The 40th edition of Surashree Kesarbai Kerkar Sangeet Samaroh brought together musicians from all gharanas
How does one describe the sublime? It is the coming together of the aesthetic and ethical, it is the judicious combination of sensibility and representation, a feeling that releases the perceiver from the constraints of human condition — to list a few. The 40th edition of Surashree Kesarbai Kerkar Sangeet Samaroh, an annual festival of music hosted by Kala Academy, Goa, had many lofty moments that took the listener beyond form, beauty, feeling and rhetoric. Music rose above the ‘visible’ taking the listener to a noble and profound state of rasanubhava. It was subliminal.
How do you pay homage to a musician of Kesarbai Kerkar’s stature? Susheela Mishra writes in her essay on Kesarbai Kerkar: “All her life she strove for perfection in her art, and such was her devotion to the musical traditions of her Gharana (the Jaipur-Atrauli or Alladiya Khan gharana) that she never cared to lower her lofty standards, not even to attract a large audience.” An appropriate offering to Kesarbai cannot be imitation, cannot be virtuosity — it cannot be anything less than the sacred. The Sangeet Samaroh had ample evidence of this: most musicians at the festival put out their honest selves shorn of dazzlement.
In a three-day festival with so many concerts, it would amount to a mere listing if one dared to write about each one of them. Some musicians cast a spell, and what’s here is a trickling effort to document it. Saskia Rao took raag Puriya Dhanashri to new depths with her scintillating rendition on the Indian cello in a jugalbandi with Pt. Shubhendra Rao, her spouse and renowned sitarist. A pious and sincere musician, Pt. Shubhendra’s music is richly evocative. Despite training under a legendary guru, Pt. Ravi Shankar, Pt. Shubhendra is an original thinker. His narrative was reflective and absorbed However, it was clearly Saskia’s day — the richness she brought to the rendition created an atmosphere of a symphony of cellos. Endowed with an insightful vision, Saskia yoked the mood of the raag with the soundscapes produced by her wonderful instrument. With a Dhrupad aesthetic, typical of the Maihar gharana — the rhythmic variations in the jod section, the brilliant interpretations and the silence they could infuse even when they picked speed, caused deep inner stirrings. Saskia’s profound musical self built an overarching mood of contemplation, exploring microtonal intervals in different melodic configurations. It was not merely a rich portrayal of a raga, but of conviction, courage and imagination.
Poornima Bhat Kulkarni and Shalmalee Joshi were equally stunning. Music, in these artistes, was a natural outpouring of their sadhana. As they sang, they plunged into depths, and dared to scale new heights. Poornima – with her robust and well-toned voice — rendered Shivmat Bhairav, made immortal by Pt. Mallikarjun Mansur. The raag is a combination of Bhairav, Bhairavi and Todi and more or less creates the atmosphere of Bhairav, barring a few deviations. In a style that is strongly Kirana, with influences of Gwalior and Jaipur, Poornima’s approach was methodical and neat. Her rendition of the bandish, ‘Tero hi dhyaan’ was layered, with great control over rhythm. Her boltaans, layakari and taans were flawless, as she traversed the three octaves effortlessly. Her rendition was reminiscent of the doyenne Gangubai Hangal for whom music was presenting the knowledge imbibed from her gurus and less as personal achievement. Quiet practitioners like Poornima are custodians of great musical traditions.
Shalmalee Joshi’s Yamani Bilaval bandish, ‘Prem galiyan mein’ took a while to warm up, but the later stages were pure delight. With a fluid and open-throated voice, her rendition was charged with beautiful layakari, immaculate taans. In her singing that stressed the emotional, Shalmalee seemed like she was on a melodic quest — it gave her whole presentation a spiritual dimension. With the joy of a seeker in her singing, she kept the audience enraptured.
Not all great gurus are fortunate to have worthy disciples, but Pt. Ajoy Chakrabarty certainly is, and so are Pt. Rajan and Sajan Mishra. In fact, speaking of Anol Chatterjee, Pt. Ajoy Chakrabarty says, “Whenever I listen to Anol, who is like my son, I feel raga music is in safe hands.” A competent scholar and practitioner, Anol Chatterjee is a fine blend of intellect and emotion, skill and soul. In a detailed exposition of Miya Ki Todi, he unravelled note by note to create a tapestry of longing. He dressed up every detail, interpreting it luxuriantly. With superb voice control, he peaked and mellowed notes to create different emotional effects. He improvised on the shadja (sa), caressing the contours of other notes, at once expanding the meaning of the stationary nature of shadja itself. Anol Chatterjee’s imagination is complex, rendition effortless. He is easily among the best musicians of our times.
For those who heard Diwakar and Prabhakar Kashyap for the first time – Kashyap Bandhus — it was mesmerising. Torchbearers of the legacy of khyal virtuosos Pt. Rajan and Sajan Mishra, their elucidation of raag Patdeep was like fine filigree. In no hurry to reveal the hidden depths of the melody, they created a sound narrative of long pauses, silences, a sudden surge and a fade out. The dhrut bandish changed the momentum with beautiful taans and layakari. The articulate Diwakar, even demonstrated typical Banarasi taans to great appreciation. There was no sense of competition between the brothers. They participated in the musical journey like true collaborators, inspiring and understanding each other’s music.
Of tall order
Musicians like Pt. Ram Deshpande are great assets to the musical tradition of India. Trained in Gwalior, Jaipur and Agra gharanas by maestros, he presented a Dhanashri, predominantly Agra in style. Accompanied by his son Gandhar Deshpande, robust imagination and vitality were the hallmarks of the concert. There was not a single moment when the energy dipped, in fact, it steadily progressed to a crescendo. Laya came alive in his melodic treatment Marwa was poignant as well as a structural beauty.
The majestic movements of their meditative music spoke of the legendary status of Pt. Rajan and Sajan Mishra. The tehraav, murkhis, sapaat and vakra taans were as captivating as their body language indicative of their deep involvement in their art. They came from a position of deep submission marvelling at every musical grace that came their way that evening. This was true of Pt. Venkatesh Kumar as well — his rendition of Chayanat was a rich structure of ideas. Sans frills, his music upheld laya and lalithya. He rendered the immortal bandish, ‘Jhanan jhanan jhanan baje’ reminiscent of Nisar Hussain Khan saab and Malavika Kanan.
A special mention must be made of Prachi Jathar, the young vocalist from Goa, who gave a fine start to the festival. Bestowed with a good voice and temperament, she sang a moving Yaman. Milan Gandhar was a beautiful, bandish-centred presentation. What she needs to build is stamina, and she will soar.
The festival saw some of the finest tabla and harmonium maestros. Most memorable were the veteran Vishwanath Kanhere, Sudanshu Kulkarni, Dattaraj Surlekar, Dayanidesh Kosambe and the renowned Arvindkumar Azad. As always, Ojas Adhiya was a stunner.
The festival was successful in presenting the best of Hindustani music — vocalists, instrumentalists and accompanists. For the listener, it was once again a reminder that an experience so transcendental is more than human effort. A samyoga?