The Sawai Gandharva Bhimsen Mahotsav And Those Myriad Questions
A listener goes to the Sawai Gandharva Bhimsen Music Festival for the first time. He is overwhelmed and returns with questions to be reflected at on length. Here are few of them
It is a little over two months now; I was hoping to be left with a set of answers to the questions in mind so that I could begin to pen my impressions of my first experience at the Sawai Gandharva Bhimsen Mahotsav.
With Pandit Shounak Abhisheki’s powerful Bhairav still resonating in my ears, the questions only seem to multiply in their number. Is there any experience better than listening to a powerful voice coupled with brilliant imagination, delivering one of the most beautiful contemplative ragas in the morning? Would it not be at a such performance, when serenaded by a divine rendition, that a listener truly understands the import of serenity, which Bhairav is supposed to bestow? Wouldn’t such a majestic rendition not recall a Musiri rendition of a ‘Meru Samana’ to a true Carnatic music buff, leaving him wondering how Tyagaraja captured the raga in all its glory in the Pallavi itself? What can one say of the felicity the divine has bestowed on Pandit Abhisheki’s voice, allowing for a magical albeit short Jaunpuri?
How does one describe the experience of listening to Sangeet Martand Pandit Jasraj’s reverberating voice singing Kaunsi Kanada in the mandra sthayi (lower octave)? Is it only the genius of a maestro who can perform a ‘jod’ rag with such ease, marrying the emblematic Malkauns phrase ‘Ga Ma Dha’ in aroha with the Kanada signature flourish ‘Ga Ma Ri Sa’ in the avaroha? Pray, what words can even begin to describe the experience of seeing and listening to the 86-year old genius bring the crowd to its feet with a power-packed bhajan?
How do the voices of the Mishra brothers bring a not so commonly heard raga like Nand to life, with the right combination of contemplation and playfulness? Did one hear a nod to the genius of Kumar Gandharva’s ‘Rajan, ab to aja’? Is it really that easy to keep an audience spellbound for an hour, while elaborating such an elegant raga? What words can describe the journey on which Vidushi Malini Rajurkar took us on, with Charukeshi for transport?
What can one say of the experience of hearing a divine Jogkauns sung by Pandit Ulhas Kashalkar? Pray, how does a great musician manage to provide such delight in a simple, yet profound and non-gimmicky style of singing? What do we say of the audience comprising a large number of youngsters which can immerse in such singing and give a standing ovation?
How can an Indian music enthusiast not be left with pride listening to the elaboration of Pooriya Dhanashri, by a young Ustad Amjad Ali (vocalist), at a leisurely pace? How do music critics manage to put the energetic Maru Behag of Pandit Godkhindi, accompanied by Pandit Ojas Adhiya into words?
How can any large music festival be devoid of some artists who will keep an audience engaged with a style of music filled more with the frills and less with the substance of Indian music? Isn’t it but natural that a festival of this size, would have a few concerts, where the artist is not all at home in a truly classical structure? Will there not be the inevitable crowding of the last session, leaving little time for a great like Vidushi Prabha Atre to sing the finale? Doesn’t one make some room for such diversions, allowing for the mind to focus on the overwhelming beauty of the majority of the festival?
What does one say of the experience of seeing large families with their ‘dabba’ of eatables sitting down on the floor and making sure that their place doesn’t get taken away when they go for the inevitable break, during the 7-8 hour day? How does a Carnatic music buff describe the unusual experience of going to a classical music concert to see half the audience with black hair (and not of the dyed variety), over all the four days? How does one describe the patience and passion of an audience, which could sit in a very small spaces in the usual Indian style on mats for 7-8 hours every day, to soak in classical music? What words would adequately describe the attention of the audience to hold the slippers in hand while navigating the crowds sitting on the mats, lest the slippers touch those people?
What words can describe the simple and graceful style with which the master of ceremonies, would introduce each musician and his calm discipline to ensure that the artists stuck to the amount of time provided? How does one describe the lack of overbearing presence of the organizers or their thoughtfulness to ensure that sponsors were given a presence on the stage to felicitate the artists, without allowing anyone speech time?
How does one describe the experience, where the organizers allow for non-commercial family-based caterers to provide delectable food? What words would describe the joy of enjoying simple traditional Maharashtrian fare from hot vada-pav to the light sabudana khichdi with the right amount of lime? How does one put into words, the magical experience of listening to the best music with a mouthful of delicious food?
One is left with questions for which words cannot find an answer, as the Upanishads say – यतो वाचा निवर्तन्ते; but not necessarily अप्राप्य मनसा सह, for it was indeed the mind, which came thoroughly satisfied. What a way for the late Pandit Bhimsen Joshi to leave us with his legacy of this festival. The Sawai Gandharva Bhimsen Mahotsav leaves us longing for the wonderful experience of sitting in a pleasant environment listening to beautiful Indian music.
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