International Women’s Day has been marked in India on March 8 for several years, but it is only in the recent past that the world of Hindustani music seems to have joined in these celebrations. Sadly, much of this has to do with staging large, sponsored events, no different from any other event in the year, rather than addressing issues related specifically to women in general and women artiste in particular.
There is a perfunctory inclusion of women performers in concerts held as part of these events, and in many cases, all the members of the ensemble are women. While the latter is a welcome change, I wonder why this should be restricted only to concerts held on this day. All-women ensembles have been created recently, but should not necessarily be put together only for International Women’s Day.
However, going ahead with our series on music conferences from the past, I thought this would be an opportune moment to revisit a women’s conference that took place in Calcutta, not to observe International Women’s Day but for quite a different reason. This was the All-India Women’s Music Conference, which took place on December 17, 18, and 19, 1954, under the auspices of the Ramkrishna Mission.
The festival featuring women musicians and dancers from various parts of India, was held as a culmination of the Mission’s year-long centenary celebration of Saradamoni Devi addressed as the Holy Mother, wife and spiritual consort of the mystic Ramkrishna Paramhamsa.
Forty eight performances were scheduled over five sessions that were held during the three days. The Hindustani vocal forms presented on the occasion were dhrupad and khayal, and women instrumentalists were also featured. Importantly, a woman tabla player Dipti Roy has also been listed in the second session, which may surprise those who feel that there were no women tabla players at all until a few decades ago.
Sadly, recordings of none of these performances are accessible on the internet, but we will try to include in this episode tracks of some of the featured musicians recorded elsewhere.
We begin with two performers from the first session scheduled at 5.30 pm on December 17, 1954. Sitar exponent Kalyani Roy plays a drut or fast gat set to the 16-matra Teentaal in the raag Yaman on the first track. She is accompanied by Manick Das on the tabla.
The next track is a 78 rpm recording of vocalist Susheela Tembe. She presents a tarana in the raag Bihag.
The second session was scheduled at 8.45 am on December 18, 1954. Here is an All India Radio recording featuring Sandhya Mukherjee, one of the musicians included in this session. She sings two compositions in Mia ki Todi, a raag prescribed for the morning. The first composition is set to vilambit or slow 12-matra Ektaal and the drut to Teentaal.
The third session was held on the same evening. Sarod exponent Sharan Rani of the Maihar gharana presents a vilambit gat or instrumental composition in Puriya Dhanashree, a raag prescribed for the evening.
Well-known vocalist Malavika Roy, who later became popular as Malavika Kanan, presents a famous composition set to Teentaal in the raag Chhayanat.
Another popular performer from this session was the Patiala gharana vocalist Meera Chatterjee, who most listeners will remember by the surname Bannerjee that she adopted after her marriage. Here, she sings a composition set to madhya laya or medium tempo Teentaal in the raag Malkauns.
Unfortunately, I could not trace recordings that could represent the music of performers featured in the fourth session. Reimagining the music from the fifth session, we include tracks by three of the 12 performers featured on the last day of the festival.
Noted violinist Sisirkana Dey, more popularly known as Sisirkana Dhar Chowdhury plays two gats in the raag Tilak Kamod. The first is set to vilambit Teentaal and the second to madhya laya Jhaptaal. She is accompanied on the tabla by Satyabrata Chattopadhyay.
The next track is the famous presentation of the raag Marubihag recorded by Prabha Atre, the seniormost representative of the Kirana gharana today. She sings two compositions, the first set to vilambit Ektaal and the second to drut Teentaal.
The last track in this episode features Kausalya Manjeshwar, an exponent of the Jaipur-Atrauli gharana. She sings two compositions set to Teentaal in the raag Sampurna Malkauns.
Here are some more images from the programme.
One of India’s leading tabla players, Aneesh Pradhan is a widely recognised performer, teacher, composer and scholar of Hindustani music. Visit his website here.
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