Writing in The Evening News of India in 1956, music critic Mohan Nadkarni stated, “Sangeet sammelan or music festivals must become a common feature of the cultural life in our country.” Evidently, Nadkarni saw music festivals as a welcome change in the Hindustani music firmament at the time.
On the other hand, there have been other voices through the decades that have criticised the environment that music festivals have created. As early as in the 1940s, commentator SK Chaubey soundly criticised music festivals or conferences. In his book Indian Music Today published in 1945, Chaubey wrote, “An All India music conference, today, is neither representative in character nor symbolic of the spirit of classical music. It is neither music nor conference. It is a pompous show organised by some influential organisers who have either power or money at their command. Long-winded patrons and secretaries inaugurate it with long and boring speeches which are exercises in mutual admiration and in which the virtues of our ancient music are described in metaphor, hyperbole and poetic exaggeration.”
He elaborated: “With the veneer of middle class culture is mixed a sufficient quantity of red-tapism and snobbery. In the royal front seats meant for the aristocracy of good taste and good judgement, sit those who either yawn intermittently or gossip quite garrulously in their more lucid intervals. To them music is a luxury, which they think is quite conventional to enjoy once a year. The rest of the audience consists of many mediocre lovers of music whose applause is more worthy than their judgement.”
To many readers, these comments may well hold true for present-day festivals. But the fact remains that over the decades, festivals or sammelans have become an integral part of the Hindustani music performance situation. Even last year, despite the challenges posed by Covid-19, some presenters chose to organise festivals, albeit in their digital avatar, for online viewing.
Badges of pride
Since the early days, the number of Hindustani music festivals were always higher during the winter months, although it was not uncommon to witness such events at other times of the year too. Better-known musicians could be heard at more than one festival in the same year. These festivals continue to retain their significance in the professional careers of musicians, so much so that the biodatas and websites of many artists list the names of festivals that have featured them.
In our series on music conferences from the past, we continue revisiting the Swami Haridas Sammelan held in 1962. Today’s episode includes two of the performers featured at the festival.
We begin with a sarod recital by Ratnakar Vyas. Unfortunately, his recordings are not easily available today, but here are two tracks (entitled Side A and B), the only ones I could access on the net. The first track includes his presentation of Todi, a raag prescribed for the morning, and the second a rendition of Paraj, a raag usually prescribed for the night. This performance may have been recorded at a morning concert held at the Shreevallabh Sangeetalaya in Bombay, as the announcement between the two raags seems to have been made by eminent scholar-musician KG Ginde, who was principal of this music school. Notably, he mentions “Swamiji” referring to Swami Shreevallabhdas after whom the music school was named.
Listen to Side A here.
While it is undoubtedly wonderful to find such recordings in repositories, it seems strange when the accompanying metadata is incorrect or incomplete. While this may be because the contributor to the repository may not have provided correct details, one wishes that archives could periodically consult practitioners to update the metadata. In this case, the metadata accompanying this recording instrumental recording mentions this as a Hindustani vocal recital, the language as Hindi and the dialect as Braj Bhasha.
Sadly, incorrect metadata is found with many recordings found in Indian archives online and offline despite the best of efforts in many a case. But the reasons for this situation are an issue for discussion on another day.
For now, here is Vyas’ rendition of aalaap and two gats or instrumental compositions set to the 16-matra Teentaal in Todi followed by a composition in the ten-matra Jhaptaal in the raag Paraj. The rendition is spread over two tracks. I am aware that both raags cannot be played in close succession as per the time-theory followed in Hindustani music, but in this particular instance, the performer seems to have decided to include Paraj in this morning concert, apparently mentioning that this was Swami Shreevallabhdas’ favourite raag.
Listen to Side B here.
We conclude with a recital by tabla maestro Alla Rakha of the Punjab gharana. He presents a tabla solo in Teentaal. Accompaniment is provided by the well-known sarangi player Sultan Khan.
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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