In which Musical weekend part 1 – Sawai Gandharva Sangeet Mahotsav

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Image courtesy - E sakaal

” Music expresses that which cannot be said,and on which it is impossible to be silent – Victor Hugo “



So it was going to be a lot of action packed things to do over this particular weekend, all happening n Pune. It was hard to believe. Lots of events and programs happening all over the city, each one better than the other and none which could be missed.

First it was the coveted Sawai Gandharva Sangeet Mahotsav, the mother of Indian Classical Festivals. My dream to attend one of these since a long time, and now that we had shifted to Pune, there was no point in giving any reasons for missing it. It was on from the 9th Dec – 12th Dec, and many well known artists like Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia, Begum Parveen Sultana, Pandit Vishwamohan Bhat, Pandit Jasraj, Pandit Shivkumar Sharma, Rajan Sajan Mishra and Prabha Atre were to perform. Although it was going to be difficult to make it for all 4  days, Friday the 10th seemed liek the best choice for us as Pt.Vishwamohan Bhat and Jasraj Ji were to perform in second half of the day.

The preps had begun a day before, with me running pillar to post to acquire tickets, having heard from friends how difficult it was to get hold of the passes and unaware of whereabouts of shops where they are sold, I was aiming in blind to get entry here. Checked with some of my Pune tweeps and confirmed from them that tickets were sold at the venue also. This was a relief. Made plans with Adi to leave for the venue after work on Friday. It was only past 6.45 but winter evenings made it seem more later and we walked into the RamanBagh Prashala at the New English High School. An open Pandal, with silken sounds of lilting music from the Mohan Veena devouring the air. Our tickets stated “भारतीय बैठक” which literally meant sit wherever there is place.

Image courtesy - E sakaal

A good look at the crowds and almost 60% of spectators, sitting on the ground, many had their own mattresses with them, some making do with the flooring mats arranged by the organisers. From where I was standing Panditji looked almost like a dwarf, although the projection arrangement was wonderful. Spread across the arena were large LCD monitors and screens where one could comfortably sit and watch almost like a home television environment. Many would argue the fact that if it has to be watched on TV then why go through so much trouble. But the high of being in the crowd and absorbing that musical bliss is what is so tempting. I could see senior members in spectators, those probably battling with aching bones and arthritis (the cold weather must have surely made it a bit worse), but still giving the much deserved “दाद ” for every scintillating high note Panditji touched with his Veena. It was even more encouraging to see many youngsters in the crowd, with the festival in its 58th year and well known among the connoisseurs of hindustani music, it is no surprise that  tickets were at discounted prices for college students. This is the ongoing effort to conserve traditional and cultural gems such as Classical music and nurture future generations. It is important for youngsters to be acquainted with all forms of Art and appreciate them.

Courtesy Time of India

Jugalbandi of maestros

We decided to stand and wait till end of Pandit Vishwa Mohan Bhats and Ustad Sreenivasan’s jugalbandi. This duo, with Panditji on the Mohan Veena and the young Ustad closely following him with the Mandolin was accompanied on the tabla by Pandit Vijay Ghate. It was like a musical symposium on stage. Mesmerising to watch and listen to. Soul stirring “आलाप” and hair raising melodies, I am sure it was the raag Yaman Kalyan or Shyam kalyan, but  the जुगलबंदी between the two only left the audience asking for more, which Panditji duly acknowledged and played for exactly four more minutes. This time of course he had the audience swaying to the bhajan “वैष्णव जन तो”, what a perfect close to the duel.

The crowds consisted of people from all over India, all music enthusiasts; some practioners and  some evangelists, like they say for every Tansen there also have to be some Kaansen. The elderly friend dup sitting besides us had been attending the Mahotsav for over 15 years. Now retired and originally not from Pune, they made it a point to come here annually. I met people who has come from Rajkot, Goa, Mumbai, Jaisalmer, Dharwad and the likes. I was told that most people in the audience were from out of station, some did not even have a place to stay and most of them camped at the venue itself. Monumental commitment, I respect all of these people hugely. There was a diary being passed around in the audience, someone who had been attending the festival for almost a decade now was asking the people from the audience to share their experiences. I was privileged to have written mine, it has now been recorded somewhere in history.

Darbari Kanada

Image Courtesy Times of India

Next on was Pandit Jasraj, the octogenarian duly accompanied by his disciples on the Veena, harmonium and the Tabla. In classic Pandit Jasraj style, he first began with an anecdote of his first encounter with Pt.Bhimsen Joshi. It is so humbling to hear such generous praise and humility for each other amongst these maestros. Contemporaries in their own right, but never adversaries. After addressing the audience as form of God, “ईश्वर”  and raising is hands in salutation to all with a devotional “जय हो!! “, he began to knit the Darbari Kanada with Chamundeshwari Shloka. Although the sound arrangements, especially the mike was a constant interruption with Panditji for first 10 – 15 minutes, he continued. He even tried to explain in Marathi what he wanted, but the sound guys was unable to adjust it rightly, so he blatantly decided to use only one mike. Such is the resilience of great artists, such small debacles do not stop them attempting to  their task. Panditji was well aware of how long the audience had been waiting for him and he was in no mood of disappointing them. Stating time and again of how appreciative he is of the organizers and calling the event “आपला सवाई महोत्सव”, he struck the right chord with the audience. Hitting extremely low notes in his आलाप, and the minute हर्कातेन, which is the highlight of his vocal performance, he had the audience captivated. The Darbari being a very intense raagas, one gets completely immersed into it and it was so obvious with deep devotional rendition that almost seemed like coming from straight from his heart. Panditji was so impressed with his harmonium accompanist, that in the middle of his own singing, he stopped to compliment him saying , “बेटा आज तुम्हारे हाथ में अब्बाजी आ गये!!”. Such small nuances mark the makings of a great human and an even greater artist.

Panditji is known to be deeply devotional, in last 10 minutes that  were remaining he promised to play for 20 minutes, this was another one of his bhajans, “ओम नामोह गणपतेय वासुदेवाय” the sounds of which are still echoing in my head. It was almost like he had attained his Nirvana on stage when he went into the chants of “विठ्ठला विठ्ठला”. It was difficult to hold back those tears that rolled down, his calling to the God was so overwhelming that it suddenly seemed to have cleared and purified the air around. I almost did not want him to stop, but as is customary and keeping with the police regulations, the event for that day promptly came to a close. A crowd of well over 3000 people, all huddled up in their places were captivated by the sounds of the evening. Everyone,I am sure carried a part of the magic that we all witnessed that evening.

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