Anecdotes about the past play a significant role in an essentially oral tradition, as they often not only convey information about undocumented or documented historical events and the narrator’s perspective, but are also indicative of social conventions, political contexts and more.

They suffer the danger of being exaggerated accounts or being coloured by the prejudices of the narrator, but they are undoubtedly invaluable in transmitting information to succeeding generations. It is for the researcher to sift through these stories and make sense of previous events and the circumstances that surrounded them by corroborating with other evidence or similar accounts from other sources.

Batuk Diwanji (1918-2014), a veteran music critic, author, connoisseur, and collector of compositions and recordings, was a great raconteur and regaled friends, researchers and curious music lovers with stories pertaining to Hindustani music. In particular, he was an important source of such anecdotes concerning events and musicians in twentieth century Mumbai and about musicians visiting the city in this period. Diwanji began his musical journey as an avid concertgoer and student of music. He went on to forge close ties with many eminent musicians some of whom were his seniors and others who were his contemporaries. In the years to follow, he also organised concerts featuring them.

Two traditions

Among the many anecdotes that he loved to recount were his memories of the seven-day Vikramaditya Sahastrabdi Mahotsav held at Mumbai’s University Convocation Hall in 1944. In many ways, the concert culture in Mumbai reached a climax with this music festival and touched the lives of musicians and audiences alike. Although, festivals popularly known as music conferences had been held earlier, this was perhaps the first time that a music festival featuring Hindustani and Carnatic musicians was held on such a grand scale in the country.

Diwanji had attended this festival and recounted his memories of the event when I interviewed him in January 1993. According to him, this unprecedented event began every evening at 6.30 and had a morning session on Sunday. It was organised by a Committee comprising of Champaklal Modi, OD Vyas, an ophthalmic surgeon, and a few others. The event was presided over by noted barrister Mukundrao Jaykar. Only season tickets were sold in advance and the ticket denominations were Rs 30, Rs, Rs.100 and Rs 200. The venue was packed to capacity with even the balcony completely booked.

Here is an image of an advertisement of the festival that appeared that year in the Bombay Chronicle.

It was at this festival that Bade Ghulam Ali Khan (1901-1968), reputed vocalist of the Patiala tradition, and Vilayat Khan (1928- 2004), eminent sitar player of the Itawah tradition, gained wide public acclaim. Here are two tracks, the first featuring Vilayat Khan and the second with Bade Ghulam Ali Khan. Both present their interpretations of the raag Bhairavi.

Please note that these recordings were not made at the Vikramaditya Sahastrabdi Mahotsav.