sangeet Natak Akademi, New Delhi, Mr. K. A. Kabir, Director, Rajbhasha and Sanskriti Nideshalaya, Bhopal and Mr. Om Prakash Chourasia, Director, Ustad Alauddin Khan Sangeet Academy, Bhopal welcomed the Governor. All agreed upon the need of such functions, which presented the depth and variety of Indian culture. Such events help promote individual artistes, art forms, a taste for aesthetic, academic and historical as well as a sense of solidarity and fraternity.
The melodious notes of music delighted not only the serious listeners but also casual visitors on 27th, 28th, 29th and 30th September 2001. Aptly called "Sangeetotsav", this function was organised by Sangeet Natak Akademi, New Delhi in collaboration with Ustad Alauddin Khan Sangeet Academy, Bhopal and Bharat Bhawan, Bhopal. Although Sangeet Natak Akademi organizes several activities throughout the year, the Interstate Cultural Exchange Programme started in 1977 by the Ministry of Education and implemented by the Akademi in 1981 attained a unique stature where national integration and harmony were concerned. For the present festival, the Akademi gleaned young artistes from almost all parts of the country to exemplify again that the key principle of Indian culture is Unity in Diversity.
The long weekend stretching over four days and five sessions was an exciting affair for the local music-lovers, aficionados and scholars, a few of whom had travelled specifically to Bhopal for this function. Depending on individual tastes, some events indeed had a relative lesser appeal. But not a single one of fifteen performances failed to delight the audience as a whole. Vocal and instrumental, Hindustani and Carnatic performances harmoniously blended in each session; only the penultimate one, held on Sunday morning was devoted to regional musical traditions.
The first evening started with a Dhrupad rendition. Sulabha and Manoj are perhaps the only couple to practise this challenging fifteenth century vocal art-form. After initial training from her father Shri Madan Chourasia, Sulbha, like husband Manoj, trained under Ustad Zia Farriduddin Dagar and Ustad Zia Mohiuddin Dagar. The training of the masters was clearly apparent in the performance of the duo. After Alap in Bhim-palasi, they presented a composition in Chautaal Kunjan Mein Racho Raas. Their final composition in Tool Taal was equally graceful. Sulbha and Manoj Saraf received enthusiastic applause from the audience. Their performance proved that excellence in music is not limited to scions of musicians alone; it is available to anyone willing to work towards it. Grandson of legendary Pakhawaj maestro Shri Ambadas, Sanjay Pant Agle provided well-measured accompaniment. Single-minded dedication and devotion to the art-form is also essential for the progeny of musical prodigies. Salil Bhatt traced this truth throughout his recital on the modified guitar that his illustrious father Vishwa Mohan Bhatt has presented to global audience as Mohan-Veena. Polished perfection marked his performance. He had made a good choice with Rageshwari and could easily draw attention and appreciation of the audience.
The evening came to a reluctant end, because howsoever much you like the music that transports you away from the humdrum life, the latter has less subtle but stronger hold. The tempo created with Thyagrajs composition "Shmabhuve Mahadev" in Raga Pantuvarali in Roopak taal was further enhanced by the young vocalists rendition of Ragam, Tanam and Pallavi in Raga Todi. It was thus with a feeling of unsaturated delight at the excellence of P. Unnikrishnans Carnatic recital that audience bore the music to their homes long after it was heard no more.
It was not only with a sense of novelty but real expectations that the audience of Bhopal flocked Bharat Bhawan well in time to secure a convenient seat on the second day of the festival. The first performer, Ms. Mitra Phukan started the evening with a Khayal in Raga Shyam Kalyan. Trained initially by Shri Kumud Goswami and Pt. Virendra Phukan, the naturally melodious voice of Mitra illustrated how well her later Gurus, Pt. Samaresh Choudhuri and Chinmoy Lahiri could embellish it with grace and style. With controlled cadence, the slow composition in Ek Taal flowered into rich and enticing faster composition. Sukhmaya Chakravartis accompaniment on Tabla and nimble fingers of Ratan Hazarika on harmonium provided adequate support to the singer who ended her performance with a devotional composition of poetess Yugalpriya.
The audience was eager to ascertain whether the young scion of the Dagar family, Bahauddin could do justice to a difficult instrument like Rudra Veena. But within minutes, Bahuddin could lull their anxiety and soon the magical, savoury notes of Madhukauns entranced the listeners. He established with his meends the fullnes of his instruction received from father Ustad Zia Mohiuddin and uncle, Ustad Zia Fariduddin Dagar. Akhilesh Gundechas accompaniment on Pakhawaj heightened the whole experience. It is a wonder how the charged atmosphere could gently be moulded into mellowing mood by Rohit Anands presentation of Abhogi Kanhara, a Raga rarely rendered on flute. Having studied under such illustrious Gurus as Ustad Ashish Khan, Pt. Ravishankar and Smt. Sharan Rani Backliwal, it is Rohits inherent inclination for this particular instrument that has brought out the innovative genius in him. After considerable research, he has made the smallest Indian bamboo flute measuring only six inches. That the audience could accept his innovative flourishes readily was proof of labour and learning Rohit has put into the practice of his art. True to the tradition of Sangeet Natak Akademi, Senior Tabla player Shri Kiran Deshpande, Santoor artiste Shri Om Prakash Chourasia and the well-known Dhrupad vocalist, Umakant Gundecha, greeted the artistes of the evening with bouquets.
The third evening was again a fine balance of vocal and instrumental, Hindustani and Carnatic music. It started softly with the melodious notes of Nadaswaram. The duo, S.Kasim and S. Babu hail from a noteworthy musical family in Karavadi in Prakasam district of Andhra Pradesh that has kept alive the art of Nadaswaram for over 300 years now. The vigorous training the brothers received from their maternal grandfather, Dr. Sheikh Chinna Maulana was apparent in their perfect and swift rendering of compositions like NCH Krishnamacharis in Raga Vasant, Vishwanath Shastrys in Hemavati and Tirumals Sindhu Bhairavi. To the brilliant accompaniment on Thavil by Udumpalet Shri M. Angusamy and Trichy Shri S. Senthikumar with Shri S. Nagraj on cymbal, the brothers mesmerised the audience with only eight, eighteen and twelve minutes devoted to the three compositions. The audience rebelled against an end to this reverie and the artistes had to present a fourth composition, Tillana. The enchantment of the listeners, several of whom were hearing Nadaswaram for the first time, emphasised the sway, that, music alone commands.
Reluctant though they were to let the Nadaswaram artistes depart from the stage, the listeners were soon wooed over by the dulcet voice and clear enunciation of Maitreyi Majumdar. After training under Pt. L. K. Pandit of Gwalior, Maitreyi graduated towards the Rampur-Sahaswan style under Smt. Sahnno Khurana. That she could charm international audience was clearly proved by her masterful rendering of Hamir. The slow composition in Tilwada was followed by two faster ones in Teentaal. Her alaap and bandish were perfect balance of objective and subjective elements that make any recital graceful and memorable. The composition in Chandrakauns and thumri in Khamaj were equally alluring. Although Manoj Nagar, who had accompanied Rohit Anand with great aplomb the previous evening, was soft and delicate with his tabla accompaniment, the richness of Maitreyis performance demanded a more competent presentation. However, the veteran harmonium player, Jayaram Potedar with his insightful accompaniment turned the recital into a memorable experience.
The third performance of the evening was a novelty for most listeners. Even seasoned music-lovers had not heard Carnatic ragas on Santoor. Kovai N. Ganesh has taken up the task of adapting this folk instrument to suit Carnatic music. His presentation of Hamsadhwani, Saraswati Manohar and Kharhar Priya in Adi taal and Navras Kannada in Roopak amply demonstrated that the years this dedicated artiste has put in do not belie his cause. It was apparent that there does exist a clear future for Santoor in Carnatic tradition, if only more performers display courage to take up this challenge. Erode R. Radhakrishnan provided a supportive accompaniment on Mridangam and Palghat D. Ramachandran an intersting one on Ghatam.
The penultimate session on the Sunday morn drew some intense listeners -- the people usually busy with the task of keeping the State running, who enjoyed the anonymity of Antarang as much as the music that wafted round. The organisers, perhaps sensing it all, had devoted the session to regional forms of devotional music. Once again, their effort at portraying the Unity in diversity motif seemed to be at work here. The devotees of Sri Nath ji, fearing persecution in Braj moved the idol in 1672 to Rajasthan. They belonged to the sect of poets known as Asht-chhap. Ever since their devotional singing has acquired a special savour. Chandraparakash received training in Hindustani classical music in Gwalior tradition and in Haveli Sageet from his father Pt. Amar Lal. Compositions of saint poet Mayramji in Raga Bhairavi [Shri Govardhan Adhar Ksheer, Anand ki Nidhi], Nat Bilawal, Sarang Dhamar and Bhairavi [Tedhe Houn Sunder Nain] with occasional use of manjira by the vocalist and Maharaj Kishandas accompaniment on Pakhawaj succeeded in creating the atmosphere of haveli-temples.
Mahapatra Minati Bhanj was judiciously placed as the next artiste, for Odra-Paddhatiya Sangeet or music of Oddissi harmoniously combines elements from Hindustani and Carnatic traditions. Jayadev in twelfth century had synthesised Sanskrit lyrics full of pun and alliteration arising out of juxtaposition of physical and the metaphysical with regional rhythm and rhyme into a work immortalised as Geet Govind. Minati maintained the devotional mood, at the same subtly relieiving it of abject seriousness, with presentation of Ashtapadis from Geet Govind in Raga Kamodi. The fluidity of her recital garnered full support of Jagannath Kunwar whose delicate fingers on Mardal were as ethereal as the compositions. Ramhari Das was equally soft and calm on harmonium.
Yet another stylisation of the same Geet Govind Ashtapadis was presented before the audience by Kavalma Srikumar, who has trained under such eminent gurus Ambalappuzha Sivasankara, Mavelikkara Shri Prabhakar Varma, Trichur Shri Vaidyanathan and Ambalappuzha Shri Tulsi. He brought alive the tradition of Sopana music, albeit in a limited manner as there was little scope for full presentation of Sopana Sangeet which ranges from Mudiyettu to Krishnattam, Mohiniyattam and right up to Kathakali by a single artiste within a restricted duration. With little pretension to classicism of Carnatic music, this form due to its rigorous practices, has distinguished itself as a distinct genre. B. Krishnadas had accompanied Sreekumar on Edakya and Murugajyothi on Maddalam. The audience sat through all the three presentations and one could fathom their current resolve to reach back in time for the final session in the evening.
Most of them could indeed make it for the final session of Sangeetotsav. It was both the ambience of Bharat Bhawans Antarang and the excellence of performances that had charmed the aficionados and musicians alike. Ex-governor of Manipur, Shri O. N. Shrivastava, who later welcomed the artistes, was as much a member of the avid gathering as was the noted playback singer Ms. Sudha Malhotra. So, it was with a heightened expectation that they all sat listening to Shantanu Bhattacharya -- a mood which even the veterans would be wary of. It was both, his youthful confidence as well as a deep, well-tuned voice that could bring Shantanu unreserved acclaim. With a stage presence beyond his years, he could sway the audience with his soulful rendition of Shyam Kalyan followed by a Thumri in Raga Mishra [Tere Naina Jadu Bhare] and Tappa [Kaun Jatan Se Preet Nibhaoon]. Violin recital by the duo of Meera Sivaramkrishnan and Usha Rajgopalan again highlighted the degree of confidence, which modern performers attain at an early age. Meera and Usha seemed to enjoy astounding the audience with their perfectly executed flourishes that were harmonic or counterpoints, as the artistes desired. Meera who started accompanying such artistes as Dr. N. Ramani, Sikkil sisters, Dr. Balmurlikrishna, Mandolin Shri U. Srinivas has marathon performance to her credit -- playing non-stop for 26 hours at Sri Ratnagirishwarar Temple. Usha has mastered the instrument under the supervision of Lalgudi Jayraman and Smt. Brahmanandan. The listeners were especially pleased by duos presentation of Lalgudi Jayramans compostion. The accompnayists, Tanjore S. Subramianiam on Mridangam and Pudukottai N. Ramchandran on Ghatam were also out to mesmerise the audience with their bewitching performance.
It was clear in Gaurav Majumdars presentation of Maru Vihag, how this young artiste who started his musical education with training in vocal music and violin before settling down to Sitar, could succeed in the highly competitive field of fusion music. An aesthetic sense for combination of notes that dominated over precision for the classical body of the Raga, gave his performance wings carving a smooth, idyllic, at times irreverent, flight. Akram Khans tabla accompaniment was studied and accommodative. The festive mood turned solemn as the shocking news of the sudden demise of erstwhile Cabinet Minister and renowned Statesman hailing from the royal family of Scindia, Shri Madhav Rao, reached the gathering. Before starting the evening session, silence was observed as a mark of respect to the departed leader.
It was thus on a note of grief and anguish that Director, Ustad Alauddin Khan Sangeet Academy, Shri Om Prakash Chourasia informed about declaration of national mourning and concluded the final session of Sangeetotsav. Bhopal has reeled under the greatest-ever industrial disaster and has exhibited a capacity for sympathy and determination. With unabashed subjectivity when it comes to human sentiments, it has developed objectivity where history is concerned. The four-day five-session festival of music, Sangeetotsav, shall ever be fresh in the minds of music lovers in the city and the state. They shall ever be thankful to Sangeet Natak Akademi, New Delhi whose officials, Secretary Jayant Kastuar and Deputy Secretary Sharbari Mukherjee, aided by a team of eight others, not only planned but supervised its flawless execution in association with the host team of Ustad Alauddin Khan Sangeet Academy, Bhopal.
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