The Sawai Gandharva Bhimsen Mahotsav 2013 took the city by storm, with the huge crowd a testament to the large number of music lovers Pune still has. Like every year, Sawai never fails to impress and still leaves the audience in a wonderful high. This year’s Sawai was dominated by many vocal performances and so, many were skeptical of the lineup (me included). The music, nevertheless, found its way into my being and proved me and the skeptics wrong.
Even though one is at a loss of words when it comes to writing about the event (I somehow repeat this line each time I write about such musical events), here is small attempt at talking about the Sawai. If you’re someone who has missed it, well, you missed one of the most beautiful moments in life. Here are a few highlights of this year’s Sawai:
A dog makes his way onstage
Outrageous, yes! When I first saw the drop strutting on stage, while the artistes were still performing, I had one of those, “Wait, what did I just see?” moments. When I just thought it was my mind playing tricks, the dog came back again, this time moving in the opposite direction. The incident took place on Saturday, when the evening air was filled with the wonderful jugalbandi of Shri Pravin Godkhindi and Shri R. Kumaresh. R. Kumaresh was engrossed in playing his violin and suddenly, this. Kumaresh got out of his trance and had the same thought that I had before. Godkhindiji took it sportingly and said, “Dekho, kutta bhi jugalbandi dekhne aaya hai”. When the dog made a reappearance just moments later, he would say, “Poona ke logon ke saath saath yaha ke kutoon ko bhi sangeet ki pehchaan hai”. Saying thus, he and Kumaresh resumed their performance, while Ramdas Palsule was still laughing. What happened of the dog later is unknown but the jugalbandi of the flute and the violin had an upper hand, getting a standing ovation from the audience.
P.S.: We do realise, Godkhindiji referred to Pune as Poona. But, Jasraj, Kaushiki and most performers referred to the city as Poona and Punekars as ‘Poona ke log’. Apli itki aipat nahi tyanna maaf karaila kiva tyanna kahi bolaichi.
The first day of Sawai had an epic performance by the great Pandit Jasraj. Since his was the final performance of the day, the crowd swelled past 6. Punekars chose to give up their relaxation post office hours and made their way towards Sawai (no wonder there was a huge jam on route near Laxmi Road). However, Jasraj ji graced the stage at 9pm, giving him just an hour to perform. The 10pm deadline once again played spoilsport but it was also due to the apparent disorganisation that such legendary performer got a timeframe of just an hour. The same was repeated on day 2, when Parween Sultana held the rapt attention of the crowd. She too, like Jasraj ji, had to speed things up and end by 10-10:20 pm. The audiences were left wanting for more and quite frankly, even an hour more would not have sufficed. The greats should be in charge of when they want to stop. Hum kaun hote hai unke samne?
This problem, however, was sorted on the third day. When Gulabrao Pol came onstage and was being felicitated, the audience did not just clap but demanded an extension of the deadline. Pol saheb agreed, and Malini Rajurkar performed till 10:40. What’s more, Sunday saw Dr. Prabha Atre perform till midnight! We wish the golden days come back, when veterans graced stage in the wee hours of 4am and performed till their heart’s desire.
P.S.: No use blaming the police or the authorities. The rules are only due to security reasons and in keeping with the city law that all public events must end by 10pm. The short extension too deserves our heartfelt thanks.
Emergence of the female singers
Feminists in Pune, rejoice! This year’s Sawai was dominated by veteran female singers. Leaving the first day, which had the great Jasraj for the final act, the other days saw Parween Sultana, Malinitai Rajurkar and Prabha Atre bringing the evenings to a conclusion. Sunday saw the very beautiful Kaushiki Chakrabarty rendering the audience at a loss of words and some were seen shedding a tear, one of happiness over the performance they just experienced. Although it is very stupid to categorise performers on the basis of gender, it is a small observation. Music transcends all barriers and all the great women mentioned here are not just female vocalists; they are excellent singers. Period.
Thanks to Sanjeev Sanyal’s ‘The Land of Seven Rivers’, I got to know what Chakrabarty stands for. In the olden days, great kings would take out yath yatras, sending the rath to many kingdoms to testify their hold over various places in the empire. He was called Chakravartin, “whose wheels move without obstruction”. Their symbol was a chakra or wheel, which also appears in the Mauryan columns built during Emperor Ashoka’s reign and are now, part of our national emblem (notice the wheel below the figure of the central lion). Chakrvartin became Chakravarty or Chakrabarty (in Bengali). Pandit Ajoy Chakrabarty and Kaushiki brought their chariot of Hindustani music to our city and quite frankly, won the Sawai.
Sunday saw the father and daughter winning over the audience with their incredible singing. Ajoyji performed during the morning session while his daughter, whereas, Kaushiki graced the stage in the evening. Ajoyji was at his best and was loved by the audience. But Kaushiki, was the shining light on a dark Sunday night. She graced the stage and her beauty had the huge crowd settle down, everyone finding a place to sit in any corner of the ground (literally. Loka kuthehi basun aikat hote). Her beauty on the stage may have transcended to an all new level (such is her presence) but the moment she started singing, her golden voice triumphed over her gorgeous smile. Her performance got a standing ovation and her down-to-earth and modest nature won the heart of everyone present. The qualities she exhibited were clearly what she learned from her guru, her father. And thus, through modesty, love and touch of Indian Classical music, the Chakrabarty’s added Pune to their list of admirers (most of us already were. So, we can say, they won our hearts all over again!). May their rath grace our city each year, multiple times!
P.S.: Sawai is not a competition. No one can win it. Performing here is a win in itself, for Sawai to a performer is what PHD is to us. It adds greatness to the resume.
Music in the young blood
There is a reason Sawai is also one of the most attended festivals for the younger generation too. Show a college ID and you get a pass for a mere Rs. 200. Plus, the list of performers consisted greats who enthral people of all age groups. These are reason enough for most youngsters to attend the musical event. It was a pleasant surprise to see the huge college-going crowd this year, the numbers having swelled considerably, compared to the last one. Those who believed that the Sawai and Hindustani Classical Music are not appreciated by the younger generation were silenced by just a look at the crowd. Plus, it wasn’t just the number of youngsters that had gone up, the crowd this time was a lot more huge. The venue at most occasions was overcrowded, the food stalls literally had no place for people to stand and one had to fight or use all the tricks in the book to get a decent place to sit for the performances. Thus, most of my favourite foods like kharvas, sabudana wada, ukdiche modak would be over in no time and eating bhel/dosa meant spilling most of the morsels for someone was bound to run into you.
The rise in crowd also meant a rise in litter. It is sad that Punekars, people known for their shista, were unable to stand in line or throw garbage in the bin. Hoping the crowd rises but learn something called shishthachar as well. Sawai hi devik dengi ahe, tithe asa beshista pane vagna shobhat nahi!
There is a lot more to talk about the Sawai. Although this year saw more vocal performances, instrumental still found its way. Madhukar Dhumal and his Shehnai were great, Nishant Khan’s Sitar and Anindo Chatterjee’s Tabla was amazing. Though the sitar-tabla performance was to be followed by Jasraj ji’s, the audience were left wanting for more. Pandit Ulhas Bapat and his santoor reminded one of Shivji’s Santoor and the student of Shivkumar showcased his mentor’s teachings. Shovana Narayan’s Katthak performance was graceful, Godkhindiji and R. Kumaresh were showered with their rightful appreciation, Jayanthi Kumaresh performed a very different style of music with the Veena and Meera Prasad’s Sitar and Rajiv Taranath’s Sarod were equally wonderful. One just cannot miss out on mentioning the larger-than-life vocal performances of Sanjeev Abhyankar and Ashwini Bhide Deshpande, Upendra Bhat and the others.
To sum up, each performance had a quality that makes it Sawai-worthy. It takes great talent to perform at this event, one of the biggest Indian Classical Music gathering in the world. Each year, it impresses, only adding to its greatness. The Mahotsav started by Bharatratna Pandit Bhimsen Joshi has very high standards, set by the doyen himself and just being able to maintain it and take it forward is huge. The organisers deserve credit for doing the same and for giving Punekars an out-of-the-world treat each year. The wait for the next year’s Sawai begins now. 🙂
Image Credits: Harshad Zare
Two images (Anindo Chatterjee and Nishant-Anindo) by Sana Sohoni