Monday, December 18, 2006


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 (Maharashtra, India). 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 India and abroad make it a point to attend the festival.
Since 1989 the festival is being held in the grounds of New English School. (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 9 pm (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 noon the next day and music lovers would sit there mesmerized. However, things have changed due to the ban on loudspeakers beyond 10 pm. The festival now runs on a 4 pm-10 pm schedule officially. In reality, the ban is lifted and the festival continues well past midnight on all 4 days. :)
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 4 pm 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!


Anonymous said...

I think, this should go into a newspaper column :).

Nice summary.

drsundeep said...

Dear Akira,
Its gr8 2 know that our classical music tradition is not fading into oblivion. With such avid listeners like you, who says that our music is on the decline? I too have stayed for 20 years in Oune and almost year have attended the Sawai Gandharva music festival with my parents. During those days (1980 - 1999) as you've pointed out, it used to be an all night affair. I still remember that on the last day, the last recital always used to be by Pt Bhimsen Joshi. It used to be at 6 am and the enire arena used to reverveberate with the cries of "Bhimsen aala, sagale uthaa !"
It was here that I first heard Pt Ajoy Chakraborty and now you say that his daughter has also made her debut. This makes me all the more concious of my passing age, althgough I am only 36 years old ! By the way did Bhimsenji sing this year ?

Akira said...

@drsundeep: Yes the atmosphere is truly enchanting!

Pt. Shiv Kumar Sharma while communicating w/ the Sawai audience said, "I am often asked if listnership of classical music is on the decline"...he said his reply to the person was "Come to Sawai and you will get your ans."...needless to say this drew an applause from the audience :)

Bhimsenji did not sing....I guess his health has really gone down...but he made it a point to make a trip to the pandaal....his car drove right upto the stage and stayed there fr a while....he even spoke on one of the days...

Thanks for visiting my blog and keep stopping by!

Traveler said...

Make me nostalgic about Pune.

Anonymous said...

Madhuvanti- I heard Pt Jasraj's rendition of it a week or so back and have been hooked to it since then. Lucky you, that you could be thr,

Aditya said...

i attended all 4 days - my first time at sawai gandharva ...

certainly a very memorable experience.

maharaja said...

Do you know the dates for the Sawai Gandharva for this year - 2007?

Nikhil said...

Do you know the dates for the Sawai Gandharva for this year - 2007?
If yes then plz post it on ur blog

Sarita said...

Hi Akira,

I attend Sawai as often as I can manage it.Missed last year (2006) but reading your blog made me feel like I had actually attended !Would you know the dates for the festival this year (2007)

Akira said...

Dear Readers,

Unfortunately I don't know about the dates of the festival this year. But I will post them here if I find out about them.

Thanks for stopping by...

Soms said...

Hi Akira

I am planning to attend this year's programs. I will be coming from Bangalore, and wanted to check with you if there are any tickets to the festival, and if yes, would you know where they would be available?

I believe this year's events are between Dec 10-12.


Akira said...

Dear All,

Here is the official link to the Sawai website...hadn't bookmarked it and so took me a while to dig.

It is indeed sad that information about such a big event is so hard to uncover! :(

@Soms: Yes, Sawai is a ticketed event. I have never bought tickets in advance. I usually buy them at the venue or if I am lucky, I manage to get a pass from friends in the press. Here is a link that has some info on the tickets, but it might be dated. Hopefully the website will be able to answer your qn. Hope this helps. :)

artee said...

Please, Someone, How can I get the ticket6s to the upcoming Sawai Gandharv Festival? I am travelling to India at the end of November.
Thank You

pratik said...

Hi All,

The Dates for The 55th Sawai Gandharav Mohotsav 2007 is from 6th December to 9th December. Tickets usually go for sale from 1st December.


Suhrud said...

55th Sawai Gandharva Sangeet Mahatosav(2007), Pune will be held from 6th December 2007 to 9th December 2007 at New English School Ramanbaug, Shaniwar Peth Pune.

Festival Performers/Artists This Year - Pt. Jasraj, Malini Rajurkar, Gundeja Bandhu, Aarti Ankalikar, Kaivalyakumar Gurav, Ajay Pohankar, Pt. Ulhas Kashalkar, Pt. Hariprasad Chourasiya, Sujat Khan, Rahul Sharma, Dr.Prabha Atre and more

Announced Tickets Rates : Season Chair- Rs.1600/-, Bharatiya Baithak- Rs.350/-.

Tickets are expected to be available from- 1st December at Navdikar Brothers (Bharatiya Baithak), Behre Ambewale,Dinshaw Company and Shirish Traders in Pune

Ref: Pune local newspaper

Soms said...

Suhrud, pratik, Akira

Thanks for all the details.


Faiyaz said...

The Dates for Sawai Gandharva this year (2007) are from 6th to 9th December


Amar said...

Does anyone know the dates for this year's festival? I would appreciate any pointers. Thanks!

Soms said...

Dec 11-14

Amar said...

Thanks Som!

Ray Birajdar said...

where can we get the passes for the festival? i'm taking a leave frm my job to attend the Sawai Gandharv this year..i tried to look for d dates on web..but cudn't come across any substantial information. anybody knows the exact dates?

n to Akira,
the description cudn't hav been better..simply awsome...this should make into a newpaper column, as rightly said by someone.