This year’s Vishnu Digambar Jayanti in New Delhi, dedicated to the musical pioneer, offered a range of concerts. Some highlights…
Himself suffering from impaired vision, Vishnu Digambar Paluskar was a great visionary who made it the mission of his life to propagate music among the educated middle classes that had started to make their appearance in the latter half of the 19th Century as a result of India’s encounter with British colonial education and administration. Born on August 18, 1872, Paluskar sanitised a whole lot of lewd and erotic compositions, turned to the medieval saint poets to make use of their devotional songs, and also composed his own bhajans in order to make our music palatable to the new kind of audiences. Till then available to only the members of the aristocracy and the mercantile capitalist classes, music was liberated from these narrow confines and brought into the public domain due to Paluskar’s untiring efforts. He also showed great patriotism and political wisdom by establishing a close link with the anti-colonial nationalist movement led by Mahatma Gandhi.
Ever since it was established in 1939 by the late Vinay Chandra Maudgalya, Gandharva Mahavidyalaya in the Capital has been celebrating Paluskar’s birth anniversary every year by organising a grand music festival. Maintaining its tradition, it held the four-day Vishnu Digambar Jayanti Sangeet Samaroh at India Habitat Centre (August 16 to 18) and at FICCI auditorium (August 19) to celebrate his 140th birth anniversary.
Dharwad vocalist M. Venkatesh Kumar, the last artiste in the festival, provided a befitting finale by offering a riveting performance. The only blemish was that contrary to the practice introduced by Paluskar, he did not announce the names of the ragas. Unfortunately, more and more artistes have started to perform these days without disclosing the names of the ragas. Venkatesh Kumar, who was ably accompanied by Arvind Thatte on harmonium and Ram Kumar Mishra on tabla, began his recital with the famous Adarang bandish in raga Miyan Ki Malhar, “Karim Naam Tero” and went on to build a magnificent Kirana structure on the edifice of Gwalior gayaki.
Very few singers have been able to resist the influence of Amir Khan and Bhimsen Joshi, and Venkatesh is no exception. However, he has woven these influences so creatively to fashion his style that, instead of sounding jarring, they enhance the aesthetic appeal of his recital. He elaborated the raga making use of behlawa and brought out the distinctive character of the raga that employs both the Nishads and Komal Gandhar (a la Darbari Kanhada). The force of the Gwalior gayaki coupled with the delicate, nuanced Kirana approach turned his recital into a memorable experience. His badhat in aakar, bol-alap, bol-taans and aakar taans were all well-proportioned. He made judicious use of gamak in his taans that were not only forceful and well-structured but also offered variety.
Unlike many vocalists, Venkatesh did full justice to the antara. He sang a madhya laya (medium tempo) composition “Barsan lagi boondariya” displaying chhoot taans and concluded his Miyan ki Malhar with a traditional Sadarang bandish in fast tempo, “Mohammadshah Rangeele Re”. Venkatesh Kumar chose another seasonal raga, Gaud Malhar, and offered two compositions “Balma Bahar Aayee” and “Surang Chunariya Deo Mangaa”, laced with the trademark Shuddh Gandhar and a glowing Madhyam. In using sargams (improvised note patterns), he showed how such devices should be employed with reserve, caution and aesthetic sense. He also took recourse to layakari (improvisations on the tala cycle) and left the audience utterly impressed.
Pratyush Banerjee is a serious sarod player from Kolkata and has received training mainly in the Shahjahanpur school represented by Radhikamohan Moitra and his disciple Buddhdev Das Gupta. He chose Jhinjhoti, a Khamaj-thaat raga that does not banish any note, and played it with great sensitivity while underlining the Re Ma Ga component and giving due prominence to Dhaivat. He elaborated the raga in a leisurely alap-jod section and gave ample evidence of his solid taalim. He was tuneful all through and his right-hand strokes were powerful without being jarring. He played two compositions in Teen tala, the first of which seemed to be a new-fangled one while the other was a traditional, tightly-knit bandish. Pratyush switched over to Ramdasi Malhar and played a gat. Mohammad Akram Khan of the Ajrada gharana accompanied him on tabla with commendable poise and virtuosity.
(To be continued)