Monsoon Music

Every year, as the monsoons draw to a close, and soft tendrils of coolness begin to course through the nights, on a particular day, at a fixed, specific time, the country reverberates to the sounds of Classical Music, of both the Carnatic and Hindusthani styles. The Akhil Bharatiya Sangeet Sammelan, organized by All India Radio, showcases the best performing artistes of these two styles, across gharanas and forms, both vocal and instrumental. These artistes, all A Grade and above on AIR’s own performance ratings, are at the peak of their performing careers, and are, unquestionably, a treat to listen to.


What makes the whole exercise immeasurably moving is the idea that the country, at these specified times in the morning and evening of a particular day, is girdled and knit together by great music. This is witnessed by an invited audience of connoisseurs and music lovers of the particular cities that they are being performed in. These performances are recorded, and gathered, and then broadcast over weeks in the National Programmes of Music, from mid October onwards. This tradition has been going on for decades now.


This year, Guwahati was host to three musicians, on the morning of the September 28. This was indeed a treat for music lovers, for top class Shastriya Sangeet is now rarely heard here. The reasons for this decline in performances are several, and complex. The days when audiences would sit up night after night listening to the best artistes perform in open fields at the All Assam Music Conferences are now long gone, and a distant memory. Of course the audiences still exist, more or less. One remembers the time when a programme of this kind would have Rabindra Bhawan bursting at the seams with aficionados of this music. This year, though there was, towards the end of the programme, a respectable crowd, it showed little of the enthusiasm of former days …a sad commentary of the times.


These days, with programmes being held generally in the evenings, one does not get to hear too many morning Raags being performed, live, on stage. These melodies have their own luminous beauty, distinct from the night and evening ones. The fact that the programme was held this year in Guwahati in the morning, gave a rare opportunity to city connoisseurs to listen to a few popular morning Raags.


The Sammelan opened with Basappa H Bhajantri’s exposition of Raag Todi on the clarinet. This instrument from the West is gradually making inroads into the repertoire of Hindusthani Shastriya Sangeet practitioners, who have worked at adapting it to the requirements of this genre, so that, like the Behala or Violin, it is now well integrated into the system. The tunefulness of Bhajantri’s exposition brought a sense of calm. The richness of the sound of his instrument combined with his artistry to weave a fine web of tunefulness. He worked cleverly around the natural limitations of the instrument, and used it to bring out beautiful meend-based melodic patterns that pinpointed the essence of Todi. The apparent simplicity of his exposition belied the carefully wrought structure of the Raag that he presented, in Vilambit Ektaal and Drut Teentaal, with impressive laykari and taankari. The lilting Mishra Mandthumri that followed was evocative and redolent with “Ras”. Basappa Bhajantri was supported confidently on the tabla by Keshab Joshi.


Rajendra Kandalgoankar chose Lalit as his opening Raag. This fine vocalist combines the best of both Gwalior and Kirana Gharanas, in a fine, timbred and strong voice that is richly nuanced, and melodiously textured. The foundation he built on the lower octaves was carried up to a structure which showed the majestic beauty of the Raag. The artiste sang two traditional bandishes, “Rain Ka Sapna” in Vilambit Ektal and “Jogiya Morey Ghar Aaye” in Teental. He brought alive beautifully the splendour of the two Madhyams which are a defining feature of Lalit, while his laykari and taankari both impressed with their combination of novelty as well as traditionalism.


It is difficult to present two full fledged and major Raags, back to back, and yet maintain their uniqueness by endowing them with very different Bistaar and Taan patterns. The artiste’s next exposition, in Ahir Bhairav, showed his mastery by endowing this other morning Raag with a totally different character, in keeping with its individuality. In his recital, Kandalgoankar was ably supported by Mukesh Jadav on the tabla, in a lively and empathetic manner. Pradyut Mishra impressed with his harmonium support, which was restrained yet intuitive.


The morning’s aural feast ended with Dr Anil Choudhury’s pakhawaj recital. His choutal was majestic and full of gravity. Through the magic of his fingers, he made his deep-voiced instrument sing. His powerful stroke play was complemented by Ghanashyam Shishodia on the Sarengi, while Pankaj Sarma supported on the tanpura.


One does hope that this Sammelan now becomes an annual affair, once more, in Guwahati. After all, AIR has had a glorious history of supporting traditions in music, and it needs to step in here in this region, where this tradition has lost much of the popularity of its glory days.


Mitra Phukan

Mitra Phukan

Mitra Phukan is a writer, translator, columnist and classical vocalist who lives and works in Guwahati, Assam. Her published literary works include four children's books, a biography, and a novel, "The Collector's Wife". Her most recent work is another novel, "A Monsoon of Music" published by Penguin-Zubaan in September 2011. Besides, her short stories have appeared in numerous anthologies. Her works have been translated into several languages. She is the Northeast correspondent of the Chennai-based journal of the performing arts, "Shruti" and a member of the North East Writers' Forum.