Tansen Sangeet Samaroh 2017: Celebrating the maestro from Akbar's court, and world music

An old tamarind tree has been deceived by its death. It reacts to the birth and death of breeze, bears the leaves of tomorrow and is amused, perhaps at the naivety of squirrels. It is believed that Miyan Tansen developed melody in his throat by chewing on its salty leaves. The music in the roots of the tree that stands adjacent to Miyan Tansen’s tomb may have quelled dry, but is still moist in the ears of those who come with a desire to listen.

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Tansen’s tomb in Gwalior has been a sacred place for artists since the latter half of the 16th century

The musical jewel of Akbar’s court who summoned showers of rain into the sombre depths of his ragas learnt music in these gardens in the 16th century from his guru Mohammad Ghaus. In a setting whose essence lies beyond material display, the Tansen Sangeet Samaroh took place last week. The music conclave, organised jointly by the Ustad Alauddin Khan Kala Evam Sangeet Academy and Department Of Culture, Government of Madhya Pradesh, is in its 93rd year. It divided four days and their nights into a clockwork of taal and bandish as Russian, French, Brazilian, Iranian and Israeli beats too blended in with the music.

“It is an artist’s dream to perform at the Tansen Samaroh. I felt the naad (immaculate sound currents which are internal, run deeper in the cosmos and are free of the corruptions of surface noise) getting into my head. The soil is charged with blessed vibes,” said Sachin Manohar Patvardhan, who played the Spanish Veena, a result of his unique string improvisation on the Spanish guitar. Accompanying him in a jhaala of na-dhin-dhin-na, the fast-paced conclusion to a classical segment that lasted several minutes, was tabla player Hitendra Dikshit. “Artists in India crave for such platforms. The Madhya Pradesh government takes a special interest in promoting the arts, otherwise, in other states, independent foundations organise festivals,” said Patvardhan, as he cited the example of the Delhi’s Utaradhikaar festival which is organised by the Raza Foundation, known for art and culture programs, publications and fellowships for young talent. Here, eminent gurus of India’s classical arts select one of their disciples to perform at the festival, taking forward the ancient guru-shishya tradition.

Ustad Munne Khan displays his 200 year old sarangi, on which he played Miyan ki Todi, a popular morning raga composed by Miyan Tansen

Ustad Munne Khan displays his 200 year old sarangi, on which he played Miyan ki Todi, a popular morning raga composed by Miyan Tansen

Along with shaagirds Shafiq Husain and Abid Hussain, Ustad Munne Khan from the Bhopal gharana made melodies of melancholy. In his green room, he held out his 200-year-old ancestral sarangi, made of tun (Indian cedar), and explained that the roughly chiselled edges of the chambered instrument lends it a tarab, or an emotional sound, such that a single tap on the strings will cause an echo of varying depths. The violin on the other hand, doesn’t have an inherent sound. “It is a vacant instrument until a bow brushes against its strings, which is why it can blend in with tabla or the mridangam in Hindustani and Carnatic music,” explained Durga Sharma, a violinist from Jabalpur, who performed a teen-taal jugalbandi with tabla vaadaks. The instrument doesn’t know if it’s Western or Indian, and most artists also tend to forget this. That is what Darlini Singh Kaul, half-Indian, half-French feels. The vocalist in a world music band called Farafi that has different formations, from two to eight members, Darlini sang African and French tunes at the Tansen festival, with Hindustani influences. While she played an African harp known as kora, which is popular in the hunting belts of the continent and known for its percussive, perky sound, the band’s British stringer Max was seen playing his version of the oud, which resembled a pretzel. “This is an electric version which illuminates certain sounds and cancels noise. I’ve added some features that allow me to play Hindustani,” he explained. Ben, the Israeli in the band, held out a dumbek manufactured in Pakistan, which lent their performance the thumps of a tabla. “Israel has strong influences of Iranian and Egyptian and even Argentinian music. It is up to the artists to fuse forms and derive sound,” said Ben, as he described his method.

Farafi, a world music band, condenses Middle Eastern, African, French and Hindustani

Farafi, a world music band, condenses Middle Eastern, African, French and Hindustani

Another blurring of boundaries that was evident in the Tansen festival is the gender neutrality in the ragas. Raag Marwa, the ninth parent raga in the Hindustani scale that is direct and unwavering, has for a long time been considered more suitable to a man’s voice but Purvi Nimgaonkar of the Jaipur Attrauli gharana thinks it is necessary for women to display the strength in their voices and opt to sing it. “My father learnt the raga from his guru Ustaad Amir Khan sahab and that sowed the seeds of the raga and its bandish within me,” Nimgaonkar talked about dhrupad and khayal, two forms of Hindustani musical system that make multiple references to the pranks of Lord Krishna and are ever-present in the air surrounding Tansen’s makbara.

Tansen was born Hindu but patronised by Emperor Akbar and given the title of 'Miyan' in his court. Tansen’s gurus were Sufi mystic Mohammad Ghaus, whose tomb rests in the same campus as Tansen’s, and the Hindu bhakti saint Swami Haridas. “Miyan Tansen was born in Behat near Gwalior in a Brahmin family and that is where the festival concludes each year. There isn’t a better place than Madhya Pradesh to teach India that we belong to a culture so powerful that it transcends our religious differences. To preserve what we have, the Culture Department organises nearly 1,500 activities in a year. We have eight academies for languages like Urdu, Sindhi, Marathi, Bhojpuri, tribal art and culture, and history,” said Rahul Rastogi, who served as the director of the Adivasi Lok Kala Parishad and on the advisory board of events like the Khajuraho Dance Festival, the Nirgun Samaroh (for Bhojpuri music) in Ujjain. “The central government has approved a fund of Rs 20 lakh and The Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) has developed an itinerary,” Rastogi added, to explain how cultural integration is a lesson the Madhya Pradesh culture department wants to teach the rest of the country.

Shrinivas Joshi of the Kirana Gharana, which is famous for its refined intonations of swaras in Hindustani khayal singing

Shrinivas Joshi of the Kirana Gharana, which is famous for its refined intonations of swaras in Hindustani khayal singing

Incidentally, the Kirana gharana was coalesced around Ustad Miyan Bande Ali Khan a player of the rudra veena in the early 19th century. Shrinivas Joshi from the Kirana gharana, whose fiercest exponent in the recent times was his father Bhimsen Joshi, blended the swara (tonal) with the shabda (textual) components in his Hindustani vocal segment that tore through the night. “One of our ancestors played in the court of Raja Man Singh of Gwalior, which is close by. It is also the place of Tansen’s tomb,” said Joshi, a graduate of IIT Delhi, who calls this land a secular pilgrimage for artists across the country.

Mikhail Ushinin, flutist from St Petersberg, performs at the 93rd Tansen Sangeet Samaroh

Mikhail Ushinin, flutist from St Petersberg, performs at the 93rd Tansen Sangeet Samaroh

In front of the large backdrop of the Bhateswar temples, a cluster of 200 sandstone Shiva temples that have been excavated and restored near Morena, 30 kms off Gwalior, recitals brought to fullness the feeling that music is a sacred practice. Flautist Mikhail Ushinin from St. Petersberg presented Baroque and classical music. He said that the feeling of performing at the Tansen festival is divine. Even though classical western music is more romantic and less religious than Indian classical music, the two ease the tensions of social exchange. Pedro Carnerio Silva, a pianist from Rio de Janeiro, accompanied vocalist Luiza Sales by bringing to life the tunes of Antonio Jobim, the first singer to have done a crossover between jazz and Brazilian music. While Sales, who is taking lessons in Hindustani vocals in New Delhi, sang the song 'Fontazia' (Fantasy) to spread the message of brotherhood in an imagined peaceful world. Pedro talked about the cross-cultural nature of universal emotions within music. “In India, classical music is more centered on religion, about deriving strength from worship. In Samba, running parallel to the joyful beats are lyrics about poverty and slavery and loss. Pedro explained how music makes all kinds of emotional extremes seem manageable, because song and dance makes misery bearable. He used the example of the famous Samba lyric ‘Tire o seu sorriso do caminho / Que eu quero passar com a minha dor’ which talks about taking the smile away since it causes the heart to ache.

A tireless and colourful presentation of classical music at the Tansen festival, much like the tamarind tree and its age-old tale, was as infinite as one could perceive it.


Updated Date: Jan 03, 2018 18:02 PM

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