Kolkata’s cultural calendar sparkles with the star-studded annual Swara Samrat Festival (SSF), organised by Shree Ranjani Foundation Trust for over a decade now. After the three-year, pandemic induced virtual existence, the Foundation, guided by the meticulous planning of Pandit Tejendra Narayan Majumdar and his worthy son Indrayuddh, has reached out to other metros as well; and in reality! Thus, the centennial celebration of ‘Swara Samrat’ Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, spread over four metros (Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai and Bengaluru) and ten days, is scheduled to include seventy five maestros.
After Delhi, the celebration at Kolkata also saw Kolkata Mayor Firhad Hakim renaming Lovelock Place as Ustad Ali Akbar Khan Sarani and the inauguration of the 10th year of the Shree Ranjani Foundation at the sprawling Nazrul Manch (15-18 December 2022). Pleasant Surprises This four-day feat struck many pleasant surprises. One was happy to experience a sense of déjà vu in the form of Alam Khan. His uncanny similarity with his legendary father Ustad Ali Akbar Khan’s personality, sarodplaying style and musical temperament took the breath away of people who had seen the Swar Samrat in his heydays.
Comfortable in the soothing company of Yogesh Samsi’s tabla, he gave a brilliant account of ragas Hindole Hem and Hemant with well-balanced emotions and skill. And he excelled in Zilla Kafi. The exceptionally beautiful aochar was steeped in Indian aroma. The slow sway of sitarkhani gave it a liltthat was deeply immersed in memories both sad and happy. Later a bolkari-based bold expression in drut teental, persuasive like a stubborn lover, dispelled the uncertainty and took it along to a delightful culmination. The inclusion of Purab Anga Gayaki, revived, nurtured and popularized by its crusader Vinod Kapoor of VSK Baithak, Delhi, was another welcome change.
Vidushi Malini Awasthi’s multifarious persona as the erudite exponent of this Gayaki’s classical and folk versions in robust, tuneful voice and emotional appeal having the stamp of her Guruma, Girija Devi, did wonders. She came, saw and won the hearts of her listeners hands down with her flawless musicality, steeped in the culture of Ganga-Yamuna region. From her treasure trove she showcased seven precious gems (two thumris, one Sawan and four dadras) while enjoying the Benares Gharanagroomed expertise of likeminded country cousins Arvind Azad (tabla) and Dharamnath Mishra (harmonium). The effect was intoxicating! The young shoulders of Indrayuddh Majumdar efficiently carry the entire burden of organizing this mega event. This is not a meager feat and demands total commitment. His name in the performing artistes’ list, therefore, was astonishing. But he proved that a determined artiste can do the impossible. With Debjit Patitundi’s matured tabla by his side, he very efficiently etched raga Puria Kalyan displaying commendable grip on raagdari and tantrakari.
The Stars Once again SSF dazzled the ‘Ustad Zakir Hussain-deprived’ music buffs of the cheapest Indian metro by featuring the exorbitantly pricy ‘God of Tabla’, albeit to provide support to Niladri Kumar’s stupendously taiyar sitar recital replete with nicely delineated ragas Hameer, TilakKamod and Bhairavi dhun. As is usual, as an accompanist, Ustadji remained unobtrusive and yet lifted his ‘edutaining’ (aesthetically educative and yet entertaining) artistry to a plane where his playful interaction between teentaljhaptal and the swaying beauty of sitarkhani mesmerized his tabla crazy fans. So did Ustad Rashid Khan with his heart-wrenching elucidation of raga Marwa, aided by equally suitable Bandish-lyrics (‘Piya morey anata’ and ‘Guru bina gyan’), Murad Alis impassioned sarangi, Vinay Mishra’s subtle harmonium and upcoming vocalist disciple-son Armaan Khan’s matured responses. To top it all, the singing tabla of Pandit Swapan Chaudhari, perfectly attuned to the ambience, complimented the intuitively motivated vocalist with such gentle artistry that the deliciously somber mood flowered into its full potential. Khan followed it up with ‘Deewana kiye Shyam’ (a dadra immortalized by Girija Devi) in his intoxicating style. A superb laggi by tabla put the final stamp of a ‘memorable recital.
‘ Living legend Hariprasad Chaurasia’s dogged devotion to his flute moved hearts when, despite his age-induced bindings, he touched the soul of raga Yaman. Rakesh Chaurasia and Vaishnavi Joshi’s flute accompaniment was restrained but Vijay Ghate’s vociferous tabla could do better by following suit. One more memorable item was raga Shree, as visualized by Pandit Ulhas Kashalkar. For the first time he was paired with Pandit Kumar Bose, another maestro who, when required, tames his pervasive power and softly sings through his tabla. Ditto with Gourab Chatterjee’s harmonium and disciple Alick Sengupta’s vocals. Accompanied by them, Kashalkar proved once again that despite the relentless search through unbeaten track to find a new angle of his chosen raga, he never loses sight of its intrinsic personality. Though he gave the perky persona of Tilak Kamod, his second choice, a serious look; the sparkling clarity remained intact. His portrayal of Bahar appeared like a king descending down from Shuddh Nishad to welcome ‘Priye charusheele Radhe’ (Sanskrit verses from Jayadeva’s Ashtapadi).
The unique patterns of taans and fine-tuned arrival on sam kept adding thrill to this intellectual rendition. Rhythmic permutations thrive on intellectually challenging mathematical acumen. Despite his simple persona Pandit Anindo Chatterjee is a master of this art; and displays it with exemplary daintiness and finesse. While presenting his solo recital on the tabla, flanked by Hiranmay Mitra (harmonium) and Allarakha Kalawant (sarangi), he played teental and jhaptal with such minute details and sparkling clarity that each nikaas was like a chiseled gem. His claim that tabla of Bengal reigns over the world was highly appreciated by the audience who turned up in great numbers despite the finals of the football world cup. The grand finale of the fest’s Kolkata chapter was scripted in regal style by Pandit Ajoy Chakrabarty. His selected ragas Malkauns and Adana exhibited a few unique compositions of Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan. The Adana bandish ‘Ram chadhyo’ was very much like a famous dhrupad ‘Chadhat ram’ .Lanka-gadh ko’. Khansaheb had openly admitted that he was so inspired by the dhrupad composition’s powerful display of valor that he composed this khayal bandish based on that.
A very young Yashwant Vaishnav (tabla) and Ajay Joglekar (harmonium) played their role as accompanists with elan. After a poignant Bhairavi, encores led Chakrabarty to explore ‘Hari Om Tatsat’. Eminent Bharatanatyam Guru Rama Vaidyanathan, the sole dancer of the fest, added a visually enriching colourful dimension to the stage which was beautifully decked up in spotless white. With superb grace she gifted three new items to Kolkatans. Carnatic Violinist Dr L Subramaniam, aided by his entourage (Tanmay Bose (tabla), Raghavendra Palayamkottai (mridangam), N Radhakrishnan (ghatam)), cast his spell with a Tyagaraja composition (Bahaduri, aditala) followed by his own compositions in raga Shanmukhapriya and self-composed raga Kalapriya. Equally engrossing was Santoor Maestro Tarun Bhattacharya’s heady blend of boldly appealing and sweetly dainty strokes which created the lilting edifice of raga Janasammohini with the help of Kausic Sen (tabla). Bhattacharya’s gurubhai, slide guitar maestro Vishwa Mohan Bhatt played his own invented raga Vishwaranjini. Shubhen Chatterjee’s tabla was tailor-made for his glitzy style.
Kala Ramnath’s ‘singing violin’ was supported by Ishaan Ghosh, a fast rising tabla virtuoso. Her lively portrayal of ragas Madhuwanti, rarely heard Shuddh Varali and Khamaj Bahar of Mewati Gharana, was delightful. The hallmark of recitals by two renowned vocalists Manjusha Patil (ragas Bhupali, Sohini and bhajan ‘Payoji maine Ram-ratan supported by Samar Saha’s seasoned tabla) and Omkar Dadarkar (ragas Shuddh Sarang, Patadeep and bhajan ‘Baje Muraliya’ accompanied by Sandip Ghosh’s sensitive tabla) was their pristine purity. The inspired anchoring of the entire extravaganza by Madhumanti Maitra was a perfect icing on the cake.
(The writer is a senior music critic.)