FRIDAY REVIEW

Receiving Mother

SUBHRA MAZUMDAR

Mention the word Durga Puja and at once a plethora of associative images crops up in the Bengali psyche. Though most of this imagery today is related to festive churnings, in a reworked contemporary garb - some crass and some delightfully creative - the unchanged link with this autumnal occasion is the recital of the Chandi Paath. These are the 700 shlokas contained in the Markandeya Purana, referring to the Devi Shakti, or Durga and which is recited and sung, psalm like, to mark the start of the Puja.

The customary recital of these shlokas by priests at the puja altar, like the Indian sari, has stoutly resisted any change in its presentational format so far.

The only breach has been the immensely popular broadcast of "Mahalaya" over all stations of All India Radio on the first day of the 10-day festival. This time round, the Impresario India group staged a Devi Abahan or recital welcoming the goddess, by the renowned octagenarian Sanskrit scholar Pandit Govinda Gopal Mukherjee, with musical inclusions by Swastika Mukherjee and her troupe.

Instead of reliving the dramatic elements of the battle of Shakti with the demoniac asuras and the subsequent victory of good over evil, Panditji preferred to draw attention to the essential shlokas outlining the conceptual nature of divinity as enjoined in the form of Shakti.

Adopting an entertaining and contemporary approach, he introduced the Puranic version of the tale by referring to the dialogue between a dethroned king and an impoverished merchant who contemplate on the nature of Shakti. Thereafter he made pertinent selections of couplets to dwell on the totality of the motherhood concept, the conquest of the asuras, the benevolent and merciful aspects of Shakti and the reassurance that the Goddess would regularly descend to assuage a ravished humanity.

The music, woven into this recital, was unlinked to the hymnal chanting style that accompanies such couplets. An opening Tulsi bhajan on the Devi was a perfect curtain raiser, but the Rabindra Sangeet numbers after that were a trifled contrived. Swastika's vocal timbre left nothing to be desired, but the musical style, medium-paced and sedate, had a languorous appeal that lacked variety.

The accompanists on the keyboard (Rana Datta) and the esraj (Animesh Chanda) were modulated and ably supportive. One only wished these instruments were given a few solo passages in the singing, to punctuate the medium paced vocal recital.

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