Saturday, May 18, 2013

Sankat Mochan Sangeet Samaroh 2013 - Day two

One of the distinctive features of Hindustani classical music is the time theory of ragas. Each raga is associated with one of the 12 time divisions across a 24-hour cycle called prahar. Not just because of the notes used in the scale but also because of its nature - the pakad and its key notes - the Vadi (king) and Samvadi (queen). Thus, while Bhoopali and Deskar have the same notes in their scale, the former is an performed in the late afternoon or early evening and the later in the late morning. So is it with Marwa and Sohini. While Marwa with the Vadi being Komal Re and the Samvadi being Shuddh Dha, is a Sandhi Prakash raga supposed to be performed during dusk, its close cousin Sohini  with Vadi Dha and Samvadi Ga is is associated with very late night / pre-dawn, the last or eighth period of day, roughly from 3-6AM.

Courtesy ITC SRA
No matter how accomplished an artist is, she is not expected to flout the time theory, and there is a reason. The root of Hindustani music is lies in Nature. The subtle sounds of nature, including the primordial sound of the Universe - Aum - has gone into synthesis of the ragas by the intuitive higher-selves of rishis and munis to ensure that they are, when performed, in perfect harmony with the universal vibrations at all times of the day and across all seasons. Moreover, human beings, as a part of nature also correspond / align to these temporal and seasonal vibrations through certain combinations of the seven chakras - each chakra corresponding to one of the seven notes. 

The first principles of dharma are expected to be followed to enable us be in harmony with the spirit of the Universe. And only when one is in perfect harmony with this spirit, the space of awareness in which the soul of music can manifest, gets invoked. 

When Pandit Vishwanath decided to sing Raga Marwa late in the night, it was therefore quite a surprise. Despite his mastery and attempts to be honest with the rendition of this rather difficult raga, it was not really gelling well with the overall ambiance - both his inner ambiance as well as the outer ambiance. That's why there seemed to be so much of attempt, so much of effort. A wonderful mellifluous voice that he is gifted with and his ability to connect to the primordial anahat nada came to his advantage to manage to hold the space. If only he had chosen a raga that was more appropriate to the time of  his performance.
Ronu Majumdar has made a place for himself in the heart of music lovers by sheer
hard-work and conscious effort to build a rapport with the audience. That evening too, in his rendition of Abhogi Kanada - a pentatonic raga that has been adopted from Carnatic music into Hindustani music he was quite industrious, I thought. After a brief meditative alaap where Ronu himself seemed to be communing with the cosmic principle, he, by design, got into performing to the gallery. And that is when he kept wavering from the center, working hard at times and at other times becoming an instrument himself, to regain his spontaneity. 

Hindustani music has inherent in it the inter-play of Nava Rasas - the nine emotions. Each raga, depending on its character, has pre-dominance of one or more rasa and a musician is expected to understand and appreciate that during rendition. To me, Abhogi, by its nature, has a tendency to arouse aggression (Krodh) and a wise performer would do well to tone down such forms of presentation which may accentuate that. I wish Ronu had considered this in his gatkari and tankari. He could have focused more on gamaks in the bass octave evoking more serenity than fast tankari in middle and higher octaves which stroked the adrenaline. May be he was trying to feed into the audience's unconscious craving for baser emotions and gather more applaud than on being honest with himself and the raga. Which could have enraptured the audience differently, in a space of expanded consciousness and stirred their soul. May be.  In his rendition of Vaishnav Jana To I heard Ronu coming back to his true, integrated self as his flute 'sang' this ageless bhajan with oodles of devotion and purity, despite the child like play he indulged in with Ram Kumar Mishra on tabla.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Sankat Mochan Sangeet Samaroh 2013 - Day one

Despite his divine presence pervading the entire space in Sankat Mochan, physical absence of Mahant-ji - Late Shri Veer Bhadra Mishra - with his calm and serene demeanor was acutely felt. A subtle somberness hung in the air, even as everyone quietly went about doing what they were meant to be doing. It was as if we were still being guided by his spirit and were in our own ways acknowledging it. May his soul rest in peace.

The star attraction of the evening undoubtedly was Anup Jalota. Still carrying his inimitable style of setting up an atmosphere of a jivy satsang with his popular bhajans and his ultra popular applaud-drawing techniques of vocal elasticity, he kept the motley benarasi crowd in good humor.

The rest of the evening was staging newcomers and promising talents. 

Akash, an teenager from Bangalore made a brave and honest attempt with his flute to jam up with Bhaskarnath's shehani as they gradually unfolded the intricacies of raga Jog, with justified caution. Submitting to rigor and staying within the bounds to not risk contamination of a raga often brings out its essence. Akash and Bhaskar aptly displayed this ability and must say, even as budding talent, were considerably appreciate and applauded by a rather sensitive and sensing audience. 

The samaroh staged another flautist duo - two sisters - Suchismita & Devpriya - able disciples of Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia. It was their maiden stage performance at the sangeet samaroh which was obvious from the initial hiccups in exposition of raga Bageshree they experienced. The mystical energy of the space has the ability to hold those who surrender with humility. It happened with the two sisters soon getting centered and finding the notes mellifluously flowing out of their instruments. Influence of Hari-ji's style was unmistakable. And yet lacked the 'aha' that he left the audiences with, even a decade back. Is it about seasoning , maturity and sadhana? Or is it also about ones emotional location, one's intent and commitment to make music a passage unto the primordial silence, the un-struck sound of Aum?

While on the one hand the space comes with the compassion to hold and uphold the humble and honest, it is also can be ruthless in teaching valuable lessons to those get carried away with their performer-ship. The space has little consideration for lineage, school and heritage one comes from. What matters is the emotional location of the artist in the 'here and now'. This, for the nth time was experienced when Abhay Rustom Sapori - son of much loved and revered Pandit Bhajan Sapori took the stage. Choosing to play a rare evening raga Saraswati after mid night - a raga with a rather limited range for improvisation on an instrument like santoor with limitations of glide, was in itself a statement. The 45 min of alap and jor, though 'executed' with impeccable dexterity, left the audience with a sense of incompleteness. And the four compositions that followed were just an extension of the same display of dexterity - this time with tempo and rhythm. Choosing limits to display effort and technical mastery of transcending those limits could be a good way to tease the intellect of a critic but may not be the best way to home into a human heart and definitely not a sufiana way of loosing oneself in the ocean of divinity.

Where music is an offering to Divinity ...

... where soul meets the symphony, where devotion pours from dedication and where the cosmic presence serenades with human endeavor.

Shri Sankat Mochan Sangeet Samaroh (SSMSS). If there is a Woodstock in India, it is this.

A five-day music conference, SSMSS started about 90 years back as as a part of a 9-day Hanumad Jayanti celebration, held in the pristine ambiance of  the Sankat Mochan temple, located in the holy city of Benares, India. What is unique about this event is that it is by design a mystical space for even the most accomplished musician to offer his / her music as seva of Lord Shri Hanuman - who is considered to be an embodiment of supreme talent, expertise and strength, even in the realms of music.

Legends in the Hindu mythology uphold Hanuman as the most accomplished musician, as certified by none other than the sage Narada. The story says that once Hanuman intercepted the sage's path to pay obeisances unto him. In return Narad said, "You will become expert in music.That was the only benediction left to be given to you". 

"How will I know that I am the best in music?" Hanuman inquired. "I am told that you are the best today. So favor me with the benediction that I will be more adept than you in music." "All right, I will sit somewhere and listen to you," said Narada.

Narada put his veena on a rock and sat down to listen to Hanuman singing. So magical was the spell of his rendition that it started changing the nature of things like the rock on which Narada had rested his veena. The rock melted in ecstasy and the the veena floated in the liquid. When he stopped singing the veena got stuck in rock which became solid again. Sage Narada had to concede that Hanuman was really the most magical musician to coax him to sing again, melt the rock and retrieve his veena. 

Here lies the essence of this unique mystical space. It is not a space for musicians to display one's musical prowess with pride and arrogance but a space to acknowledge with humility the epitome of infinite musical talent and perfection while offering one's music with honesty and authenticity.

Stalwarts of Hindustani music have come here to give haziri (voluntary attendance) in baba's ( Hanuman's) darbar (court) year after year over nine odd decades. They have lived the essence And in the process have created blissful experiences for themselves and the audience through their musical offerings, rendered selflessly.

I have been coming to Benares to experience the bliss of this samaroh in sweltering summers of the last 5 years. This year, after having stayed awake for two nights and listened to some of the most accomplished and even a few budding talents at the sangeet samaroh of 2013, I am beginning to get concerned about what seems to be a dilution of this essence. While the organizers have done a commendable job in painstakingly keeping the tradition intact over so many years, it seems some well-traveled musicians of today, smitten by the glory of their global fame, and even some who are trying to ape it as a part of their learning process are missing the point. They are visibly (and audibly) in a hurry to woo the gallery, more keen on demonstrating speed and gimmickry at the cost of the soul of the music - a natural outcome of the musicians' ego. But then there are those who either after a brief struggle to establish the prowess of their performer self, relent to the humbling power of the Cosmic Presence of the space or are consciously surrendered ab initio to this mystic power to allow the music to happen. The prevalence of this neutralizing power is palpable, sometime so overwhelmingly, that sometimes I find 'myself' completely immersed in the shapeless, nameless sea of silence amidst all the symphony.