By Suguna Sundaram
As a curtain-raiser to its centenary year celebrations, Union Bank of India held a unique two-day concert, Voices of Dharwad, conceptualised by Shashi Vyas of Pancham Nishad, on November 10 and 11. The idea was to venerate the soil that spawned six of India’s greatest vocal legends in Hindustani Classical Music- Dharwad (basically Karnataka – including Dharwad, Belgaum, Hubli and a few other cities), in the last 100 years: Sawai Gandharva, Mallikarjun Mansur, Basavaraj Rajguru, Gangubai Hangal, Kumar Gandharva and Bhimsen Joshi.
The backdrop was beautifully illustrated with pictures of these musical titans, against which the next generation of talents from the same soil derived their inspiration, and over two stupendous evenings, regaled the nearly packed auditorium with the best of classical music that one can hope to hear in the current day. It was also the first time that these four artists from Karnataka came together on one stage. At a time when classical music suffers from the lack of generous patronage, the pivotal role that Union Bank has played in promoting and preserving our rich cultural tradition of performing arts is truly heartening.
The two-day event opened with Kaivalyakumar Gurav, scion of a musically illustrious family, who received his tutelage at home from his grandfather and father, veteran vocalists Pandit Ganpatrao Gurav and Pandit Sangameshwar Gurav. He was accompanied on the tabla by Shridhar Mandre and by Siddhesh Bicholkar on the harmonium. KKG is considered the guru of the Kirana Gharana. Commencing with the lesser sung evening raga Gawti, Kaivalya Kumar’s voice slowly filled the auditorium as he wove out Maan Le Na Pritam Ki Batiyan in very sure notes and alaap.
The long breath-challenging taans he sang without overkill, were held enough just so you wanted to hear it one more time. He followed it up with two drut bandishes in quick succession, Paran Paayo Re, and Gundlav Malaniya (sung with immense sweetness), with elaborate and unique taans.
Dekho Jiya bechain flaunted Kaivalyakumar’s skill at traversing the gamut of multiple octaves, as effective on the high end of the scale as at the bass end. Aajaare dildaara aaja re, a Punjabi tappa in Kaapi, was a rarely heard delight. KKG ended his scintillating recital with a Puranadaradasa bhajan in Kannada, Odibaa raaya, vaikunthapate… and a mandatory Vitthala Bhajan, though the rendition leaned entirely into the Hindustani format, than Carnatic. Mandre and Bicholkar met the tall order of playing for a virtuoso with tremendous skill themselves.
If you are talking about that intangible quality ‘x’ that separates the good from the great, Kaivalya Kumar Gurav has it in spades.
The second artiste to grace the stage was Dr M Venkatesh Kumar, a stolid presence who endears with his sheer sincerity. Eri Main Gundlaavo ri malaniya in Chaya Nat was a sonorous and calm-inducing opening, sung with tremendous warmth and gravitas. Venkateshji’s act of singing strikes one as prayer, as one would sing in a temple. His build-up moves from a soft cadence to a crescendo that sounds almost like a muted crowd’s roar as he expands his vocal chords.
He reminds one of his legendary predecessor Bhimsen Joshi, though Venkateshji’s voice has none of that torment that sometimes took Bhimsenji’s music to another plane. His renditions are more benign. The drut that followed was Jhananan jhananan bichua baaje that was really enjoyed by the audience.
Dr Venkatesh Kumar then sang what he called a Vachan, in Kannada- Kala Beda Kola Beda, eschewing a materialistic life, only seeking salvation at the Lord’s feet, in utterly devout spirit. His Bhairavi bhajan Toredu jeevisabahude lifted one’s soul, and in this, he had excellent vocal support from his student. There was a request for another song even after the Bhairavi conclusion, so Venkatesh Kumarji obliged the avid listeners with one more Kannada Bhajan, Kaliyugadolu Hari Nama. Mandaar Puranik on the tabla, and Niranjan Lele on the harmonium, were commendable accompanists to Dr Venkatesh Kumar.
So ended Day One, on a contemplative, reflective note.
The rapidly growing-in-popularity Jayateerth Mevundi started the second day of the concert to huge applause, with a delightful composition in Raga Purvi, Mathura na jao, kaun wahan par, kubja naari… on the tabla with him was the hugely talented youngster, Ojas Adhiya, as Siddhesh Bicholkar played the harmonium. These are some of the brightest stars in the classical firmament today. And Jayateerth gave ample scope for his accompanying artistes to express themselves solo, in the course of his singing.
His next was a beautiful bandish in Raag Jog, Balma Kab Ghar Aaoge, sung from the PoV of a waiting lover, filled with love and longing. A quick tarana also in Jog where he expertly played with taans and alaaps, was simply superb. Both the compositions were Ustad Amir Khusro’s.
Jayateerth’s bandish Tu sahib sacho in Adana struck a chord with its melody and his expert gliding taans. He followed that up with a Raghavendara Swami bhajan, Govinda Govinda. The bhajan was meant to be a quick concluding song for him, artises are so mindful and acutely conscious of the time frames they have, to expound the ragas and bandishes, especially to metro-city audiences.
But again, by popular demand, he ended with his signature ‘SowBhagyatha Lakshmi baramma’, that earned him a huge round of hands. Jayateerth has obviously trained in both Carnatic as well as Hindustani styles, and this bhajan was measured out at a fast clip, ala South Indian film bhajan style, and staccato intonation, building up to a crest. Ojas Adhiya mesmerised with his rhythmic histrionics, displaying every possible variety and pattern in his thekas.
The concluding act at this two-day musical fest and feast was the unassuming and reclusive artiste from Hasanagi, Karnataka, Ganapati Bhat, who was nothing short of sheer genius. A musical maverick, who sings not for audiences but more to gain mastery over the language of music, Ganapati Bhat follows no rule book when it comes to his art. He sings for the love of music. So every time he liked what he heard of his own music or his accompanists, he beamed beatifically before moving on to his next phrase.
He was accompanied by Sridhar Mandre on the tabla, and Niranjan Lele on the harmonium. Assuming a yogic posture, Ganapatiji began his performance with an unhurried, loving and detailed exploration of Raag Shyamkalyan, Neend na aavat piya bina. His progression of raag alaap in the Vilambit, was intricate in his quest for the purity of the raga, ending with the drut Mora man har leena. Manena jiyara tum bin, in Bageshree Bahar, brought out the power of Ganapatijis really strong voice, a hallmark of all the scions of Dharwad soil.
In leisurely manner, he sang the Purandara dasa bhajan, Devaki Kanda Mukunda, and closed in the most unique manner, with an exquisite tarana in Bhairavi. What stood out in this powerhouse’s singing was the fact that he enjoyed his own music. His voice is the male equivalent of the late Kishoritai Amonkar, in its pitching, and in the sharpness and clarity of tone, (with the slightly nasal quality as well) and in his unconscious irreverence for everything else but his music. Music to bow your head to!
This unique event began and ended with the mavericks, the artistes with thehraav balancing the middle. It was the scent of Dharwad’s soil, bearing the best and sweetest fruit. Truly, these artistes are exemplary heirs to the legacy of their predecessors. Kudos to the organizers Pancham Nishad, for putting together an outstanding concept and executing it with perfect timing and precision.
Suguna Sundaram belongs to the rare breed of writers in English who review Indian classical music and dance. A trained classical musician and dancer, Suguna has over three decades of experience as a writer. Interestingly, her day jobs over the years have been with all things commercial, including being editor of some of the most popular (and boldest) film fanzines. Suguna Sundaram reviews Indian classical music and dance on Xyngr.