Ulhas Kashalkar gave a facelift to the annual AIR Sangeet Sammelan in New Delhi.

There was a time when music lovers across the country used to look forward to the All India Radio’s annual Sangeet Sammelan as it showcased top artistes with great pride and fanfare. It was a big event for the artiste, the organiser and the listener. Concerts would be held for invited audience and later broadcast by all the stations of the AIR. Over the years, like every other institution, AIR too has witnessed a steep decline and is a pale shadow of its former self. Sangeet Sammelans seem to have become an annual ritual to be gone through somehow without any enthusiasm and commitment.

The AIR’s lackadaisical approach was evident last week in the way it organised the Sangeet Sammelan concert in the Capital featuring well-known Hindustani classical vocalist Ulhas Kashalkar and Carnatic mandolin player U. Srinivas, who as a child prodigy had come to be known as Mandolin Srinivas. Although the event is planned much in advance, the organisers could not even think of booking an auditorium with good acoustics and held the concert at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan hall that was a most inappropriate venue for such an event. The noisy staffers sitting in the back rows made matters worse as they were simply not interested in the music and were present there because it was part of their duty.

Over the past two decades, one has been a witness to Ulhas Kashalkar growing stature as an artiste, eventually reaching the very top. He has learnt the styles of the Gwalior, Agra and Jaipur-Atrauli gharanas and has made a long and consistent attempt to create a style of his own, drawing upon the resource material of all the three styles. For any creative artiste, this is not an easy path to traverse. The easy way out is to become a clone of one’s guru. For years, one saw Ulhas Kashalkar waging a valiant struggle to arrive at his own truth, and arrive he did!

Ulhas chose the pentatonic Kalyan thaat raga Bhoopali that omits madhyam and nishad altogether, and sang a vilambit tilwada taal Sadarang composition “Jabhi jaani tihari baat”. He mainly adhered to the Gwalior approach and elaborated the raga in his inimitable manner and impressed with his unhurried exposition, paying due attention to alap, bol-alap, bol-taans and aakaar taans. The swoop from pancham to gandhar and the use of gandhar as the resting place enhanced the aesthetic appeal of the recital.

Bhoopali has been a favourite of the Gwalior masters and all the great vocalists of the past era have offered excellent renderings of the raga. It was all the more creditable that Ulhas Kashalkar was able to weave newer patterns in the much familiar raga and present it afresh. After painting the raga picture beautifully in the slow khayal, he sang the popular drut teen taal bandish “Jabse tum sang laag laagli” and followed it up with a scintillating tarana.

Shahana Kanhda was the next raga of the evening and Ulhas excelled in its rendering too. Kanhdas are known for their vakra usages and profuse use of graces as well as meends. Shuddh Dhaivat reigns supreme in this raga. Ulhas sang a madhyalaya teen taal composition “Bijuri chamke” with great sense of freedom and abandon. His short taans were every effective and he also made judicious use of gamak in singing sargams as well as in executing some charming, well-constructed taans. He concluded his recital with a roopak taal Bhairavi bhajan “Tum ho jagat ke data”. Renowned tabla maestro Suresh Talwalkar provided him with excellent accompaniment. Vinay Mishra displayed his dexterity on harmonium.