Some of the concerts at the festival named after the legendary Swami Haridas in Vrindavan were of high calibre.

Vrindavan is one of the most important places in the sacred geography of Hinduism’s Krishna cult. It is also the place where the famous saint-musician Sant Haridas lived and built the famous Bankebihari temple. Legend has it that he was the guru of Tansen and also of Baiju Bawra, a mythical character who has been immortalised by the Hindi film of the same name, much in the same way as Anarkali was by K. Asif’s “Mughal-e-Azam”. For nearly 150 years, a music and dance festival has been organised in Vrindavan to pay tribute to the memory of Swami Haridas.

This year’s two-day festival opened last Friday and its highlight was a Hindustani vocal recital by the Rajan Mishra-Sajan Mishra duo who came on the stage well past midnight. They very appropriately chose Darbari Kanhda, a creation of Sant Haridas’s disciple Tansen, and sang a vilambit Ek tala composition “Main bharose apne Ram ke”. With a deep and sonorous voice, the Mishra brothers in unison developed the raga at an unhurried pace in a style reminiscent of Amir Khan and Bhimsen Joshi. Their treatment of bol-alaps was imaginative and aesthetically appealing as also their occasional forays into layakari. The only jarring element was the sudden spurts of increased volume in their voice projection. In higher octaves, the quality of voice underwent a noticeable change and a certain hollowness seemed to have crept in. However, the double and triple note treatments, especially in the aakaar taans and sargam taans were quite impressive as was their attractive manner of arriving at the sam. Their aakaar taans were not very fast but that did not detract from their overall impact. They also sang a drut Teen tala composition “Pratham jyoti jwala” and regaled the audience with their forceful taans and playful layakari. The trademark gamaks of Darbari were also there in full strength. However, one wished they had accorded a little less importance to singing sargams.

After wrapping up Darbari Kanhda, Rajan Mishra and Sajan Mishra moved on to the charming Khamaj thaat raga Jhinjhoti that finds its best expression in the mandra and madhya saptaks (lower and middle octaves). As most of the melodic activity in Darbari Kanhda too takes place in the mandra and madhya saptak, it was musically a very apt choice. The Mishra brothers began with a Khayal-ang thumri describing the playfulness of Krishna “Karat langarai mo so Kanhai” and gave it a leisurely treatment. They sang two other similar compositions in the same raga “Mohan mohe jane do” and “Sagun bicharo re” and attempted some bol-banao flourishes also. They concluded their recital with a scintillating prayer “Jai jai Durge maa” in the pentatonic raga Durga. On the whole, it was a satisfying performance. Ashis Sengupta accompanied them on tabla.

A solo pakhawaj recital by a young Rishishankar Upadhyaya was another highlight of the evening. Accompanied by his mother Lalita Upadhyaya on harmonium, he mesmerised the audience with his great form as well as deep understanding of the art of pakhawaj playing. A disciple of his father Ravishankar Upadhyaya, he played mohars, rela, paran, tripalli and many varieties of chakkardar tihais to showcase his taiyari with youthful exuberance.

Another very young musician also made an appearance on the first evening. Bhaskar Nath, nephew of the late Jagannath, presented a shehnai recital with a rendering of Maru Bihag. After playing a short alap, he moved on to a vilambit Teen tala composition offering a glimpse of the jod section also. His drut composition reminded one of the famous Prabha Atre rendering “Jagoon main saari raina”. The tonal quality of his instrument left something to be desired as it sounded a little too sharp.

An ensemble of vocal performance assisted by sitar, flute, tabla and pakhawaj — called Panchnaad — also presented its eclectic fare in raga Jog. It is a regular feature of the festival and performs every year. It was pleasing to the ear but nothing more.