The New Year celebration on the 1st January was transformed into Kalpataru Utsav by Ramakrishna Paramhansadev. To channelise the unbridled merry-making on the eve of a new beginning, the day would start with heart-warming rituals related to spiritual fulfillments that lead to unalloyed bliss. His foremost disciples Swami Vivekananda and Swami Abhedananda popularised the trend set by Thakur. Their followers continue to follow suit.

The soulful beauty of the Kalpataru Utsav went beyond measures at Satyananda Devayatan, governed by the doctrines of Sreethakur Satyanandadev, a disciple of Abhed Swami. Since the year 2016 saw the completion of 150th birth anniversary of Abhed Swami, the Utsav also included the ongoing year-long periodical celebrations that will continue till September. As a result, a two-day classical soiree was organised at the sanctum sanctorum of the Devayatan, a revered platform for all music devotees who come to seek the blessings of Archanapuri Maa and offer their melodic obeisance. One such devotee is Hansaveena Maestro Pandit Barun Pal, a senior disciple of Pandit Ravi Shankar. Almost every 1st January he plays this beautiful instrument invented by his world-renowned guru. Accompanied by tabla Maestro Samir Chatterjee, he mesmerised all with his rendition of an emotive raga Jog, replete with alap-jod-jhala and gatkaris, followed by a sweet pahadi dadra. 

Earlier in the evening Sanghamitra Chatterjee set the mood with her mellifluous voice while singing Bangla bhakti-geeti and Hindi bhajans. Another ardent devotee of Maa, Ustad Jainul Abedin and his disciples embodied the age old Guru-Shishya Parampara through their khayal recitals that adheres to dhrupad, a genre that was close to the heart of Abhed Swami.

In the final segment of the second evening, Abedin, a true-blue torchbearer of Agra Gharana, began with an elaborate nom-tom alap in raga Jaijaiwanti, a favourite of Ustad Faiyaz Khan, his dadaguru. Maintaining the original beauty of his tuneful, honeyed, resonant voice, he displayed the finer nuances of his style with élan and treated the raga by following the unique vista that entails MDNS, instead of the commonly used path of MPNS. 

He further established this by choosing compositions which sport the same combination of notes. Abedin took the slow ektal (Piya ham jaani re’) at almost medium pace — a trend followed by the ustads of the bygone era, a trend that demand greater care as the tala-cycles rotate at a faster pace and the unwritten law is to complete one’s innovative piece within one cycle to show the sam every-time.

“Nadan ankhiyan laagi” in teental came next with beautiful bol-banav, baant, taans and soulful pukars. Bivash Sanghai (tabla), Gourab Chatterjee (harmonium), Arunesh Kayal and Arpan Santra (Abedin’s disciples for vocal support) all pitched in to keep pace with this energised singing. The mood changed when he sang an emotive geet-anga-thumri set to chanchar.

Earlier the evening began with Nilanjana Dey’s khayal rendition in raga Bihag (kawan dhang tora in slow ektal, Ali ri albali in fast teental), followed by a Khamaj thumri set to addha and another Majh Khamaj dadra. This London-based talented disciple of Abedin and the late Purnima Chaudhuri proved that she has grasped the nuances of Agra gayaki quite well. With more experience and exposure she is sure to go places.                   

Chowdhury House

Aniruddha and Anindita Chowdhury, the art-loving owners of Chowdhury House, are bent upon transforming this regal property into a temple of performing arts. Their loving hospitality with warm personal touch helped Chowdhury House Music Conference to welcome the New Year with a sumptuous spread of traditional Indian classical music and dance under the aegis of Calcutta Performing Arts Foundation (30 December-1January) and then follow it up with the famed and jam-packed Chowdhury Barir Theatre Utsav (6-8 January).

The hugely attended three day-long music conference had six sessions. Each session was dedicated to a legend like Uday Shankar, VG Jog, Alauddin Khan, Faiyaz Khan, Kumar Gandharva and Ali Akbar Khan. A brilliant Bharatanatyam recital by Souraja Tagore commenced the inaugural session. Chiseled body movements and hastaks, neat footwork, eloquent facial expressions and superbly applied ekaharya to delineate different characters like Krishna, Kaliya and Gopinis remained the hallmark of her presentation. Accompanied by her guru Abhay Pal (nattuvangam), N Shankar (mridangam), Rajesh Menon (vocal) and N Radhakrishnan (violin), she also gave a delightful account of navarasa through “Vishweshwar darshan kar”, a composition of Raja Swati Tirunal.

The highlight of the day was a dhrupad recital by Pandit Uday Bhawalkar in raga Shankara, replete with elaborate alap-jod, jhaptal (Varu rim rig digana) and fast shooltal (Pratham aadi Shiv Shakti). The spiritual ambience created by the reposeful alap and the thrill of rhythm-play with the pakhawaj of Pratap Awad led to encore that resulted in Shiv-panchakshari stotra of Adi Shankaracharya set to raga Shivaranjani. His clear diction made it sparkle like a gem.
Among other younger virtuosos vocalist Yashaswi Sirpotdar (with Hanumant Phadtare (tabla), Anirban Chakraborty (harmonium)) sang ragas Shree and Sawani Kalyan with commendably balanced attention on the raagroop, emotions and skill-play but without being repetitive. Conversely Suvendu Banerjee (harmonium solo) who played Ragas Bhimpalasi and Brindavani Sarang with Rupak Bhattacharya (tabla) was eager to show his virtuosity. So was sitar exponent Sahana Banerjee who played alap in raga Poorvi and gatkaris in Yaman Kalyan, superbly assisted by Ujjwal Bharati’s tabla. Going by the trend she also tried to sing, matching the high pitch of the sitar. This was avoidable. She compensated with a lovingly played soulful dhun set to sitarkhani.

A haunting raga Jhinjhoti, gifted by the singing sitar of Ustad Shahid Parvez and equally sensitive tabla of Ustad Sabir Khan came as the final item of the second evening that commenced with the vocal recital of Alick Sengupta who took the challenge of a last minute change in his choice raga to suit the time-scale due to the changed programme schedule. 

Ably supported by Bivash Sanghai (table) and Gourab Chatterjee (harmonium) he did justice to the afternoon raga Brindavani Sarang; but his Khamaj thumri demanded traditional silsila or systematic progression. One was happy to find sarod virtuoso Pratik Shrivastava completely immersed in his chosen raga Bhimpalasi. Soulful music through gentle stokes was the mainstay of his reposeful alap and gatkaris in jhaptal and teental. Samir Nandy’s tabla was as empathetic throughout.      

An energetic Kuchipudi recital of Bhavana Reddy changed the mood. She impressed with her sculpture-like poses juxtaposed with sharp movements both of which demand great control on limbs. She could do better by infusing emotions that translate into grace. Ditto for flautist Ronu Majumdar. He began well with Marwa alap; but went for only skill-show in Yaman Kalyan gatkari with Gouri Shankar Karmakar on the tabla.

The concluding kajri too could not come out of this heartless exhibitionism. And Agra Gharana exponent Bharathi Pratap seemed to be in the mood of simply aping Ustad Faiyaz Khan’s vocalism without any aesthetic camouflage. Her weak rhythm sense left Dilip Mukherjee (tabla) and Gourab Chatterjee (harmonium) visibly uncomfortable.  

The final day saw Pandit Swapan Chaudhuri reigning supreme with his tabla solo as the penultimate artiste. To honour the request of Vidushi Rita Ganguly, who was in the audience, he played an unalloyed Lucknow baaj replete with traditional compositions belonging to the gharana. Hiranmay Mitra kept the naghma on the harmonium and the Maestro belted out gems having different rhythmic and mnemonic patterns which presented varied aural effects.

Earlier the day began with vocalist Tushar Dutta’s beautifully rendered raga Gaud Sarang. With Pradyut Ray (table) and Debasish Adhikary (harmonium) as his associates, he concluded with an equally captivating composition in raga Jhinjhoti. 

Sitar exponent Tirthankar Banerjee (with Biplab Bhattacharya on the tabla) chose a rarely heard but delicately charming raga Hansakinkini for alap and Madhuwanti for gatkaris in rupak and teental. As was the style of her Guru Jitendra Abhisheki, vocalist Gauri Pathare incorporated a lot of influxes belonging to lighter genres while singing khayal in raga Bhimpalasi but her tuneful voice and sharp rhythm sense made it enjoyable. She also sang two immensely popular compositions in raga Shree. The raga was repeated by the next artiste Sougata Roychowdhury (sarod). Subhajyoti Guha, as his tabla accompanist, was impressive. 

Renowned Mohiniattam danseuse Momm Ganguly did a wonderful job as the compeer of the entire soiree. She judiciously utilised the gap-period between the departure and arrival of the artistes with beautifully drafted introductions of the participants. 

 But a slack time management delayed the final artistes’ recitals to such an extent that one had to miss out on performances of violinist Kala Ramnath (with Abhijit Banerjee’s tabla) and vocalist Upendra Bhat (with Sujit Saha’s tabla). Sadly the standing ovations on request went to the unworthy.