Last week, we heard two tracks featuring vocal maestro Bade Ghulam Ali Khan and sitar virtuoso Vilayat Khan, both of who gained greater popularity after their successful concerts at the Vikramaditya Sahastrabdi Mahotsav held at Mumbai’s University Convocation Hall in 1944. The account of that event was the result of a long interview I did with music critic and connoisseur Batuk Diwanji (1918-’14).
Diwanji had studied music with a number of teachers from various gharanas before learning from Vilayat Hussain Khan, Anwar Hussain Khan and Khadim Hussain Khan of the Agra gharana. Reminiscing about the Mahotsav he had attended, Diwanji mentioned that all performers were allotted an hour each for their performances and were listed as per seniority as far, as possible with juniors preceding seniors.
The Mahotsav featured performances of almost all noted male and female vocalists of the time, and instrumentalists like sitar, sarod, shehnai, pakhawaj, tabla players, practising diverse styles of Hindustani music and belonging to various gharanas. The six-day festival began with a saraswati veena recital by Venkatgiri Appya, a court musician of Mysore, and ended with a vocal recital by Alladiya Khan, the founder of the Jaipur-Atrauli gharana. This was also perhaps the last time that Khan was heard in public.
According to Diwanji, the notable performances at the festival included vocal recitals by Alladiya Khan and Kesarbai Kerkar representing the Jaipur-Atrauli gayaki, Faiyaz Khan belonging to the Agra tradition, Hirabai Badodekar following the Kirana gayaki, and Bade Ghulam Ali Khan of the Patiala gharana, sarod recitals by Hafiz Ali Khan and Sakhawat Hussein Khan, rudra veena performance by Sadiq Ali Khan, bansuri recital by Pannalal Ghosh, tabla solo recitals by Ahmed Jan Thirakwa and Anokhelal Mishra from Banaras, sitar recital by Vilayat Khan and shehnai by Bismillah Khan.
Other performances that were received well by the audience included vocal recitals by Omkarnath Thakur and thumri singers Siddheshwari Devi, Rasoolan Bai and Begum Akhtar.
Unfortunately, none of these performances were probably recorded. But we can, perhaps, appreciate and recreate some of the impact that the music made by this galaxy of musicians must have created on the audience at the festival, by listening in close succession to tracks featuring some of them.
We begin with the vocalists. Kesarbai Kerkar sings a composition in the raag Marubihag set to Teentaal, a rhythmic cycle of 16 matras or time-units.
Hirabai Badodekar presents her interpretation of the raag Shyam Kalyan. The composition is set to a drut or fast-paced Teentaal.
Omkarnath Thakur sings a composition set to drut Teentaal in Lalit, a raag prescribed for the morning.
Here is a tarana set to Teentaal in the raag Yaman sung by Bade Ghulam Ali Khan.
Faiyaz Khan sings a drut composition set to Teentaal in Purvi, a raag prescribed for the evening.
Siddheshwari Devi sings a dadra.
We listen to a composition set to the eight-matra Kaherva sung by Rasoolan Bai.
Begum Akhtar sings a hori on this track recorded for Doordarshan.
Moving to the instrumentalists, here is a link to sarod maestro Hafiz Ali Khan’s rendition of the raag Des.
Sadiq Ali Khan, rudra veena exponent, plays the raag Jhinjhoti.
Bhupal Todi, a raag prescribed for the morning, is played by bansuri exponent Pannalal Ghosh.
Tabla maestro Ahmed Jan Thirakwa plays a short solo in Teentaal.
Banaras gharana exponent Anokhelal Mishra plays a composition from tabla solo repertoire in Teentaal.
We end with a sitar-shehnai duet. Vilayat Khan (sitar) and Bismillah Khan (shehnai) present Bhairavi, a raag that is conventionally chosen to close a concert.