Resounding music in the hills

THE HINDU, 13 OCT 2017

Shailaja Khanna

An array of exquisite performances by musicians and instrumentalists marked the Shimla Classical Music Festival

As Peter Sellers once famously said “Music is the most specific language that exists; it can say things no other language has words for.” This was proved at the recently concluded 4th Annual Shimla Classical Music Festival at Gaiety Theatre where Carnatic vocalist Bombay Jayashri’s compositions in Sanskrit and Telugu were as lauded as Pandit Ajoy Chakravorty’s Dadra in Brajbhasha; Ustad Shujaat Khan’s sitar did not need words to enthral; he created an almost ethereal atmosphere by his music.

The festival started with Ustad Rashid Khan of the Rampur Sahaswan gharana singing raga Marwa, delineated most expertly and thoroughly; the presence of Ustad Shujaat Khan in the audience perhaps inspired the maestro to greater heights. The packed hall was ecstatic throughout the concert; lines had collected outside an hour before the concert to hear this unmatched vocalist. The next piece was the ever popular “Yaad Piya Ki Aayi”, followed by an appropriate piece in Mishra Pahari. On request, the Ustad concluded with his hit from the movie “Jab We Met”. He commented he had really liked performing in Shimla, and that the audience was very good. On tabla was the ever popular Pandit Shubhankar Bannerji who truly enhances every concert he plays in. On sarangi was Ustad Murad Ali Khan, and harmonium Dr Vinay Mishra.

The next day featured Ustad Shujaat Khan who dedicated his concert to his father Ustad Vilayat Khan, who had lived in Shimla for a few years in the late 1960s. Shujaat started his recital by praising the organisers for strictly sticking to a classical format; this was important to sustain classical music. Full of nostalgic memories of his childhood in Shimla, he said he felt like a bride coming to her parental home when he came to Shimla. The overwhelming response from his audience showed the love was mutual.

He played raga Yamini, incidentally the same raga that Ustad Vilayat Khan had played at his first major concert in Shimla, at the home of Raja Padamjit Singh! His delicate touch and subtle use of notes did not fail to please the adoring crowds. The subsequent pieces were lighter; he sang snatches of “Lajo Lajo”, his evergreen hit, “Vaishnav Jan To”, Amir Khusrau’s “Chaap Tilak” his own compositions in Mishra Pahari among others. On the tabla were Arunganshu Chaudhary, and for the first time, Zuheb Ahmed Khan of the Ajjrara gharana. Zuheb acquitted himself beautifully, combining a gharaanedaar restraint when required, with flashes of tayyari.

The third concert of the festival was by Carnatic vocalist Vidushi Bombay Jayashri. The hypnotic quality of her golden voice as always never fails to totally mesmerise; what was unique in this concert was her unerring instinct of structuring the concert content totally for her hill audience. Bombay Jayashri selected ragas that would most appeal in the hills; she chose lyrics appropriate to the Devi loving residents; she explained in faultlessly delivered Hindi what the lyrics meant, resulting in an instant audience connect, manifesting after the concert in a spontaneous standing ovation. The concert started with Raga Hamsadhwani, a traditional invocation to Lord Ganesh, followed by a composition of Shri Tyagaraja in Telugu. The next piece was in Kalyani, (raga Aiman or Yaman in the North) a raga that brings auspiciousness, she said, dedicated to the Goddess in the Hills, Shyamla Devi (patron Goddess of Shimla after whom Shimla was named) — “Sumeru Madhya Vaasini”.

On request, she sang Raga Nalinakanti, a racily delivered “Manavyala Kinchara”. The mood changed with the reflective raga Rewati, (Bairagi in the Hindustani tradition) a composition from the Ashtalakshmi Strotra by Shri Adi Shankaracharya. The tillana in Pahari composed by her Guru Vidwan J. Lalgudi was masterly; it was a pleasure to hear a faultless authentic Pahari by a Carnatic style practitioner. Nowadays most North Indian musicians embellish Pahari so much that its actual original flavour is lost. Jayashri concluded her recital with an invocation to the Goddess in Bhairavi. A treat indeed!

Accompanying her were the extremely lyrical violinist Mysore Shrikant, whose very touch on the violin is that of a master. On the mridangam was B. Ganapathyraman and kanjira S Sunil Kumar. Her talented young son Amrit provided vocal support.

The festival this year provided a platform for upcoming talent in the form of 26-year-old sarodiya Indrayudh Majumder from Kolkata, son of Pandit Tejendra Narayan Majumdar, Maihar gharana. He played Raga Sham Kalyan, a brief alap jor jhala followed by three gats. Indrayudh plays with maturity; he has a discernible, instinctual feel for music. Combined with good riyaz, and laya control, he is today in the forefront of his generation. Accompanying him was Shubh Maharaj, grandson of the legendary Pandit Kishan Maharaj and the chemistry between the two young artists was infectious.

The second artist of the evening was Shimla’s very own veteran flautist Pandit Sunder Lal Gandharv, of Banaras Prasanna wind instrument lineage. He played raga Aiman, ably supported by his son and disciple Lekh Ram. On the tabla was Rajesh Bhatti. A beautiful peaceful ambience was created with the strains of the flute; the concluding piece was a brief Pahari.

The grand finale of the festival was by none other than Pandit Ajoy Chakraborty. Though trained in the Patiala gharana gayaki, Panditji today has traversed above gharanas in his recitals. He dedicated his recital to the memory of Padma Shri Naina Devi whose 100th birth anniversary falls this year and whose home was Shimla for many years. In his brief one-and-a-half hour recital, he considerately cut short his recital as it was Karva Chauth, and the ladies in the audience wanted to break their fast — the maestro showed his class in a truly memorable concert. Singing Bhupali, which he said was like Pahari, for the hill audience, he created the grandeur of the raga by using the sweeping flow of notes effortlessly as only a true master can. He sang four compositions, including a tarana, an old fashioned “sargam geet”, intervening with interplay with the tabla. His layakari and “bol baant” is of course exceptional. The Khamaj Dadra “Bheegi Jaaoon Main Guiyaan” had been taught to his Guru Pandit Gyan Prakash Ghosh by Naina Devi; he sang this in the true Purab ang. Panditji concluded with a request in Bhairavi “Bhawani Dayani.” On tabla was Bivash Sanghai, and on harmonium the ever dexterous Gourab Chatterji.