December 17, 2006

Sawai Gandharva: excellence, simplicity, genuineness

I do not have a very deep understanding or knowledge of Hindustani classical music as many others I know, but I have grown up with it, and have been listening to it for a long time now, and really enjoy it. I treated myself to a trip to Pune to attend the 54th Sawai Gandharva music festival, 7–11 December this year. This festival was started by Bhimsen Joshi in memory of his Guru Sawai Gandharva, in 1952, and is one of the best-known classical music events in India.

I can describe this experience using just one word that everyone understands very well: AWESOME. But I will go on to say that being part of this festival was to be part of what has become a tradition of excellence...excellence in music, excellence in organization, excellence in audience behaviour, and excellence in compering. It is sheer pleasure to witness such an event.

For musicians who are invited to perform here, it is an indication that they have ‘arrived’. They all do their best...and the knowledgeable audience passes instant judgement by their hearty applause...or lack of it.

The list of musicians this year was as below:
Day 1. Shailesh Bhagwat (Shahnai); Meena Phatarphekar; Dilshad/Saabir Khan (Sarangi); Shashwati Mandal; Ustad Raashid Khan.

Day 2. Kamlakar Naik from Goa (I loved his Sab jhoote jag ke yeh naate); Padma Deshpande (her naatyasangeet piece Roopbalee to narashaardool in Raag Kaafi is still ringing in my head); Pandit Shivkumar Sharma (wow!); Kaushiki Chakravarty (wow! wow!), and Pandit Jasraj (audiences love him!).

Day 3: Hema Upasani (very good); Manju Mehta (Sitar--played despite arthritis); Rahul Deshpande (wow! wow!) Debu Chowdhury (Sitar--very good); and Malini Rajurkar (as always, very good).

Day 4 morning: Parmeshwar Hegde; Rakesh Chaurasia (flute—his Pahadi dhun was oh! so melodious, with ghungroo sounds for added effect!) Asha Khadilkar (she’s good); and Madhav Gudi (voice and style just like Bhimsen Joshi).

Day 4 evening: Hemant Pendse; Anant Terdal (unique voice); Shubha Mudgal (what presence!); Amjad Ali Khan (wow!); and Deepak Maharaj (Kathak—very good, but it was like a lec-dem); The festival was supposed to end with Prabha Atre but she had a sore throat, so it ended with Bhimsen Joshi’s disciples singing Bhairavi. More about this treat in later paras.

I missed the first day, but attended the 2nd, 3rd and 4th days. At Sawai, I realised that one has to redefine one’s favourites, and add to their list of favourites...three newcomers stood out this year, and walked straight into the audience’s hearts: 25-year old Kaushiki Chakravarti, who sings brilliantly, is beautiful, and expressive (she must have stolen all 12,000 hearts!); Rahul Deshpande, who is someone to watch out for...his creativity and spontaneity are astounding; and Rakesh Chaurasia, nephew of Hariprasad Chaurasia, in whose hands the bansuri weaves melodious magic, much like it does in the hands of his uncle.

I discovered why some of the all-time greats are what they are: Pandit Jasraj, Shiv Kumar Sharma, and Amjad Ali Khan. They have mastered the art of enchanting audiences by their music, which is but an extension of their beings.

Other interesting aspects apart from the music itself: More than 10,000 people attended every day...on the last day, there must have been double that number!

Pandit Bhimsen Joshi came a few times...his car drove right in and he listened from the car. Many a musician said they prayed that he would sing next year.

One thing touched me very much. See photo. This man was led into and out of the concert place by this little boy (his grandson?) several times during the 3 days I attended.

The seating arrangements are amazing. Almost everyone gets to sit...either on sofas or chairs or on the ground in the baithak style. If someone sitting on the chairs goes away, the chair remains one comes and sits on it. Kudos to the discipline of the Sawai audiences!

There are food stalls behind, and in the lane outside, selling simple, tasty food. There are a few stalls selling music and related articles, such as books, Shruthi boxes, calendars, etc. It gave me immense happiness to buy a Shruthi box for my daughter from this sacred place...what’s more, the brand I was recommended to buy was Raagini—same as my daughter’s name!

A line about the compere Anand Deshmukh: he has a great voice; he uses just enough words; does not dominate the show; has a sense of humour; and gracefully fits into the Sawai Gandharva tradition of excellence.

The ending of this year’s festival was unique too. Bhimsen Joshi’s disciples (including son Srinivas Joshi and Madhavgudi) sang Jamuna ke teer (Bhairavi). It was a touching moment when Joshi’s contemporary, Pt. Firoz Dastur (now 87, very old and feeble, and hardly able to talk), suddenly began to sing along! The applause all around was thunderous!

I would not be exaggerating if I said that when one attends Sawai Gandharva, one gets a taste of what heaven must be like.



jay said...

oh! i missed the event... i am travelling to pune this week. would have been a pleasure to listen to all the pandits of music!

Sadhana said...

Yes, indeed, Sawai was a fantastic experience!