Jalandhar’s Harivallabh Sangeet Sammelan has always been an acid test for Hindustani musicians. The 137th edition of the Sammelan, held recently, lived up to its reputation

Harivallabh Sangeet Sammelan, held in Jalandhar every year, is perhaps the oldest and the most prestigious music conference in the country. Started in 1875 by Baba Harivallabh to pay homage to the memory of his guru and Dhrupad exponent Baba Tuljagiri, who had passed away a year before, this conference has come to enjoy an iconic status in the annals of 20th Century Hindustani classical music. Thus wrote the late Mohan Nadkarni, a doyen of music criticism, in his book on Bhimsen Joshi: “It is on record that almost all maestros of yesteryears from Maharashtra, like Bhaskarbuva Bakhale, Ramakrishnabuva Vaze and Vishnu Digambar Paluskar, achieved all-India fame after their performances on the august platform of the Harivallabh Sammelan. Incidentally, D.V. Paluskar, the musical genius and son of Vishnu Digambar, who died at the age of 34 in 1955, had also his debut at this sammelan when was only 14, and that performance had marked his meteoric rise.” One may add that the late Nazakat Ali Khan, Salamat Ali Khan, Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Ravi Shankar, Bhimsen Joshi, Parween Sultana and many others saw their careers shooting up only after they made their mark at the Harivallabh Sangeet Sammelan.

Carrying such a great tradition forward is no easy task but the way Shree Baba Harivallabh Sangeet Mahasabha organised the 137th Sammelan from December 28 to 30, 2012, was reassuring enough that the tradition was being lovingly nurtured. It was heartening to see hundreds of music lovers listening to Hindustani classical music with rapt attention under shamianas till 4 a.m., completely oblivious to the cold wave conditions. As both Baba Tuljagiri and Baba Harivallabh were devoted to the art of Dhrupad singing, the festival opened with a Dhrupad performance by the Darbhanga gharana vocalist Prem Kumar Mallick, who was given vocal support by Prashant Kumar Mallick and Nishant Kumar Mallick while Kaushik Kumar Mallick accompanied him on pakhawaj. He chose raga Saraswati to sing a Hori in Dhamar and followed it up with a sool taal composition in Adana. True to the Darbhanga tradition, his approach was aggressive rather than aesthetic and at times he as well as his co-performers sounded out of tune. Young Utsav Lal, accompanied by Shailendra Mishra on tabla, attracted the attention of the audience because of sheer novelty as he played Bihag on piano, an instrument so intimately associated with Western classical music. His alap was a little too long and towards the end became rather monotonous. His roopak taal gat had some interesting jhala passages. However, in his youthful exuberance, he went on to play two gats in Bageshri too and overstretched his performance. However, he drew appreciative applause from the audience because of his good command over his chosen instrument.

Chhannulal Mishra, accompanied by Dharmendranath Mishra on harmonium and Lalit Kumar on tabla, was his usual Kathavachak self playing to the gallery. Interspersed with doha, chaupai, Urdu ghazal couplets and such other props, his rendering of a serious raga like Darbari was rather hurried and flippant. He was tuneful but not in tune with the spirit of the raga. After doing in the bada khayal “Ham bharose apne Ram ke”, he sang the well-known chhota khayal compositon “Jhanak-jhankava more bichhua” and followed it up with a fast-paced tarana. He then switched over to Hansdhwani and went on to sing a Hanuman stuti in Jhinjhoti, a Banarasi thumri, dadra, chaiti and Kevat Prasang from the Ramayana.

Bhai Baldeep Singh descends from a long tradition of masters of the Gurbani maryada and is the 13th-generation exponent of this hallowed tradition. As he lost his mother recently, and the girl whose gang-rape stirred the nation’s conscience died the same morning, Bhai Baldeep Singh began by offering his homage to both of them and decided to eschew displaying the layakari for which he is justly famous. He sang a Kabir bhajan in Shuddh Basant, a seldom-heard raga that employs shuddh in place of the komal variant of dhaivat. His style of singing was distinct yet reminded one of the Dagarbani. With his deep and sonorous voice, he brought the essential character of the raga into sharp relief. He further impressed with his rendering of devotional compositions in Kedar, a Durga-imbued variant of Nat, Bageshri and Bhairavi.

Common ground

Sarod maestro Tejendra Narayan Majumdar was paired with Carnatic flautist Shashank Subbu in a jugalbandi, accompanied by Yogesh Shamsi on tabla and Neyveli Venkatesh on mridangam. They played Charukeshi, a Carnatic raga that has found wide acceptance in the Hindustani system as well. After offering a scintillating alap, jod and jhala sequence that was redolent with long meends on sarod and understated imploring on the flute, they went on to play a gat in teen taal and Shashank impressed with his treatment of laya while Tejendra reminded at times of the soft, caressing touch of his guru, the late Ali Akbar Khan. They concluded with the famous Narsi Mehta bhajan “Vaishnavjan to tene kahiye” in Khamaj.

The three-day music conference was offered a befitting finale by Patiala gharana maestro Ajoy Chakraborty who regaled the audiences with his rendition of Basant Mukhari, Ahiri Lalit, Bhairavi and Bahar. He was accompanied by Paromita Mukherjee on harmonium and Yogesh Shamsi on tabla. Among others who gave impressive performances was Shaswati Mandal Paul, who rendered Bageshri, Durga and Sohni Tappa with great poise and virtuosity, at times reminding one of a young Malini Rajurkar. Delhi gharana exponent Iqbal Ahmed Khan impressed with his repertoire of variants of Bihag — Anand Bihag, Nat Bihag and Maru Bihag — and also sang a thumri. Dr. Alankar Singh’s rendition of Madhuwanti Kalyan was soulful, while Sanhita Nandi surprised by her decision to open the evening with Miyan Ki Malhar followed by Basant.