For many, it is THE place to be; hang-out with friends through the late hours, savor snacks and coffee amidst the vibrant musical atmosphere and display their style quotient. For some, it is simply an annual ritual/tradition, while for some, it is a place to meet old friends and relive the past. But for most, it is a place to see their demigods, hear the best Hindustani classical music, and also experience those rare moments of connecting with the divine.
I am talking about the Sawai Gandharva music festival (now running its 54th year). One of the most prestigious events in Indian classical music, this festival generally takes place around the 1st week of December, in the city of
( Pune ). The festival not only features big names in music but also serves as a platform to introduce upcoming artists. It is a matter of great honor to get a chance to perform at the festival. Music lovers from Maharashtra, India and abroad make it a point to attend the festival. India
Since 1989 the festival is being held in the grounds of
. (Ramanbaug) For the convenience of the attendees, the seating arrangement is a mix of bharatiya baithak (floor seating), chairs and sofas. A number of LCD screens and TV monitors are installed in the arena so that the attendees can view the artist. Yet, nothing matches the experience of being seated cross-legged in the front rows (a few feet away from the artist) and enjoying the concert. Every artist gets at least an hour to perform; the schedule is tailored so that there is a good mix of vocal and instrumental recitals each day. Until a few years ago the festival used to be an all-night affair. The program would commence at (if I am remembering it right) and would go on until the wee hours of morning. On the last day, the show would continue till almost the next day and music lovers would sit there mesmerized. However, things have changed due to the ban on loudspeakers beyond . The festival now runs on a schedule officially. In reality, the ban is lifted and the festival continues well past on all 4 days. :) New English School
Shawls, sweaters, and other warm accessories find their way out as the night deepens, and the temperature drops. Munchies are passed around during the short intervals between two performances. The breaks are aptly utilized by the foodies to pamper their food pangs. From Punjabi to South Indian to Chinese; there is a wide variety available for selection. Veteran attendees are seen exchanging notes about the finer points of a raga, past concerts or details about an artist’s biography. The uninitiated seem to grind out humdrum details about life. Often a brawl ensues over the place of seating, but it ends quickly and peacefully. Apart from music, it is truly (most of the times ;)) entertaining to meet and observe people of all the possible personality types that there exist.
I was fortunate to have been able to attend all four days of the festival this year. The festival began at sharp each day. The first day was kicked-off with the customary Shehenai recital. Of the 1st day, I particularly enjoyed the sarangi recital (Raga Madhuvanti, Mishra Pilu) by brother-duo Dilshad and Sabir Khan and the vocals of Shashwati Mandal (Raga Saraswati, Punjabi Tappa in Raga Sohoni).
Although the 2nd day saw maestros Pt. Shiv Kumar Sharma (Raga Rasikpriya) and Pt. Jasraj (Raga Jaijaivanti, Bhajan – Govind, Damodar,…) perform, the highlight of the evening was the vocal recital of Kaushiki Chakraborty, daughter of Pt. Ajoy Chakraborty. Her perfect rendition of Raga Rageshwari and thumri (Rangi saari gulabi chunariya re..), sweet smile, and humility found her a place in the heart of each and everyone present in the audience. A successful performance requires not only a flawless rendition, but also the ability to connect with the audience and to convey the true essence of the composition. I think, KC had mastery over all these elements and hence was an instant hit with the audience. The encores and the standing ovation she received say it all about her performance.
Day 3 started with the vocal recital of Mrs. Hema Upasani (Raga Madhuvanti). The performances that followed, steadily took the musical evening to a magical height. HU’s final gazal (Ratra aisi gothali ki, chandra hi tharakapla..) rendition was especially appreciated by the audience. Rahul Deshpande, grandson of late Pt. Vasantrao Deshpande enthralled the audience by his renditions of Raga Marwa, Maru Bihag, natyageet and bhajan. Pt. Anindo Chatterjee’s tabla was a complete delight.
The weekend and bigger names on the list of performers drew larger crowds to the festival. I was unable to attend the morning session on the last day and regret missing Rakesh Chaurasia’s flute recital. :( The numbers peaked just as Shubha Mudgal took to stage. Amjad Ali Khan’s sarod recital took everyone by surprise due to the accompaniment by 2 tabla players. A lot has been debated about the raga he played. I do not understand the technical aspects of classical music. To me, music that appeals the human soul is good music. Khan saheb’s rendition of Raga Shubhalakshmi definitely possessed that soul stirring quality. The last moment announcement of Dr. Prabha Atre’s performance being cancelled came as a big disappointment to me and many others present there.
Like every year Mr. Anand Deskmukh did a good job at compering for the event.
I was also impressed with the toilet arrangements this year; much better than the portable ones of the previous years, this year we had the option to choose between the Western and the Indian one and they were pretty well maintained too! Although way off-track, I think the loos deserved a mention.
Overall, it was a treat to see the maestros perform and reside in the heavenly world of music during those days. Long live Hindustani classical music!