Amir Khusrau Project recreates the beauty of the poet-musician’s works

The brainchild of musician Abhijit Pohankar, the project features many of Khusrau’s lesser-known verses sung to contemporary musical arrangements.

Updated - June 26, 2024 12:49 pm IST

Published - June 21, 2024 05:38 pm IST

 Amir Khusrau was an Indo-Persian Sufi singer, poet and scholar 

 Amir Khusrau was an Indo-Persian Sufi singer, poet and scholar  | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Vibrant bansuri and keyboard solos blended well with smooth vocals on ‘Jai Jai Nizamuddin’, which poet-musician Amir Khusrau had dedicated to his spiritual master Nizamuddin Auliya. Composed in raag Todi, it was an appropriate start to the thematic concert Hazrat Amir Khusrau Project, conceived and curated by keyboardist and fusion composer Abhijit Pohankar at Mumbai’s intimate Veda Kunba auditorium.

Abhijit’s idea was to present a mix of popular and rare pieces, with singers Gandhar Deshpande and Kalpana Gandharv joining him. For around 90 minutes, he was accompanied by percussionist Shikhar Naad Qureshi, flautist Tejas Vinchurkar, tabla artiste Amit Mishra and bassist Sabyasachi Deb to take the audience on a nostalgia ride.

Amir Khusrau (1258-1325) was known for making many innovations in Indian music. He created the qawwali and taraana, and is also credited for inventing the sitar. Abhijit has been studying Khusrau’s works for a few year now. He says, “The audience seem to be familiar only with a few of his songs such as ‘Chaap Tilak’. I wanted to do a structured programme, where I would introduce some less known gems.”

The Hazrat Nizamuddin dargah is a landmark in Delhi. Amir Khusrau’s ‘Jai Jai Nizamuddin’ is dedicated to his spiritual master Nizamuddin Auliya

The Hazrat Nizamuddin dargah is a landmark in Delhi. Amir Khusrau’s ‘Jai Jai Nizamuddin’ is dedicated to his spiritual master Nizamuddin Auliya | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Thus, Gandhar, son of classical vocalist Pt Ram Deshpande, followed ‘Jai Jai Nizamuddin’ with the raag Bahaar composition ‘Phool bane sarson sakal ban’. Though singer Raja Hasan’s version of the song was recently featured in the Netflix series Heeramandi, Abhijit’s composition gave Gandhar the freedom to improvise on the nuances. The vocalist was in great form in the 13-minute taraana in raag Malkauns, which began with a bansuri-keyboard interaction and included a percussion solo by Shikar Naad.

Kalpana sang ‘Man kunto maula’ and the bidaai (bride farewell) song ‘Kaahe ko byaahi bides’. Her voice has the rustic charm suited for such songs. On audience demand, she sang her Heeramandi song ‘Ek baar dekh lijiye’, composed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali and written by A.M. Turaz. Though it pleased most in the audience, and it’s a fantastic composition too, it diverted from the main theme.

Kalpana Gandharv singing at the Amir Khaurau Project.

Kalpana Gandharv singing at the Amir Khaurau Project. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The programme, introduced and summarised by host Shwetta Padda, ended with a blend of the bandish ‘Mora Jubna’ and the popular ‘Chaap Tilak’, featuring both vocalists, besides a brisk keyboard solo. Abhijit says he plans to use some Persian composition such as ‘Zehaal-e-miskin’ in the next edition.

For some years, festivals like Jahaan-e-Khusrau, initiated by filmmaker Muzaffar Ali in New Delhi, and the multi-city Khusrau-Kabir, presented by Banyan Tree, have showcased the mystic poet’s works. They have featured different artistes, unlike this presentation, which plans to have a single group for the duration of each show. ,Says Abhijit, “In my fusion projects, I retain the traditional elements of the vocals, but use contemporary arrangements to give them a modern flavour.”

Gandhar with keyboardist and curator of the project, Abhijit Pohankar 

Gandhar with keyboardist and curator of the project, Abhijit Pohankar  | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The son of classical vocalist Pt Ajay Pohankar, Abhijit began by playing classical music on the keyboard. His albums includes ‘Piya bavari’ with his father, blending classical music with Lounge, and Thumri Funk, which had modern interpretations of light classical compositions. In 2018, he started the Bollywood Gharana concert series, featuring vocalists Bhavya Pandit and Gandhar Deshpande.

“It’s a crossover between Bollywood and classical music. I take a popular song, where Bhavya sings it in the familiar version. Then, I look at a classical equivalent in the same raag or thaat. This is presented by Gandhar,” says Abhijit. While continuing Bollywood Gharana, he plans to do more shows in the Hazrat Amir Khusrau Project. “Amir Khusrau’s repertoire is very vast, and there is so much more that we can do. This is just the beginning,” he concludes.

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