The dazzling artistry of the musicians at the Malhar festival truly opened up the skies

There are very few instances when a music concert gives the audience an experience of the unfathomable vastness of the treasure that music holds in its womb. Just as Arjuna was spellbound on viewing only a fragment of the universality of Lord Krishna, on Sunday, a similarly awe-inspiring experience was shared through the auspices of Gururao Deshpande Sangeet Sabha. The “Pandit Bhimsen Joshi Sangeet Mahotsav” held in Bangalore at the JSS Auditorium brought together splendid performances that stood testimony to the enrapturing brilliance of music. Aptly titled “Malhar”, the concert was based on various forms of the Raag Malhar. A noteworthy fact is that Raag Malhar was the favourite Raag of Pt. Bhimsen Joshi, in whose memory and honour, the concert was held. The concert was an exploration of the versatility of the raag and hence became a mirror to the creative potential that embodies itself in an art form such as music.

The concert began with a sitar recital by Ustad Rafique Khan. Trained in the Gwalior gharana by various stalwarts, Ustad Rafique Khan exemplified perfection in his rendition of Surdasi Malhar in vilambit and dhrut taals. It was a trance like atmosphere that he created as his fingers seemed to dance seamlessly on the strings of the sitar weaving notes that flowed like a brook, refreshing the audience. Characteristic with the absence of gandhaar, the raag itself manifests the experience of a rainfall. This was brilliantly captured on the sitar especially at the dhrut. Deftly accompanied by Pandit Rajendra Nakod on the tabla, the performance sounded like a downpour. They were so well synchronised together, that it seemed like the artists were engaged in a musical tango. The sitar recital was followed by a vocal recital by Arati Ankalikar Tikekar. Trained in the traditions of Agra, Gwalior and Jaipur-Atrauli , she is well recognized for her playback singing in the movie “Sardari Begum” which won her the National Award. She began her concert with a rendition of Mian Malhar and Ramdasi Malhar – “Dhoondo re aave” and “Sarasi Shyamdhar”, the latter being set to Teen taal. This was followed by the legendary composition – “Naad Brahma Parameshwar”, which is attributed to the sisters Tana-Riri, whose reference can also be found in the song itself. It contains references to Mian Tansen and glorifies the divine nature of music. Each of these was brilliantly rendered by Arati Ankalikar. Her resonating voice transported the audience into a realm away from the mundane. A complicated raga such as Ramdasi Malhar that employs and adds onto the features of Mian Malhar was rendered so effortlessly that a member of the audience called her Goddess Saraswati. As requests started pouring , she sang a jhoola – “Aao sab sakhiyan jhoolan bandhaavo”. Then came a Marathi abhang – “Awgha Rang Ek Jhala”, a composition by Sant Soyarabai. It was truly the rightful pinnacle for the entire concert that was held in memory of a maestro who revolutionised the renditions of abhangs. Gurumurthy Vaidya on tabla and Ravindra Katoti on harmonium provided the ablest accompaniments for the artist.

With so many variations of the Raag Malhar resounding through the auditorium, it was least surprising that as the audience stepped out, they were greeted by heavy rains.