A review of some of the concerts featured at the just-concluded Vishnu Digambar Jayanti

It was a befitting finale to the four-day Vishnu Digambar Jayanti Sangeet Samaroh, organised by Gandharva Mahavidyalaya and Saraswati Samaj, when last Sunday Pandit Vidyadhar Vyas put the priceless gems of the Gwalior gharana’s Paluskar tradition on display at the India Habitat Centre auditorium. It was on this day, August 18, 1872, that musician-saint Vishnu Digambar Paluskar was born in Kurundwad in Maharashtra. One of most famous singers of his time and a great populariser of classical music among the educated middle class, he trained a group of students like Omkarnath Thakur, Vinayakrao Patwardhan, Narayanrao Vyas and B.R. Deodhar — all of whom were ranked among the finest vocalists of the 20th century. Narayanrao Vyas was Vidyadhar Vyas’s father and guru, and the latter was in a way offering a musical tribute to the guru of his own guru. It was a special occasion both for him and his audience.

Accompanied by Vinod Lele on tabla and Vinay Mishra on harmonium, Vidyadhar Vyas opened his vocal recital with a vilambit Jhoomra tala composition, “Hoon to janman chhandi” in Kamod, once a favourite raga of the Gwalior gharana but now seldom heard on the concert circuit. This Kalyan thaat raga, with a beautiful sangati between Rishabh and Pancham, employs Nishad in the ascending and Gandhar in the descending section in their vakra format, thus making the execution of fast taans rather difficult for the vocalist. However, for an accomplished singer like Vyas, this posed no problem, and he presented an awesome rendering of the raga, making good use of the typical Gwalior behelawa, aesthetically constructed bol-taans and taans laced with gamak. He showed how Gwalior too had its own conception of the raga architecture. His artistry came into full flow in the famous madhya laya composition “Jaane na doongi” in which he created a veritable filigree with myriad ways of rendering the words of the bandish while playing with the laya all the time. The drut bandish “Mori nayee lagan laagi re” too was absolutely captivating.

Vidyadhar Vyas displayed his sound grooming by choosing Hamir right after Kamod, as it is very difficult to keep these two ragas apart. He took up the famous composition “Surjha rahi” and expertly rendered it. It was said about Guru Dutt that songs in his films occurred to take the story forward. The same could be said about the intelligent use of sargam in Vyas’s singing. He also sang a Sadarang composition and a scintillating tarana before rounding off his concert with a Tulsidas bhajan, “Jab Janakinath Sahay Karen”.

Ashwin Srinivasan chose Maru Bihag as his main raga for his flute recital and began to play a vilambit composition after rendering a short alap. Despite displaying a serious temperament, he took time to put his finger on the locus of the raga. He tried the clichéd sawal-jawab with tabla accompanist Rafiuddin Sabri who was unnecessarily loud. He played an Ek tala composition in Chandrakauns raga and concluded his recital with a bhajan, “Payoji maine Ramratan dhan payo”.

The festival had opened with a vocal recital by Omkar Dadarkar who displayed an eclectic style and sang a vilambit and a drut composition in Marwa with competence. Endowed with a wholesome, resonant voice, his singing was neat yet not very inspiring. Too much reliance on ‘pukar’ and touching high notes was a little jarring, though his bol-taans and Gwalior style treatment of laya were attractive. He concluded his recital with a Mishra Pilu thumri written and composed by the reigning queen of the genre, Girija Devi. Though he said that Girija Devi herself had taught him this thumri, his rendering of it had nothing to write home about. Sanjay Adhikari and Vinay Mishra accompanied him on tabla and harmonium respectively.

Sitarist Kushal Das from Kolkata said since it was Independence Day, he would play Malkauns as it offered utmost freedom. He was right, as this Bhairavi thaat pentatonic raga happens to be the only raga in which each one of the swaras can be a nyasa location (resting place). He played an elaborate alap followed by a beautiful jod-jhala sequence, according due importance to Shuddha Madhyam. However, after a proper alap, it was not a very happy choice to opt for a vilambit gat as it meant unnecessary repetitions. Kushal Das seems to have imbibed a lot from the late Nikhil Banerjee in terms of tonal quality, tunefulness and handling of the instrument. He concluded his recital with a medium-fast composition in the same raga. Ramkumar Mishra accompanied him on tabla with dexterity.

Carnatic vocalist Sudha Raghuraman, Delhi gharana representative Iqbal Ahmed, Hindustani vocalist Bharathi Pratap and sarod maestro Tejendra Narayan Majumdar were the other artistes featured in the festival.