As sarangi sings
By MOHAN NADKARNI
The Economic Times, September 24, 1989
The week that was took me to Bhopal, where I witnessed an event, the like of which was neither conceived nro presented before. It was a three-day soiree, styled “Sarangi Mela” organised by the Bharat Bhavan Trust from September 15.
The event was something much more than a “mela” as the term is conventionally understood to mean. Looking back, one can even confidently say that the event made history in Hindustani music, in which as many as 150 exponents of sarangi from various parts of the country and also abroad participated in the event. It this had an international character.
The object of organising such a mammoth event was to consider and take concrete steps to secure the revival and rehabilitation of the sarangi in the galaxy of other instruments. Keeping this basic objective in view, the sponsors successfully made the “mela” a truly composite presentation.
Besides leading performing artistes of the instrument from both the classical and folk spheres, many acknowledged experts in the field spoke or presented their papers on the various aspects of the instrument, the uniqueness of its tone, its ability to lend itself to any form or style from blue-blooded ragas to simple, sensitive lokgeets.
The soiree, spread over six sessions in the morning and evening for three days, was aptly divided into what may be called the musical part and the verbal part. The proceedings at each sitting rightly began with the musical part and, at times ended with a recital. In between we had, as mentioned earlier, extempore speeches as well as paper reading, in which some of the eminent performers like Pandit Ram Narayan, Mr Joep Bor, a Dutch performer, author and scholar, as also the young rising virtuoso, Dhruba Ghosh, actively participated, presenting their thought-provoking views and suggested concrete steps for securing the overdue restitution of the beautiful instrument.
Coming first to the musical part: A group of some 15 folk artistes from Rajasthan, comprising sarangi players and exponents of rhythmic vadyas, like dholak and kartaal, presented the item described as “mangala dhwani” to the delight of the packed audience in the spacious, air-conditioned auditorium of the Bharat Bhavan. Another group of folk artistes gave a similar performance to mark the end of the opening session.
In both these presentations, the most striking features were that some of the artistes sand with abandon, even while they played on their respective instruments at various stages. Their high pitched, stentorian voices had virtues commonly found among classical singers and players. Second, many of the songs they sang and played had the district colour of ragas like Des, Sarang and Malar, with all their unmistakable folk flourishes. The renditions were marked by incisive rhythms and pounding accents.
The classical repertoire came from septuagenarian veteran Hanuman Prasad Mishra (Yaman Kalyan and Kafi), Dhruba Ghosh (Shre and Bahar) Sultan Khan (Nat Bhairav and Rajasthani Dhun), Hafizulla Khan (Aneka-ranjani), Abdul Latif Khan (Malkauns, followed by a rare variation of the same raga, Kafi-based tappa dhun, Kamaj-based thumri dun, Bhairavi) and last, but not the least, Pandit Ram Narayan (Gujari Todi, Pilu). All these sarangi soloists played their numbers with a deep sense of involvement, revealing the peculiarities of their individual style and approach. Even so, it was Abdul Latif Khan who, by common consent, proved to be the best sarangi virtuoso of the entie show.
It was good that the sponsors featured vocal recitals, too, to lend variety and also avoid monotony to the proceedings. These came from Pt Lakshman Krishnarao Pandit (Khayal Shudha Sarang, thumri in Mandjogia, Tappa and tarana Bhairavi) and Purnima Choudhari (Thumri Bhairavi, Dadra and Kajri). Their recitals were also upto the standard expected of them.
An interesting item, at the beginning of the final sitting, was a spectacular presentation in group-playing by nearly 90 classical exponents of the sarangi under the direction of Pandit Ram Narayan. They played brief refrains from the ragas Patdeep and Yaman, to the accompaniment of about 10 tabla players. The venue of this session was the expansive open-air auditorium and it drew phenomenal crowds. The artistes received lusty applause from their admiring listeners.
Coming to the verbal part of the proceedings, mention must first be made of the suggestion made by the state governor, Mrs Sarla Grewal, to set up a sarangi centre at Bhopal to provide for teaching and learning the instrument in the authentic guru-shishya parampara way. She suggested that schemes for providing scholarships to young aspirants and also assistance to the families of traditional sarangi makers should find a prominent place in the overall activity of the proposed centre.
The suggestion, coming as it did from the governor, set the ball rolling, culminating in the official declaration by Ashok Vajpeyi, secretary of the culture department, who is also at the helm of affairs of the Bharat Bhavan. The declaration embodied the blue-print for the proposed sarangi centre, explaining every aspect of the working of the proposed rehabilitation programme.
In between came the extempore speeches, presentation of papers and lecture-demonstrations from eminent personalities like Dr Komal Kothari, Dr Mukund Lath, Pandit Ram Narayan, Mr Rajesh Bahadur and others. Each one of them put forth their point of view on how to tackle the question of restitution of the fast-fading instrument. These proceedings were not only illuminating but also held the audience interest. The credit for conceiving and presenting such a mammoth show should go to Ashok Vajpeyi, who himself also actively participated.