Vasant Panchami also known as Basant Panchami, the fifth day in the month of Maagh according to the Hindu calendar, marked the beginning of spring or Basant on Wednesday. This day is also celebrated in many parts of the country as Saraswati Puja, when the goddess of knowledge and wisdom is worshipped by devotees.
Saraswati is also considered the goddess of music and is represented with a veena in her hands. Indian musicians, irrespective of religious affinity, revere her and she is often invoked at the beginning of important functions or even at the commencement of a recital.
Interestingly, there is even a raag named after her, but it does not have a long history in the Hindustani system. This is probably why there aren’t very old compositions in this raag.
Firoz Dastur (1919-2008), a representative of the Kirana gharana and disciple of Sawai Gandharva, sings a composition in Jhaptaal, a cycle of 10 matras or time units.
The composition above reflects the mental state of the musician who wishes to swim across the boundless ocean of sound. Dastur presents his vistaar or melodic elaboration in a gradual manner, using the words of the song-text reaching up to the Pancham or the fifth note in the upper octave. Later, he uses solfège and also intersperses sections of rhythmic interplay. He chooses to employ gamaks or oscillations on notes in his taans or fast melodic sections.
The second composition is set to the 16-matra Teentaal. It is an invocation to goddess Saraswati, also called Sharada, seeking a boon of swar (symbolising music) from her.
He is accompanied on the tabla by DR Nerurkar and on the harmonium by Vasant Shejwadkar.
Salamat Ali Khan
Raag Saraswati has also been performed by Salamat Ali Khan (1934-2001) from Pakistan, one of the foremost exponents of the Sham Chaurasi gharana. He is accompanied on the tabla by Punjab gharana maestro Shaukat Hussein Khan and by Allah Rakha Khan on the sarangi. Vocal support is provided by Sharafat Ali Khan, son and disciple of Salamat Ali Khan.
The vilambit or slow composition is set to the 14-matra Adachautaal, rarely heard nowadays with vilambit khayal compositions. The fluidity in the presentation is palpable both in the use of voice and the structure of the raag itself. Salamat Ali Khan harnesses his incredibly flexible voice to leap across several notes deviating from a more sedate image of the raag that most listeners would be accustomed to hearing. The ornateness and flamboyance of the singing, both hallmarks of Salamat Ali Khan’s style, are immediately noticeable and lend a completely different colour to the raag, as is the case with his presentation of other raags too.
The second composition is set to Teentaal. The concluding composition is a tarana set to a five-matra taal that the maestro calls Surfakta and credits Amir Khusro as its composer. Another version of Surfakta is played as a ten-matra cycle. Salamat Ali Khan incorporates Persian and Urdu verses in the composition as he reels off pirouette-like taans that often end with a tihai, a rhythmic device used to resolve a musical idea and land on the first matra of the oncoming cycle.
Popular vocalist Parveen Sultana has a voice that climbs octaves and performs vocal calisthenics. In the above piece, she presents a short exposition of raag Saraswati with a short aaochaar or introductory passage to a drut bandish or fast composition set to Teentaal.
She is accompanied by Mehmood Dholpuri on the harmonium and Mithilesh Jha on the tabla.