Concerts of Bahauddin Dagar and Rajshekhar Mansur suffered from a failure to exploit their respective styles

Most awards have suffered an erosion in their credibility, and the prestigious Sangeet Natak Akademi award is no exception. One is at a loss to understand the kind of thinking that goes into deciding who should be conferred this award. What is the primary criterion? Is it the artiste’s seniority, or talent, or both, or none? Does the artiste’s pedigree play a major role irrespective of his or her excellence or the lack of it? Such and other thoughts crossed one’s mind while listening to two of the SNA awardees last week.

The 43-year-old Bahauddin Dagar belongs to the illustrious Dagar family that has been at the forefront of the effort to revive and preserve the centuries-old tradition of Dhrupad. His father Zia Mohiuddin Dagar initiated him into the art of Rudra veena playing. As he died when Bahauddin was young, Zia Fariduddin Dagar took Bahauddin under his wing and taught him Dhrupad singing. Z.M. Dagar’s disciple, Pushpraj Khoshti, too instructed him into playing the surbahar. It is not a widely known fact that Rudra veena players receive their early training in playing sitar and/ or surbahar and graduate to playing the Rudra veena only after acquiring sufficient skills in playing these instruments.

Over the past two years, one has noticed a tendency in Bahauddin Dagar that he either chooses a raga from the Carnatic repertoire or a little-known, esoteric raga from the Hindustani tradition. In both cases, the listener is left groping in the dark while the artiste remains at liberty to do whatever he wants with the raga. The Rudra veena exponent who, like his father, has changed the sitting posture to the one prevalent in the Carnatic tradition, has been lately found revelling in ragas like Natai, Gangeyabhushan, Marwa with two madhyams, Kamboji and such others. For this evening too, he settled on raga Maru, which is hardly ever heard on concert platform. It is said that even a great singer like the late Mallikarjun Mansur had never come across this raga in his life. All that this writer could discern was a Maru Bihag that accorded much greater importance to teevra madhyam.

Bahauddin Dagar played a rather short alap, went into an ever shorter jod, and very jerkily headed into a jhala that led him to a composition where Pakhawaj too joined in. His alap was rather monotonous and listless, meends were perfunctory and one could hardly hear the gamaks for which the Rudra veena as well the Dhrupad style are so famous. Sanjay Agle accompanied him on pakhawaj while Diwan Singh strummed a tuneful tanpura.

Rajshekhar Mansur, inheritor of the Jaipur-Atruali gharana mantle from his father, the legendary Mallikarjun Mansur, too, was rather disappointing. Instead of choosing a common, full-blooded raga, he opted for the jod-raga Sawani Nat, a speciality of his gharana, but hardly a main dish on the table. Its main constituent Sawani is a variant of Bihag. Unlike Bihag, where nishad is prominently used, Sawani uses it very judiciously and in a very small measure. Sawani, following its parent Bihag, eschews the use of teevra madhyam, and Nat also employs only shuddh madhyam. However, one was surprised to find Rajshekhar Mansur frequently slipping into teevra madhyam. Moreover, he was unnecessarily repetitive in his taans and the same patterns were recurring throughout his performance. It has been a very old charge against the Jaipur-Atrauli style that it is too intellectual and monotonous. One felt that this was true of at least this performance.

In February too, Rajshekhar Mansur, while performing at Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts, had sung a rare raga, Meghavali. He chose it again and doled out the same version. The raga raises its head with Nayaki Kanhda and touches the shores of Megh and Soor Malhar while swimming in the melodic waters. He concluded his recital with an impromptu Kannad vachan. Vinod Lele on tabla and Vinay Mishra on harmonium accompanied him.