As many across the country celebrate Diwali, the festival of lights, Maharashtra sees a spate of Diwali pahaat concerts that feature musical fare ranging from Marathi natyapad or theatre songs and old Marathi non-film and film songs to classical music. This phenomenon has been in existence for the past three decades or so. Curiously, though, performers have treated the Diwali pahaat programmes as yet another set of concert opportunities, much like any other the year round. In other words, there is no specific relation between the performance repertoire and the occasion. This could be because there are very few compositions and raags that would be even remotely linked to this festival.
Previously, this column featured Deepavali and Deepak as raags that could have some link to the festival and to lights or lamps. There is also the rare occurrence of a composition that describes Diwali, as is the case with Kumar Gandharva’s creation in his raag Dhan Basanti. But by and large, these are rarities.
What could be the reason for this absence from the Hindustani repertoire? Why is it that compositions have not described festivities that took place during this period? Is it because the festival was not as popular as was the case with Holi? Or was it as noisy as it is today to prevent musicians from being inspired enough to create compositions specifically for this occasion?
Nazeer Akbarabadi (1735-1830) describes Diwali celebrations in his famous poem:
The Haveli sangeet tradition of the Vaishnav temples of North India also have special song-texts that allude to Diwali. But I have yet to come across many compositions in the Hindustani repertoire that resonate such impressions.
Interestingly, mention of the burning of lamps signifying a celebratory moment or a moment of veneration is often heard in song-texts that are related to Sufism. Music educationist Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande’s famous six-volume compendium of compositions titled Kramik Pustak Malika provides the notation for a composition that describes the protagonist offering lamps through the day to gain the benediction of the Sufi seer. The composition is in the raag Yaman and is set to vilambit or slow Ektaal, a rhythmic cycle of 12 matras or time-units.
Unfortunately, this composition is not readily accessible on social media platforms. But here is a composition from the qawwali tradition that describes the burning of ghee lamps to celebrate the birth of the Prophet Muhammad. This is sung by the famous qawwal Jafar Hussain Badayuni.