The 59th Sawai Gandharv Bhimsen Mahotsav
I’m finally at the venue of the Sawai Gandharv Mahotsav, a festival I’ve been dreaming of attending for many years now. I missed the first 2 days of performances though.
Today’s performance saw the venue jam packed so much so that the organisers had to stop selling tickets after a while because there was no place to accomodate the beyond 10K people who wanted to get in. All this for Shankar Mahadevan.
I’m a fan of very few Carnatic musicians (my ignorance is my loss) and given the hard core Hindustani crowd at Sawai I doubted Mahadevan’s ability to keep the crowd engaged. When he started with a ‘Varanam’ I could see the crowd not really enjoying it and then came the clincher that proved me wrong when SM sang Hamsadhwani – a ragaa that people universally identify with. What a beauty of a performance! The jugalbandi between him and the violinist was outstanding.
Shankar Mahadevan is a true performer, playing to his audiences tunes, giving them what they want. Given the crowd was missing their favorite Bhimsen Joshi, SM sang a medley of ‘abhangs’ that Bhimsen Joshi used to sing. He started singing with only one instrument to support him, the ‘ek tara.’ As the medley progressed he got other instrumentalists to join him- the harmonium player, the violinist. And all of a sudden there was percussion in the form of mridangam, tabla and ghatam. I loved the way he built the tempo from soothing dawn notes to high energy evening notes. The entire crowd (10-12K) was enraptured in spell bound silence.
He got a standing ovation for that, a rare form of praise from the purists at Sawai.
The evening concluded with a beautiful performance by Pandit Jasraj. He sang Jayjaywanti and then one of my all time favorites – Govind Damodar Madhaveti.
As a student I once attended a Pt. Jasraj’s concert in ‘The Well’ in CIEFL. What a breathtaking ambience the venue had. They converted a large community well into an amphitheater where people sat on the steps that led into the well and the performers on the landing of the well where in old times women would have drawn water from. That’s where I first heard Pt. Jasraj and his whole group sing Govind Damodar. It’s one of my aspirations to sing that and some of his temple (haveli) music, he sang one of the pieces y’day. One of his students who was accompanying him yesterday, Ankita Joshi, had a beautiful haunting voice.
It was meditative to experience the aural pleasure of musicians, the visual pleasure of watching artists communicate using their instruments, and the crowd all united by 12 frequencies that have an unknown power over humans, animals and plants.