Chandigarh is a cosmopolitan city, with citizens having diverse interests. One hardly expected a faithful clientèle for classical music there. However, it was heartening to see a sizeable turnout of culturally and musically literate audiences in the widest sense, on all three days of the 42nd Chandigarh Sangeet Sammelan organised by the Indian National Theatre in collaboration with the Durgadas Foundation at the Newton Hall of the Strawberry-fields High School, Chandigarh.
The Indian National Theatre (INT), established more than half-a-century ago, was inaugurated by Prithviraj Kapoor way back in the year 1968. Navjeevan Khosla, the 97 year young founding member and the present president of INT, shares “the Chandigarh Sangeet Sammelan started in 1978 and nearly all the stalwarts of the bygone era have performed here. He vividly remembers the compelling concerts of Ud. Vilayat Khan, Pt. Bhimsen Joshi, Gangubai Hangal, Dhondutai Kulkarni and Kumar Gandharva to name just a few. The Sammelan was started with a shoe-string budget because no one talked about money in those days. We have abandoned big names now, except rare artistes like Ashwini Bhide who would come and perform for sheer love of music, accepting whatever we could offer.”
Most welcome and a surprising fact remains that the Sammelan has maintained its high standards without compromising on quality. Both Khosla and the honorary secretary, Vinita Gupta take the trouble to listen to hundreds of young artists with potential and select those who could meet the benchmark of the festival
Shalmali Joshi, for instance, who reached the festival to its climax with her seasoned voice, consummate musicianship and exhaustive repertoire, was totally a new name for many. Accompanied on tabla by her son Tejovrish Joshi and on harmonium by Paromita Mukherjee, Shalmali gave a riveting performance of uncommon varieties of Bilawal. The concert not just entertained but also had substance.
Introducing each variety rendered, she opened with Yamani-Bilawal, first demonstrating Yaman then Bilawal and then the combination of both, before elaborating the Jod-raga with a bada khayal, “Prem galiyan mein…”, set to Bilambit Teentala and a Tarana composed by her husband Sunil Joshi. The unhurried pace of rendering the khayal traversed the interior crevices of the raga during the aalap-barhat followed by the bol-vistar and the umpteen varieties of taans, executed with effortless ease. The exquisite Tarana also got first rate treatment with short spells of Layakari.
The Kukubh-Bilawal next, a combination of Nat and Bilawal, and the following Sarparda Bilawal, a combination of Bihag, Yaman and Bilawal were introduced likewise for the benefit of lay listeners. Paromita on harmonium and Tejovrish on tabla provided the most inspiring accompaniment to the vibrant vocalist. The ragas were rare and challenging but Shalmali took the audience along, encouraging even the two young tanpura players, Monica and Divyashri, to try their voices. This spoke about her compassionate nature that mirrored in her music too. Shalmali concluded with an alluring Alhaiya Bilawal and got standing ovation.
The inaugural evening had vocal recitals by Sawani Mudgal and Ravindra Parchure. Sawani’s Shyam-Kalyan was followed by a rare tap-Khayal, a combination of tappa and khayal, in raga Shahana, a dadra in Mishra Gara, and concluding with a bhajan. Ravindra Parchure presented raga Bhupali with a nom tom aalap of Agra gaayaki as a preface to the khayals. Parchure has a seasoned voice and technical mastery but needs to focus on content, avoiding repetition.
Raghunandan Panshikar, a dedicated disciple of Vidushi Kishori Amonkar, presented raga Yaman at length, followed by Nayaki Kanhada. Shyam Kalyan was repeated on sarod by Chandrima Majumdar but the timeless compositions of Abdullah Khan, Pt. Radhika Mohan Moitra and Murad Ali Khan were a treat.