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Strains of a raga ... in Gwalior

The Tansen Samaroha, an annual, winter music festival in Madhya Pradesh, is a tribute indeed to a pan-Indian enthusiasm for music-making, says ROSHAN SHAHANI.

The first step ... placing the chaddar on the tomb of Miyan Tansen.

IF you love music, then the place for you to be is Gwalior, venue of the Tansen Samaroha, an annual, winter music festival.

Madhya Pradesh is a fine example of a city reflective of the influences of legend, music and history, and Gwalior, the nucleus of the most sophisticated of art traditions ...

... this winter, we were there ... and surrounded by a tidal wave of Hindustani shastriya sangeet in a shamiana, equivalent in size to two kalayana mandapams, and that had come up close to the elegant tomb of Miyan Tansen.

The four-pillared structure, square and symmetrical, and formal and majestic, corresponded to the musical genres of dhrupad and khayal, is near the more imposing, latticed tomb of Mohammed Ghaus, mentor, preceptor of Tansen.

* * *

The Tansen festival begins with the placing of an emerald chaddar over the tombstone, and as soon as the dignitaries leave and announcements are over, it is time for the real event, for which 1,000-strong crowd has been waiting patiently.

Hindustani shastriya sangeet, draws a mammoth crowd, and it is a tradition in Gwalior for almost all to sit cross-legged, and side by side, on white carpeting, and listening in rapt attention. It is the social event of the year, where holidays are observed for three days — all for the sake of music. The bahana (excuse) is the great Tansen from whom every musician worth his salt claims his/her "tuneful heritage".


Pandit Dinkar Kaikini ... recipient of the Tansen Samman.

Why has Gwalior been an important seat of music?

It starts by detailing the life and times of Raja Man Singh Tomar of the 12th Century. His reign, was "suffused with personal music making as was that of his queen, Mrignayani". Subsequently, Akbar assimilated cultural patterns from earlier rulers, including sultanate kings and Rajput rulers. Architecture, religion, ritual and music — the layering of social customs and adaptations of design was integrated into imperial Moghul courts by the 15th Century.

Tansen Miyan, a poor Brahmin, was one of Akbar's key musicians. It is said that of the 36 sangeet exponents, whom Akbar retained, 16 were from Gwalior. Art historians have commented on the emergence of the Indo-Islamic modes in music. The dhrupad, the moreso and the khayal form were formalised with a classical music grammar in place, by the 18th Century, during the rule of Mohammad Shah Rangile. His court provided extensive patronage for the khayaliyas. Dhrupad, being an alternative genre, was nurtured conservatively in temple and court alike.

When the emphasis is on patrons and court culture, a limited reading of Hindustani music is inevitable. But talk of verbal and oral traditions, the chanting of poetry and devotional and folk songs of the common people, and it gives an impetus to art/music forms.

Pandit Rajan and Sajan ...

Gwalior was affected by invasions and migrations, and grew into a city with hybrid influences. The hybridity inspired crossovers. The allegorical tales of Krishna and Radha constitute a large content of raga/art music. Medieval Indian poetry and musical compositions reveal linguistic and cultural patterns of a society. Simultaneously, one finds a blurring of identities in texts, when one sees a tantric invocation to Shiva or Shakti or a prayer-like form designed as a call to Allah. Other forms like the ghazal — essentially love poetry, and sufi aphorisms in khayals, and the countless mudras made in the name of the composers as Sadarang and Adaarang, determine the complex mosaic that is music on the whole. Gwalior, therefore, is home to the old, the oral, the written and the performing traditions and Tansen emerged from these environs.

A cross-section of musicians — the gaayak and the vaadak — were to be seen and heard this year, stimulating the mind to reflect on the currency of practice or of taalim and musical lineage. In some cases, the performances were careless, humdrum or lacked lustre.

Musical events, are hardly curated affairs; rather, they are an assemblage of ragas, bandish, techniques, perspectives and approaches, to music. But so be it. And for the rasik, the shaukiya, the student and the sadhu alike it is Woodstock.

Consider this, there are over six music maha vidyalayas in Gwalior. A score of teachers, holding private classes for singing and for the playing of instruments, including the difficult, and rare, sarangi or dilruba. Most heartening of all was to see 20 year olds, making attempts to rewrite music hagiographies, merely to make sense and order of the scattered histories and anecdotes that surround the life of the musician-seer.

The Tansen Samaroha, under the aegis of the government, the Allaudin Khan Viswavidyalaya at Maihar and the Kala Akademy is one of the largest of utsavs, for the Government of Madhya Pradesh. The other sammelans and pradarshinis being yet another part of the diversity of cultural programmes initiated in the 1980s. The dance festival at Khajuraho, the Maandu Utsav, the Bhopal annual art exhibitions, follow in sequence to provide winters of joy to the population. The awards follow too ... the Shikhar Sammans for literature and folk music, the Kalidas Sammans for art, theatre and music, the Kumar Gandharva award for young artistes and several others for adivasi and village art.

This year's Tansen Sammaan was awarded to Pandit Dinkar Kaikini. Balasaheb Poochwale, noted Khayal singer, vidhwaan of Gwalior, while presenting him the salutations and honours, aptly said that Kaikini was a "suljha hua gayayak". Poochwalle, himself, a collator and exponent with an encyclopaedic mind, was paying tribute to Pandit Kaikini's wide musical inheritance, from gurus like the lawyer, Bhatkhande and composer, Ratanjankar and the affinities for the styles of Omkarnath Thakur, or Faiiyaz Khan, apart from his own sense of application to a given tradition in creating a new feel to a composition.

... and Prabha Atre.

Students from the Madhav Sangeet Vidyalaya, at first sang an epic-like invocation to Tansen, almost pronouncing this year's samraat.

In the Kedar rendition, Kaikini showed the traditional crisp melodiousness, accompanied by his daughter Aditi and his son Yogesh Samsi on the tabla. He brought in every aspect of his gayaki — a nuanced Agra-Gwalior approach in the rendering of the drut piece, Kanganawa Mora and ended with his own formulation of raga Bayati — a Bharavi mode in a five-beat taal which he has adapted from West Asia.

In State-sponsored mehfils, suitable acknowledgements are made to national integrity, to nationalism and the plurality of identities, chiefly, the elimination of religious boundaries.

Raga Desh was played by Imrat Khan, whose sitar spelt out the raga explicitly, with him singing a few phrases of the gat as well.

Malini Rajurkar

Kaikini's control over his form, lifted the words to a level of abstract poetry where, alliteration of the consonants, played an important part in developing the barhat of sound.

Three singers, Parmeshwar Hegde and Kevalya Kumar Gaurav, and Sanjeev Abhyankar showed meticulous raaga study as a foundation of their resounding performances. They are the new stalwarts of public performances. Ease, mellifluousness and the conveying delight to a pliant audience is part of the repertoire for these skilful exponents..

Malini Rajurkar and Prabha Atre, provide food for thought, as the former developed her Bhopali Todi pieces with a well-enunciated voice and the latter displayed tremendous artistry, with her self-chosen compositional design. Atre hardly touched the upper shadja, nor did she feel it necessary to sing out the antaara section of a composition. The rhythmics and a feeling of completion then emerged in a unique way.

Rajan and Sajan Mishra, with Kiran Deshpande on the tabla built up a sonorous edifice of Yaman Kalyan and a lyricism in the Chhya Nat. The leisured progress, the sensuous attention to phrases, coupled with nuances in phrasing, created the reverberations of singing at a durbar.

Ritwick Sanyal represents the dhrupad baani as an erudite performer. He did justice to his Miya ki Todi and on the other hand, Brij Narayan on the sarod, true to a luxuriant advancement of values in music, built up his meditations quietly, and without thunder. Junain Khan on the sitar displayed a taalim that he has inherited from his well-known father, Abdul Halim Jaffer Khan.

Sharawar Husain Khan, the young sarangi player, and grandson of the legendary Abdul Latif Khan played solo with a personal lila and lightness. He had the audience supporting him all the way. What can be made syrrupy by most khayal or gayaki proponents of any saaz is, in his hands, an ocean of teasing refrains. The time measure, the duration of a phrase or the subtle variation of the mukhada, can open potentials for expansions.

The last programme at Bihad, the birthplace of Tansen was also given due respect with music making.

... and that, the sixth day, was the end of the Tansen Samaroha; a tribute indeed to a pan-Indian enthusiasm for music-making.

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