Let the music linger on

Varanasi: Pakistani ghazal singer Ghulam Ali performing at Sankatmochan Sangeet Samaroh in Varanasi on Wednesday night. PTI Photo(PTI4_9_2015_000042B) (Eds pls see story under DES 4)   | Photo Credit: PTI

The Sankat Mochan Sangeet Samaroh is the biggest annual classical music and dance festival of Banaras, and one of India’s biggest. For many Banarasis, it is the highlight of the year, its magic lingering long after it is over. I am one such individual. As a student of music, resident of Banaras, and someone who works for the arts, I have been attending the festival nearly every year since 2004. Even so, attending this year, I was inspired all over again, and convinced of its uniqueness and importance.

The festival attracted particular attention this year in the national media because of Ghulam Ali. It was the first time that a Pakistani, artist of such popularity, performed. Apparently, he himself called Vishwambharnath Mishra, the festival’s main organiser and head priest of Sankat Mochan Temple, its venue, expressing his desire to sing.

Like the other performers, Ghulam Ali did not charge his normal fee. Each year top-level artists like Pandit Birju Maharaj, Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia, Pandit Ajoy Chakraborty and Pandit Anindo Chatterjee perform; none demand their standard fees.

More than the fact itself, the reasons for and consequences of artistes not charging are interesting to consider. Pandit Rajan Mishra explains that artists clamour to perform in as reputable a temple as Sankat Mochan and centre for the arts as Banaras. They perform for hazari, shraddha, prem (attendance, respect, love). For truly deep music shraddha and prem are necessary. He adds that the Sankat Mochan stage provides a service to the classical arts and artistes in this way. Because payments are not involved, the pressures that affect artistes at other concerts are absent here — they perform what they wish, how they wish. This erases conceptions of who is ‘better’ or ‘worse.’

It equalises and elevates the audience too, for their responses are unhindered and acquire primary importance. Hence, artistes aim to deliver their best performances.

Amit Mukherjee, vocalist and former Director of Sangeet Research Akademi, Kolkata, emphasises, “What is most important for any artist is the vibe from the audience. Interaction and focus between the artiste and audience are necessary for Indian classical music – they are what create nad brahm (the cosmos of music).”

It was Mukherjee’s first time at Sankat Mochan. He was impressed by the attention and enthusiasm listeners showed — “unmatched elsewhere”, he says.

Banaras has a long tradition of classical music and dance in temples. Ghulam Ali’s performance, for which every inch of Sankat Mochan was packed, dramatically displayed this secular, non-elitist tradition. People without any knowledge of classical arts attended for the sheer pleasure of the music, even travelling from nearby towns – like the man from Ghazipur sitting next to me during the second night, who pointed to the pakhawaj on stage and asked me the instrument’s name, or the frail old man in dhoti-kurta who appears each year.

Because the festival happens in a temple, it is truly free and open.

You can come and go as you wish. Of course, the Sankat Mochan festival has its shortcomings and artists have their concerns and complaints.

But it is important that artists, students, scholars, and people working for the arts, both privately and in the government, recognise how this festival of openness, equality and pure enjoyment makes for an alternative philosophy and practice of the Indian arts that can serve as a model, in many respects, for other ventures.

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Printable version | May 16, 2021 3:19:08 AM |

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