Musical feast

The Bharatiya Vidya Bhawan Festival was a feast of classical music and dance, writes Shailaja Khanna.

The Bharatiya Vidya Bhawan, a pan Indian organisation dedicated to the preservation of all aspects of Indian culture, now in its 79th year, held its annual festival of classical music and dance at the Capital’s Kamani Auditorium recently. The opening day was devoted to the Carnatic genre, and undoubtedly the music of the first day set the tone throughout the festival. The first artist, Dr Jayanthi Kumaresh on the Saraswati Veena is today, arguably the finest exponent of this unwieldy and difficult instrument. She handles it with the ease of a complete master, making it look as effortless as playing the much lighter sitar, achieving an enviable speed, and dexterity.

She started with an invocation to the Lord of Auspiciousness, Ganesh, in Raga Hansadhwani, composed in Sanskrit by Muthuswamy Dikshitar, in Adi taal. Her lyricity and expressiveness in music is not only the result of her genes (she is a sixth generation music practitioner, niece of the great Lalgudi Jayaraman, and taught by his sister), but also honed by years of rigorous training. The second piece was also a composition by Muthuswamy Dikshitar, in Rupak taal, in Raga Nattaikurinji. The main piece was in Raga Pantuvarali, also  called Kaamavardhini, like the North Indian Puriya Dhanashri. The magnificence of her thanam has to be heard to be experienced. This experience cannot be duplicated on any other instrument; the depth of sound the Veena has is incomparable. The composition was in Mishra Chaapu taal. She ended with a light folk piece in Raga Behag, composed by her husband Vidwan Kumaresh and his brother, the Violin players. A great performance indeed.

Changing the mood totally was Carnatic vocalist Bombay Jayashri, also belonging to the same tradition of Vidwan Lalgudi Jayaraman and also a sixth generation musician. The musical level of the evening’s recitals was raised considerably by her masterly, over an hourlong exposition of Raga Todi, one of the most complex structured Ragas in the Carnatic pantheon. She announced that Todi had been ringing in her ears all day and she had to sing it. Her magnificent aalap, rendered in her inimitable voice, which has an attractive quality that is irresistible, superb handling of the intricate note phrases of the Raga, leisurely exploration during the composition phase ~ all added up to a very special concert. She ended, with unerring instinct, by picking Raga Khamas (Khamach) to sing a thillana composed by her Guru Lalgudi Jayaraman. The Raga’s purity has been maintained perfectly in the Carnatic tradition, unlike in the Hindustani idiom, where it is usually treated for light pieces. Jayashri’s Khamas was rich, with clean pure lines. The concluding shloka that invoked Lord Rama to usher in auspiciousness was taught to her by her grandfather, beautifully demonstrating how in our music traditions, the transmission from  generation to generation is not limited only to the Guru’s training.
The next day started with a vocal Hindustani recital by Pt Vinayak Torvi of the Kirana gharana, disciple of Pt Bhimsen Joshi, among  others. His rich powerful baritone and special ability to sing his compositions with an unhurried “adaigi” are what make his concerts memorable and out of the ordinary. He started with Raga Puriya Kalyan, a Kirana favourite, “Bahut din beete…”, in teen taal ending with a tarana in ektaal. He presented two compositions in the next Raga Kalawati, ending with a Bhairavi. Indeed a pleasure to hear this understated master with an old-fashioned, satisfying singing style.The evening concluded with a Bharatanatyam dance by the great Priyadarshini Govind.


The concluding day started with a Kathak recital by Gauri Diwakar. This was followed by the presentation of the 2016 Bhawan Samman to veteran Carnatic vocalist T V  Shankarnarayanan. The festival concluded with a sitar recital by Pt Nayan Ghosh. He was accompanied by his prodigy of a son ~ 16-year-old Ishan Ghosh, whose confident crisp strokes and undoubted taalim peg him as being one of the tabla players to watch out for. Pt Nayan Ghosh, whose sweet touch on the sitar is matched with an inexhaustible collection of rare compositions, chose Raga Shudha Kalyan, in a wonderful concert. The next Raga he chose was the extremely lyrical Kamod, in which he played two khayals converted by him into gats.  The first was a composition of Ustad Inayet Hussain Khan, on the occasion of his marriage, dedicated to Shah Sadarang, the next was like  a matching one in ektaal, composed by Ustad Ishtiaq Hussain Khan, son of Ustad Mushtaq Hussain, in honour of his grandfather Inayet Khan’s khayal. It is a rare pleasure to hear an artist, who is careful to provide the provenance of the compositions he performs. This was truly a very special concert, rendered by an experienced master, able to captivate his audience without resorting to technical gimmicks.

The Statesman, Delhi 11 Nov 2017.