Musical homage to Nehru
By MOHAN NADKARNI
The Economic Times, December 10, 1989
Over thirty performing musicians, representing three generations of vocalists, instrumentalists and percussionists from the Hindustani parampara, were featured on a common platform to pay homage to Pandit Nehru on November 30
It was a spectacular audio-visual programme sponsored by the Nehru Centre in its auditorium, to mark the conclusion of the birth centenary celebrations of our first Prime Minister.
Styled “Naad Ninaad”, the three-hour show, designed and presented by the noted composer, innovator and flute virtuoso, Vijay Raghav Rao, was thematic in content, in that it purported to provide us – as the sub-title of the show described – “Glimpses of our musical heritage”. The presentation however, mostly gave us glimpses of the traditional music of North India, namely the Hindustani tradition, tracing its genesis to the dhrupad style and its further evolution and development into various forms like khayal, thumri, chaturang, tappa and tarana.
The sub-titles thus sounded as something of a misnomer, because they did not touch upon the wider compass of our musical heritage from the South, the carnatic paddhati, as also the folk traditions of the land which are an integral part of the music of India down the centuries.
Nonetheless, to the invited elite audience that filled the auditorium, the extravaganza, with apt cycloramaic effects, came as novel, exciting entertainment that pleased the eyes and the ears alike, with items of choral and instrumental music and solo pieces. The taal vadya kacheri presentation, that came in between, was almost the only number taken from the Carnatic tradition.
Since religion formed the nucleus of all our artistic expression for time immemorial, the proceedings appropriately began with the sacred music emanating from the blowing of the conch. We were then treated to a choral recitation of the primordial “Aum, Aum”, and Vedic mantras by three professional priests. These were intended to highlight the genesis and evolution of the swara-saptaka from a single note.
Incidentally, each item, was preceded by briefs but enlightening comments in English by Raghav Rao throughout the marathon show. A communicator par excellence, Rao’s prefatory observations greatly helped those listeners who were less familiar with the subtleties, refinements and also the complexities of the classical tradition.
As it happens, the traditional history of Hindustani music can be traced back only upto the middle-ages and not earlier – the age of dhrupad. Inevitably there was a sudden switch-over to the rendition of a vocal solo in dhrupad by the eminent scholar-musician, Dinakar Kaikini, in Bihag. Before him, there was a vocal interlude by other artistes, who demonstrated the alap and nom-tom style of singing which always precedes a dhrupad rendition. The use of sargam was quite intriguing, because it is an embellishment totally repugnant to dhrupad.
Be that as it may, Kirana stalwart Bhimsen Joshi came after Kaikini to render a vilambit khayal in Yaman-Kalyan, followed by Ajay Phankar’s madhya-laya khayal in Malkauns, and Ulhas Kashalkar’s drut in Goud Malhar. Sarla Bhide, who then followed, offered a thumri based on Mishra Rageshree, then a Chaturang number in Hameer-Kedar by Vidydhar Vyas and, finally, a Kafi tappa by Sharad Sathe.
Next to come was a sitar trio in Vachaspati by Kartick Kumar and his students. This was intended to symbolise the age-old “guru shishya parampara”. The penultimate item was again a choral representation by Ajay and Anjali Pohankar, Sarla Bhide and Ramanuj Dasgupta meant to be a homage to Nehru. A tarana, jointly sung by the senior vocalists, provided the finale to the programme.
While Vijay Raghav Rao as creative director, and K. Narayan, as his assistant, deserve all credit for fulfilling such a daunting task of organizing the show, apparently at a short notice, it will be fair and proper to take note of the debit side of the programme. Those who have witnessed “Melody and Rhythm” and “Nava Rasa Ranga”, the two similar extravaganzas conceived and presented by Rao’s world-famous mentor, Ravi Shankar, in the sixties, the present show unfolded little that could be called original or new.
Second, there were missing links and oddities in the process of presentation, apart from those mentioned earlier. For example, a brief reference, at least verbally, to the gradual development of the saptaka into seven notes, the controversial jati gayan, as also chhanda-prabandha, the precursor of dhrupad, was desirable.
Third, the choice of ragas and the chronological sequence of the styles that came into vogue after khayal, as also the choice of ragas presented at various stages, was rather inexplicable, even odd. Last but not the least, the quality of performance of the majority of the artistes, not even excluding Bhimsen Joshi, ranged from average to indifferent. The music and even the commentary came from tired voices. Only Dinkar Kaikini, Pohankar and Sarla Bhide provided the saving grace to the show.
All said and done, “Naad-Ninaad” was a concert that was apt to trigger varying, even contrary responses.