Sawai Gandharva Bhimsen Mahotsav – Reminiscences Redux

by Puranika Narayana Bhatta - Feb 25, 2017 06:47 PM +05:30 IST
Sawai Gandharva Bhimsen Mahotsav – Reminiscences ReduxThe festival’s poster
  • The Sawai Gandharva Bhimsen music festival is such that some time needs to pass before one can write about it. Here is a recollection of the 2016 edition of the one of the most prestigious events in the Indian classical circuit.

A two-month self-imposed ‘silent period’ is over. Though one is not dealing with a public company; one is certainly dealing with a public institution of standing. Just as in the previous year, one felt that a reasonable distance of time from the event would settle the immediate reactions, allowing for a clarified presentation of my reflections of the event.

Sawai is a premier platform for Indian music and not surprisingly inspires young artistes to extraordinary heights.

This was in abundant evidence when listening to the mellifluous Marwa of the sisters, Debopriya and Shuchismitha. The sisters began cautiously, as the enormity of the stage had made them emotional. But, as the swaras sprang forth, it became clear that spoken language would fall short in describing the charm of the bansuri and an evocative raga like Marwa played with imagination and delightful skill by the duo. Isn’t it on occasions like these that one is filled with the feeling of time having stood still as the waves of the serene alap srtike one in an unhurried and gentle manner. The drut piece ‘piya more anata’, was mesmerising. The sisters displayed stupendous maturity in presenting a classic raga and eschewed even a hint of gimmick. Their ability to display different facets of shringara in Marwa held the audience enthralled. Later, they presented a light relief from the hour-long Marwa with a made-for-bansuri Pahadi dhun.

Another memorable performance came from Ritesh & Rajaneesh Mishra, the next generation of the Mishras (current being Pt Rajan and Sajan Mishra). The exuberant and explosive voices made for a brilliant Multani. The ending light piece in Kirawani with a mix of Malhar and Megh, was a treat.

Is there a greater delight than listening to a maestro like Pandit Ulhas Kashalkar at the top of his prowess singing a classical Nayaki Kanada? His effortless ease coupled with exuberant energy makes for an exciting experience at Sawai. It would have been an even greater enjoyment, if his Sohini had not been altogether brief.

Bageshree of Pandit Uday Bhawalkar was a treat for one’s ears and the mind. He presented all the hallmarks of Dhrupad from the reverberating mandra beginning to the unhurried rhythmic progression to tara sthayi. As a friend remarked, a Carnatic aficionado would begin to recognize the meaning of Tyagaraja’s ‘Nabhi Hrut Kantha Rasana Naasaadula’ (in the aptly named Jaganmohini raga), only when one listens to such beautiful music.

It was good to see the organizers provide a window into the Karnatik world through the violin performance of Mysuru Manjunath and Nagaraj. Their Ananda Bhairavi was beautiful albeit short. The rare Rasikapriya performance was quite power-packed and enjoyable for the different styles of violin playing brought out. Perhaps the only jarring note was stuck by the exuberant Mridangam, which tended to overshadow the main performance. This was in sharp contrast to Pandit Palsule’s tabla, where the ‘teka’ beautifully flowed with the violins. One wonders if a return to the old style of understated Mridangam ‘nade’(teka) playing would be an important key to making Karnatik music a greater delight to listen to. But, that is a different discussion.

Another memorable performance, came from the young duo of Lakshya Mohan Gupta and Ayush Mohan Gupta. The sarod and sitar combination was quite interesting. The exquisite Jog was presented with finesse. The manodharma shone through in the Maanj Khamaj.

Without a doubt, the sessions featuring the future of Indian music were the best. The exuberance of youth coupled with brilliant skill, was on display at the Sawai. Hats off to the organizers for identifying such talent and giving them a remarkable opportunity.

Just as in the previous year, there were sufficient number of concerts, which provided ample opportunity to move around the food stalls, savouring the best of Maharashtrian fare (from modak to sabudana vada to the quintessential batata vada). We take the Marathi saying to heart – Adhi potobha, maghe vithoba.

Organization of the event with fewer artists in each session, provided the artists and the audience a more leisurely experience and was certainly a welcome change. While the festival continues to be a must-attend for a music lover, there were a couple of possibilities which would make the event even more delightful.

Given that Sawai is a celebration of Indian music, how does one reconcile to not listening to a Bhairav or a Todi or a Bhatiyar in the morning or a Sarang in the early afternoon? The lack of morning and early afternoon ragas, unfortunately, dents the Sawai positioning as the premier event celebrating Indian music. As the five evening sessions rolled on, ragas were repeated and the festival verged on becoming ‘Bhimpalas Mahotsav’.

Sawai is the standard bearer of the Kirana Gharana. One expects to and should be treated to the best music of the gharana. Given this, it was very disappointing to find that not one, if not two, of the best of the Kirana Gharana like Pt Venkatesh Kumar, Pt Anand Bhate, Pt Shounak Abhisheki or Pt Jayatheerth Mevundi performed. The festival would have gained tremendously with their powerful voices. Pt Abhisheki’s contemplative Bhairav, from the previous Sawai, is very fresh in one’s aural memory.

There is always the challenge of how much emphasis to place on nostalgia and how much weight to give for the present. One wonders if the Sawai is placing a little more emphasis in the amount of time given to some of the masters who present a nostalgic value to the audience, while the artistes at the peak of their prowess may not be getting as many slots.

One cannot underestimate the importance of the platform which the ‘Arya Sangeet Prasarak Mandal’ has created, delivering to us an ‘anubhava’ to cherish. The festival leaves one enchanted and longing for more from the new generation of Indian musicians.

Puranika Narayana Bhatta runs a business strategy consulting firm.

Puranika Narayana Bhatta is CEO of Latlong, a software products company. 

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