ITC Sangeet Research Academy organised its annual MalharUtsav at GD Birla Sabhagar and the two day event was inaugurated by watering a tulsi plant —a powerful message to combat global warming by saving greens for safe living in the lap of nature.

Essentially focused on young and brilliant performers, the festival reserved its final slots for veterans on both days. The first day’s final session saw Pandits Rajan and Sajan Mishra begin with raga Gaud Malhar, replete with three beautiful traditional compositions (Kahe ho, slow ektal, Jaani jaani tumhare mann ki and Balma bahar aayi in medium and fast teental respectively).

They preferred to descend in the lower octave to reveal the features of the raga and treated it with veneration infused elaboration, cajoling phrases, taans, sargams and tihais —as is their style albeit few staccato bolpatterns offered surprisingly new elements by jumping notes.

The learned vocalists, virtual repositories of their Gharana’s traditional bandishes, also sang a taranaset to drut ektal in Ramdasi Malhar (with both Gandhars) and followed it up with another unique bandishin raga Megh that took up from Rishabh of upper octave (Baadar garaj nabha, rupak tala).

As the final artiste of the final evening, sarod maestro Tejendra Narayan Majumdar presented a bouquet of unique Malhars, commencing with Ramdasi Malhar (alap-jod-jhala,dhamar). The raga, as envisaged in Maihar Gharana, stood out for its distinct Shuddh Gandhar sans the support of the komal version, which brings the raga very close to Miyan Malhar.

Majumdar followed it up with Rupmanjari Malhar. This ragais a confluence of Megh and Jaijaywanti along with a little Jhinjhoti,which treat its Shuddh Gandhar in a very special manner with a speck of the komal version. The next raga was Nat Malhar replete with his self-composed bandish set to ektal, having its samon the 10th beat. Another teental gat, with its unique gait of ekwai, was played with sitarkhani theka!Finally, he closed with a duly treated traditional composition.

Both “Young Masters” Brajehwar Mukherjee(first evening, opening artiste) and Omkar Dadarkar (day two, second slot) chose to sing raga Miyan Malhar but in diversely different style-based sensibilities. The heavy gait and sombre character of this raga does not respond to too much ornamentation, neither likes staccato patterns or speed.

Mukherjee’s initial elaboration followed the sanctioned path with utmost care but later lost track due to his ornate style and a borrowed tarana attributed to Baba Alauddin Khan but which actually belongs to his collection from various sources. This translated to Sarang, a part of Malhar according to some. The unique jhala-like vocal patterns at high speed were thrilling no doubt.

Conversely, Dadarkar was majestically and firmly rooted on his Gwalior grooming. He chose three traditional bandishes which focused on mandra, madhya and taar saptaks respectively and displayed different angles of the ragavery effectively. Monsoon’s description in Bijri chamake barase meha and devotional fervour in Mandirwas mein morey(Shahana Kanada) inspired him to sing as his closing raga.

The curious folds of Gaud Malhar, were extremely sensitively unfurled by vocalist Sanjukta Biswas (day two, opening artiste). With her unadulterated Agra grooming, she was on familiar grounds of both melody and rhythm when she played with the meandering gait of the raga.

After the bada-khayal in ektal, her lovingly enunciated Dadarwa bulawe baadariya(Gaud Malharin Khamaj anga) had an irresistible old world charm while her crisp treatment to adachautal bandish displayed unabashed skill. Despite her throat problem, her good intents were crystal clear and left their impact on listeners. She closed with an alluring kajri, rich in emotive bol banav.

Albeit temperamentally very different, both Supratik Sengupta (sitar) and Abir Hussain (sarod) complimented and inspired one another very sensitively during their duet (day one, second item). They etched Megh in alap effectively with an eye on the raga’s sombre character. Gamaks, tihais and mohras punctuated the jod segment while taans and rhythmic permutations became the main components of gatkari, which could do better with well-tuned instruments.

Tabla maestros Samar Saha, Sandip Ghosh, Sanjay Adhikary, Indranil Bhaduri and Ashok Mukherjee and harmonium wizards Jyoti Goho, Rupashree Bhattacharya and Gourab Chatterjee are adept at adapting different styles and forms of music and also go a step ahead to enhance the beauty of the given style. That is the winning point of them all, which played a vital role in making this festival a success.

The lost nayika

Chandra Chakraborty, another brilliant vocalist from SRA’s stable, was inspired by thumri exponent Badi Moti Bai, as portrayed in Reba Muhuri’s book, Thumri O Baiji. She further gathered relevant information from tabla maestro Sanju Sahai of Banaras, and scripted a musical feature Badi Morti Bai -an untold story of love, devotion and sacrifice and launched it during the Festival of Devotion at Morton Art Space, Wimbledon (London), under the aegis of renowned litterateur researcher TM Ahmed Khaiser’s Saudha Arts.

This two-hour long musical, also directed and acted by Chakraborty, began with little Moti Bai’s musical journey under the tutelage of Bade Ramdas ji and later under Maujuddin. After her mentor’s death, Moti Bai stopped performing and became a recluse. It was Reba Muhuri who found her out and became her disciple.

As matured Moti Bai, Chakraborty regaled viewers with her melodious renderings (khayals in Gaud Malhar, Khamaj thumri and Horiwith bhaav, which was an integral part of olden performances). Later as the teacher of Reba Muhuri she sang several thumri, dadra, kajrietal. The death scene of Moti Bai had a background score of Maujuddin’s famous thumri, Bajuband khul-khul jaaye.

Five of Chakraborty’s students played supporting roles under her direction. Aniruddha Mukherjee (tabla), Kamalbeer Nanda (violin) and Rakesh Chauhan (harmonium) provided musical support in this emotion-charged feature, which received a standing ovation. More such artistic research works must come to the fore.