Winter Trip (Part 2) : Sawai Gandharva Music Festival

Sawai Gandharva Sangeet Mahotsav is like a pilgrimage of Indian classical music for me. -Ajoy Chakraborty  (One of the performers at the music festival)

Day- 2 (Continued from Part-1) – Sawai Gandharva Bhimsen Festival

The Sawai Gandharva Bhimsen Mahotsav (formerly known as the Sawai Gandharva Sangeet Mahotsav and simply known as Sawai) is an annual Indian Classical music festival held in Pune since 1953. Arguably the largest, most popular, and sought-after Indian Classical music festival in the world, the festival is hosted by the Arya Sangeet Prasarak Mandal (ASPM) and initiated by Pt. Bhimsen Joshi as a memorial music conference commemorating the life and work of Pt. Joshi’s guru, Pt. Sawai Gandharva alias Rambhau Kundgolkar, the festival’s namesake.

An invitation to perform at this prestigious festival indicates that the musician has arrived in the world of classical music. Every musician takes his/her performance in this stage very seriously. In short, Sawai is the ultimate destination for somebody who is interested in classical music.

We were amazed by the huge crowd ( approximately 2000-3000 people) that had gathered for the Sawai music festival. The crowd was disciplined and patient throughout the evening. This was in stark contrast to the response to classical music in our own college. People sitting around us enjoyed coffee, snacks and dinner (which they had got from their homes) as they watched the concerts. More than 90 percent of the crowd was drawn from the local population. There were youngsters, middle aged people and senior citizens in the crowd. Entire families attended the music festival and enjoyed the music together. Music was indeed an integral part of the culture in this part of the country. Hats off to this crowd!

Before I proceed, I must confess here that I know very less/ nothing about the technical aspects of classical music. I might know/ like a few specific traditions, ragas and krithis. Apart from that, I am just another guy who can differentiate between good music and bad music. Like any other novice, I tend to enjoy instrumental music more often than a vocal concert.

In fact we had skipped the first two days of the music festival i.e 12th and 13th December. 

 
Sawai Tickets

Kumaresh and Godkindi: Jugalbandi

The first concert of the day was a Jugalbandi, or a musical conversation between two artists, Kumaresh (a violinist) and Godkindi (a flutist). Kumaresh is one of the most renowned Carnatic violinists of the day. Pravin Godkindi is also a talented Hindustani flutist who has achieved fame through his unique style of singing on the Bansuri (known as gayki style). This unique combination of Hindustani and Carnatic style was expected to be an amazing Jugalbandi ( a conversation in music) . And we were not disappointed by the performers.

The first piece was a performance in Vasantha Raga (an evening raga). It was followed by a rendition of Hemavathi Raga and a short Thaniyavarthanam between the percussion instrumentalists. Fast exquisite tunes from the violinist were as good as the impressive tunes played by the flute

Link to a video snippet- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n6R4C5C-8Ag

Day 3

I managed to get up in the morning at 7.30 and got ready at 8.00. Thota, Dayasagar and I left for the morning session which was to begin at 8.00.Unfortunately we missed Upendra Bhat’s Hindustani Vocals. (Upendra Bhat is a student of Pt.Bhimsen Joshi. His style is inherited from the great musician himself)

Jayanthi Kumaresh : Veena

There couldn’t have been better ways to start a Sunday morning.  Jayanthi Kumaresh greeted the crowd in her suave voice. Her first piece was in Carnatic Suddha Saveri composed by Muttuswamy Deekshitar. It was followed by a Tyagaraja Krithi called ‘Seethapathe na Manasuna’ in Ragaa Khamas.

One could notice that the artist loved every note that she played on her instrument. It appeared as if she was having a conversation with the strings of her Veena. One had to invest two senses to enjoy the concert thoroughly.

The main piece was in Kamavardhi Raaga. However, I loved her rendition of Behag among all her pieces. Raag behag is the musical equivalent of catamaran oscillation on the waves of a jovial river. To allow such music to tickle your heart is a blissful feeling.

This was followed by a Hindustani Vocal concert by Ajoy Chakraborty. However, Thota and I could not appreciate his music very much. In my opinion, Hindustani vocal concerts demand an extra effort on the part of a normal listener. So , we decided to roam around Pune again.

F.C Road, Vaishali Restaurant

This place was about one kilometre away from the concert premises. It had the 3.9 rating on Zomato, So, Thota and I thought that we should give it a try . We were warned by some locals that the place is extremely crowded on a Sunday morning. In spite of this, we entered that place. Thota managed to get us a shared table using his Tulu (language) powers with a supervisor there.

The person next to me asked us if we were from Bangalore. Thota replied that we were from Mangalore, Surathkal to be precise. And then the person told that he too had studied in NITK. I was even more surprised to know that he was from the mechanical department (2008) pass out. He enquired about the various professors in the department. We bitched about some professors and laughed about certain mannerisms of the commonly hated ones. I was even more surprised to know that he was not working in Pune. Common hatred is the thing that unites the mechanical engineering students.

He also narrated about the days when final years used to stay in fifth block and the days when LAN facility was first provided to student , etc. It must have been a nostalgic feeling to him as well. To top it all, he even paid our bill. NITK seniors are  the best !

Meera Kumar, Ustad Niyaz Khan and Arshad Ali Khan

We then walked back to the concert venue and attended a Sitar concert by Meera Kumar. It was a soothing performance in Madhuvanti Raga. It was followed by two Hindustani vocal concerts by Ustad Niyaz Khan and Arshad Ali Khan.

Arshad Ali Khan is supposed to be a prolific performer of the Kirana Gharana ( a tradition of Hindustani singers to which Pt.Bhimsen Joshi belongs to). He is a celebrated child prodigy who has lived up to high expectations of his gurus and family. We enjoyed all three concerts and so did the crowd. Each of them presented their music in their own creative way. In short, there was a lot of variety in music festival.

Kaushiki Chakraborty and Dr. Prabha Atre

Kaushiki Chakraborty was a name that none of us had heard before. It was her second stint at Sawai Gandharva Bhimsen festival. So, we had no expectations as such from this singer. Her rendition of Behag was exceptional. I felt happy because I had heard the Carnatic as well as Hindustani versions of Behag on the same day. And loved both of them. She recalled the love and support that her mentors and Pt. Bhimsen Joshi had bestowed upon her. It was an eloquent and emotional outburst.

Kaushiki Chakraborty will be remembered for the song “Yaad Piya Ki Aaye”. Her strong voice coupled with a brilliant control of swaras and the right emotional tone touched every single heart in the venue. It was a performance that deserved a standing ovation (which she eventually received). (It is similar to what she sang at Sawai, but it was even better at Sawai) .

At the cost of missing a Sarod concert, we ran back to YMCA and had our “complimentary dinner”. The last concert is traditionally allotted to a singer of Kirana Gharana. Earlier Pt.Bhimsen Joshi himself used to perform the last concert. However, Dr. Prabha Atre the oldest exponent of Kirana Gharana was the last performer in this edition of the festival. The 81 year old vocalist was nowhere close to the energy of singers like Kaushiki Chakraborty. However the quality and youthfulness of her voice was astonishing.

It was a melodious ending to a wonderful music festival. We had experienced the best of classical music with season tickets that cost us just two hundred rupees. As they say – “All good things are not expensive and all expensive things are not good.” The eight of us walked back to our rooms with a feeling of satisfaction and immense joy.

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