Sarod player Biswajit Roy Chowdhury and vocalist Vidyadhar Vyas swept the audience off their feet with their tribute to the raga of the season, Malhar, at a concert in New Delhi

It was a very badly organised but musically very rewarding programme where one was treated to almost the entire gamut of the Malhar group of ragas. As is common knowledge, Hindustani classical music has celebrated the onset of spring and rainy seasons by creating beautiful ragas for them. While ragas like Basant, Bahar and their many derivatives and variants are meant to be performed during the spring, the Malhars are meant to invoke the rain gods and welcome them when they condescend to shower their gifts on us. This past Friday, Prawah Music Society organised a concert at New Delhi’s India Habitat Centre where two celebrated maestros — sarod player Biswajit Roy Chowdhury and vocalist Vidyadhar Vyas –– offered a panoramic view of the enchanting beauty, splendour and majesty of the Malhars.

As the maximum time available was less than three hours and two acclaimed maestros were supposed to perform, it was difficult to fathom the rationale of wasting nearly an hour on speeches by chief guests — one of whom, ICCR Director General Suresh Goel, had no clue as to who was going to perform that evening — a Saraswati Vandana by students that would not have done even a school function proud, and inordinately long introductions of not only the main performers but also all the accompanists. It goes to the credit of both Pandit Roy Chowdhury and Pandit Vyas that they rose to the occasion and gave their best by moulding their performances in accordance with the limits imposed by shortage of time.

The evening opened with a sarod recital by Biswajit Roy Chowdhury with a leisurely alap, jod and jhala in Miyan ki Malhar, a creation of the legendary Tansen at the court of the Mughal Emperor Akbar. Tansen, who also created one of the most celebrated ragas of the Hindustani classical music Darbari Kanhda, introduced Kanhda-ang in his Malhar too with its signature swara, the andolit (wavering) gandhar. However, many a time, when Miyan ki Malhar is performed, the Kanhda component becomes a little too prominent and the special flavour of the Malhar gets overshadowed. Biswajit dealt with the raga in a masterly fashion and his leisurely alap, shorter jod and even shorter jhala were most satisfying. He is perhaps the only sarod player in the country who has been trained in both the dominant styles of sarod playing represented by the gharanas of Alauddin Khan and Hafiz Ali Khan respectively. Moreover, he learnt in guru-shishya parampara the secrets of raga vidya from the great khayal singer of the Jaipur Atrauli gharana, Mallikarjun Mansur, for eight years. Biswajit Roy Chowdhury followed Miyan ki Malhar with a short auchar in Gaud Malhar and played a gat that reminded of the famous bandish “Maan Na Kariye”. Akram Khan provided good accompaniment on tabla, displaying restrained virtuosity.

Vidyadhar Vyas is one of the leading torchbearers of the great tradition of the Gwalior gharana musician-saint Vishnu Digambar Paluskar whose students included the likes of Omkarnath Thakur, Vinayakrao Patwardhan, B. R. Deodhar and Narayanrao Vyas. Vidyadhar Vyas is Narayanrao Vyas’s son and prime disciple. Sensing the situation, he made a judicious choice and instead of singing one raga at length, he offered a bouquet of Malhars and regaled the audience with some most beautiful bandishes of his gharana. It was a testimony to his stature as an artiste that he was able to erect the architecture of a raga through a bandish sung for a mere ten minutes or so. The attractive uthaan of his Megh Malhar jhaptal composition “Garje Ghata Ghanghor” that he began with enchanting gamaks and a Dhrupad-like short alapchari was a treat to listeners. He took out a drut teentaal bandish from the Gwalior treasure trove “Maan Chamke Bijuriya” and showed how the aggressive Gwalior style can be combined very beautifully with a delicate approach of nuanced singing, paying good attention to every aspect to bring out the essential character of the raga as well as bandish. He sang Gwalior gharana’s taksali compositions in Sur Malhar, Gaud Malhar, Jayant Malhar (a Malhar variant incorporating Jaijaiwanti) and Ramdasi Malhar.

He rounded off his concert with a scintillating tarana in Miyan ki Malhar, bringing the evening to a full circle. He was ably accompanied by Akhtar Hasan on table and Vinay Mishra on harmonium.