A feast of monsoon melodies
By MOHAN NADKARNI
The Ecomomic Times, August 28, 1988
Although the year in India is conventionally divided into six natural seasons, known as “ritus”, it is the rainy season (“Varsha”), which has held a special significance to predominantly agrarian people like us. Not surprisingly, therefore, an immense treasure of songs from pre-historic Vedic times down to the 20th century Tagore has come down to us, depicting the changing moods of the monsoon, in all their sensitivity and feeling.
The month of Shravan conventionally marks the beginning of “Varsha ritu”. In Hindustani music, as also in the popular singing traditions, its glories have been sung in a thousand voices. Over the centuries, the term “Shravan” has come to be pronounced as “Sawan” in popular parlance. In the vast and varied repertory of the music tradition of North India, we find an endless variety of “Sawan” music which covers classical modes like ragas, light classical varieties like horis, thumries and dadras. There are also songs which are not necessarily based on the seasonal ragas but whose lyrical content enshrines the “Sawan” mood.
When therefore, I decided to attend the three-hour presentation “Sawan” at the NCPA’s Tata Theatre recently. I knew I would be in for an unforgettable treat. And I was. It was a programe that featured as many as 16 compositions of various types and forms. It was an attempt to bring home the range and variety of emotional responses, in terms of musical expression, to the onset of rains and all that is associated with them.
The show was a sell-out – and predictably at that. In the first place comes the scheduled compereship of the show by men of the eminence of Mr P. L. Deshpande and Prof Ranade who had also, incidentally, devised it. Second, the tremendous popularity associated with the seven artistes who provided the entertainment part – Prabhakar Karekar, Ajay Pohankar, Ulhas Kashalkar, Shruti Sadolikar-Katkar, Aarati Ankalikar-Tikekar and Sarla Bhide.
It was a thoughtful line-up of conspicuous talent from the younger generation which has already made the grade on the concert scene. Together, the comperes and the performing artistes succeeded in presenting the very microcosm of the panorama of the rainy season in its variegated facets.
A somber choral recitation of “Parjayna-Sukta” from Rigveda by three young professional priests set the tone for the proceedings to follow. Deshpande did well to follow it up by the Marathi version of the Vedic change for the benefit of the audience. The item, heard next, came as an utterly charming specimen of teamwork by the seven singing artistes, who rendered a choral version of the celebrated jhaptaal composition “Garaje ghata ghan” in the seasonal raga Megh. They sang their theme in voices imbued with fervor and feeling. We also heard a similar rendering of a tarana in Miyan Malhar to provide the fitting finale to the above.
In between came a vilambit number in Miyan Malhar from Kashalkar with a succeeding drut in the same raga by Aarati. Phankar, who then followed, offered a “Viraha geet”, in Pahadi, after which Sarla came forward with a Jhinjoti thumri, depicting a mood of “controlled” pathos. A “Sawan” geet from the Purab tradition of light classical music was Shruti’s choice. It was based on Des and designed to convey the war-blindings of the cuckoo.
After the interval, Karekar, Pohankar and Shruti came, one after another, to regale us with brief bandishes in Goud-Malhar, Jayant-Malhar and Ramdasi Malhar, respectively. The main idea was to highlight the compositional beauty and rhythmic charm of the bandishes in which three variations of the main Raga Malhar have been sung for centuries. The first two were khayals, while Shruti’s number was a hori which depicted the festivities associated with spring. The apparent contradiction here – between the conventional monsoon mood of the raga and the song content – was sought to be dispelled by Prof Ranade, when he said that it was the concordance of the swaras that was intended to be highlighted.
Prof Ranade also tried to explain, at a later stage, how monsoon songs were not necessarily based on Malhar varieties alone. That the converse is equally true was proved by the bandishki thumri in Des by Kashalkar and Mishra Pilu thumri by Sarla. So was the case with Aarati’s Marathi lavani in Des, Karekar’s Adana drut and Ranade’s composition cast in Bhairav-oriented Gouri.
The presentation served resoundingly to dispel popular belief that there is a paucity of real talent in classical and light classical music in the country. This was indeed the most heartwarming feature of the show.
Full marks also to the ideal instrumental sangat that came from young brilliant accompanists, Omkar Gulwadi and Shekhar Khambete, harmonist Vidyadhar Oak and Baban Manjrekar and sarangi veteran Anant Kunte.