Bombay Showcase

Songs of devotion

musical evening:The show at Shanmukhananda Hall, Sion, on Friday, will feature Jayateerth Mevundi (right) and Rahul Deshpande.— Photo: Special arrangement  

Spiritual, energetic, uplifting, mesmerising. The Marathi devotional form, abhang, has a charm of its own. Featuring songs dedicated to Lord Vitthal, also known as Pandurang, abhang concerts have the ability to transport listeners to another zone.

Pandit Bhimsen Joshi’s masterpiece ‘Teerth Vitthal’ is a classic example.

Every year, to celebrate Aashadhi Ekadashi, abhang concerts are held across Maharashtra, and even in Karnataka, Telangana and Gujarat.

This year, Pancham Nishad is organising ten concerts as part of its ‘Bolava Vitthal’ series, now in its 11th year.

Tomorrow, the show at Shanmukhananda Hall, Sion, will feature singers Jayateerth Mevundi, Devaki Pandit, Mahesh Kale and Rahul Deshpande. On Saturday morning, the first three will perform at the Gadkari Rangayatan in Thane. And this evening, Happy Lucky Entertainment is organising Vittha Naamacha Gajar at Dinanath Mangeshkar Hall, Vile Parle, with Manjusha Patil, Nandesh Umap, Vaishali Made, Amey Date and Samira Gujar.

These are events to look forward to. They have had a devoted number of followers over the years, but many newer audiences are yet to experience the magic. To explain why, let me give my own example.

Till two years ago, my exposure to abhangs was limited to some immortal songs by three of India’s most legendary singers. Besides ‘ Teerth Vitthal ’, my Bhimsen Joshi favourites were ‘ Maajhe maaher Pandhari ’ and ‘ Arambhi vandeen Ayodhyecha raja ’. The others were Lata Mangeshkar’s ‘ Pail to ge kau koktahe ’ and Kishori Amonkar’s ‘ Bolava Vitthal ’ and ‘ Avagha rang ek zhala ’.

I had heard abhangs at Hindustani classical concerts, when they played toward the end. I had known Pandit Jitendra Abhisekhi, Suresh Wadkar and Aruna Sairam were among those who performed them. I was also aware they were written by poets like Sant Tukaram, Namdeo, Dnaneshwar and Eknath. In short, for this genre, my knowledge was more bookish and superficial than personal and experience-based.

The 2014 Bolava Vitthal concert at Shanmukhananda changed it all. The evening featured Jayateerth Mevundi, Anand Bhate, Rahul Deshpande and the Ranjani-Gayatri duo. There are occasions in one’s life when one suddenly feels like exploring a new form of music more deeply, and for me, this was one of them.

My knowledge of Marathi is very basic: passable in the market or while giving directions to rickshaw- wallah s. Hence, I did not get into the depths of the song meanings. I tried to sense which songs were popular by looking around for the reactions of those sitting around. And though I took rough notes on my phone, I had to check the Internet and YouTube for the exact titles.

Some new songs charmed me. These included ‘ Kaanada Raja Pandharicha ’, ‘ Visava Vitthal ’, ‘ Akaar ukaar makaar ’, ‘ Rajas Sukumar ’, ‘ Je kan ranjale gaanjale ’, ‘ Johar mai baap johar ’ and the Bal Gandharva-popularised Bhairavi bhajan ‘ Aga Vaikunthicha raaya ’. Last year, Shankar Mahadevan came up with a unique composition describing a devotee’s journey to Pandharpur. Sadly, nobody performed ‘ Teerth Vitthal ’ either time, though Mevundi and Bhate excel at it otherwise.

I had one observation. The poets weren’t mentioned. The connoisseurs would have known them, and though the writers normally take their names within the song, the lay listener may skip them. As such, it would be ideal if the singers talk about the composition before reciting it.

This year too, a majority attending will be diehard abhang fans. But there may be many first-timers too. A few words to address their needs would be helpful.

Narendra Kusnur is a freelance music writer

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Printable version | May 17, 2021 7:09:23 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/mumbai/entertainment/Songs-of-devotion/article14487489.ece

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