News & Notes

Tansen Samroh - Gwalior

Mian Tansen, the most venerated figure in North Indian classical music, was buried in Gwalior, next to the tomb of his spiritual guru Shaikh Muhammed Ghaus. Even today, most instrumental  and vocal classical traditions trace their roots to him or his offspring; the Senia tradition, nearly 600 years after his death still commands respect.

In his memory, the government of Madhya Pradesh, through the Kala Akademy, has been holding an annual music festival for the last 98 years; this edition was the 99th. But even before this, according to Lakshman Krishnarao Pandit, a 5th generation vocalist from Gwalior, a music festival in Tansen’s name used to be held in Gwalior. Perhaps first held just after his death in 1589, this continued through the centuries, sporadically perhaps. Kala Academy Director Shri Jayant Bhise said it used to be called an “urs”.

There is a ‘neem’ tree just below the ‘mazhar’, which it is believed is an offshoot of a tree that existed there during Tansen’s lifetime. Even today, singers eat a few leaves in the hope their voice will be imbued with the sweetness Tansen had.  The straggly tree, with very few leaves is witness to this fervent belief.

The music festival in Mian Tansen’s name today takes place a slight distance away from the tomb, to protect it.  Somewhat strangely, it is termed an international music festival, with  random representations from Western musicians, not usually from a classical tradition. One wonders why this tradition was started;  Tansen was by no means influenced by Western music, nor has he influenced Western music composers.  Jayant Bhise, Director of the State Kala Akademy explained this as trying to disseminate our Indian classical tradition amongst the West; by including Western musicians, our own musicians get more visibility, indirectly.   Exposing the Gwalior audience to Western music of different types was also inclusive. “No other State government does as much for the arts as MP,” he said.  This is of course true; there are more than 17 annual classical music and dance festivals across the state, and has also instituted over 25 annual State awards across the arts.  

This year the festival was a somewhat unwieldy affair, with concerts happening at 15 venues, some at the same time, making it impossible to attend everything. The main concerts were held under a tent built close to Tansen’s tomb; some concerts were held  outside  the Gwalior fort, lecture demonstrations at the Raja Man Singh Tomar College of Music and some concerts outside Gwalior at Baijatal, Paraav,  some at Jai Vilas Palace and Town Hall, Datt Mandir Jivajiganj amongst others. The aim, Bhise said was to spread classical music throughout the region, and not confine it to one venue, as was done in the past. The audience for classical music should not be confined to Gwalior, which, of course, remains a centre for the arts.

Coordinating all the events was a logistical challenge shared Jayant Bhise, but one which was handled with aplomb.

Another first at this festival was a massive tabla collective, the ‘Taal Darbar’, played by over 1300 young tabla artists playing together, outside the Gwalior fort, at Karna Mahal. Conducted by tabla artist Hitendra Dixit, this created a Guiness World record  and December 25th was declared ‘Tabla Day’.  All the tabla players were from MP, some learning privately, some in music institutions; they played Teen taal’ for around 10 minutes. Only the ‘lehra’ was allowed amplification, on sitar and harmonium; all the tabla players mics’ were switched off, so that the sound was purely acoustic.  Amazingly, there were live rehearsals only on the main day, before that the practice had only been via a Whatsapp group, shared Hitendra Dixit.

Along side the music festival was an art exhibition for two days, as well as a workshop, making the entire city culturally vibrant during the week.  

The music workshop was interesting too, giving music students the opportunity to mingle with performers. Too often, students learning in the University format are so divorced from the practical world of performance and immersed in the study of the theory of music. Amongst others, Raghunandan Panshikar spoke about the legacy of his guru Kishori Amonkar, and the Jaipur Attrauli gharana. Kalpana Zokarkar from Indore spoke about expansiveness of ragas, how they are the basis of all music, even folk music. Explaining what a raga really implies, by demonstrating, and also how the same raga is used in different musical genres, Kalpana ‘s session was interesting.  Hers is an unusual musical tradition. Her father Krishnarao Mazumdar was a disciple of the great Rajab Ali Khan of Indore and she learnt thumri  and tappa from Vasant Rajurkar.

Another unusual, yet very old tradition at the Tansen Samaroh is that of offering musical prayer at the tomb of Mian Tansen, combining traditional auspicious music through shehnai, Harikatha and Milad Sharif (describing the birth of Prophet Mohammed).

The concerts included star performers N. Rajam and her daughter Sangeeta Shankar, tabla whiz kid Ishan Ghosh, Ulhas Kashalkar, Amaan and Ayaan Ali Bangash, and another tabla solo by Vijay Ghate. There were worthy youngsters including dhrupad vocal recital by Sumeet Anand, grandson of the great Siyaram Tiwari, Lakshya and Ayush Mohan on sitar and sarod, vocalist Bhagyesh Marathe.Solid performers, including Anupama Bhagwat from Bangalore on sitar, Joydeep Ghosh from Kolkata on sarod, Rajendra Prassana from Delhi on flute, Akhilesh Gundecha from Bhopal on pakhawaj  and vocalist Omkar Dadarkar from Kolkata also graced the stage with their presence. Laudably, there were local artists too, from  including vocalists Anil Dandotia, Sujal Jain and Sameer Bhalerao.  With around six or seven concerts per session, it was impossible to savour the music as it should have been -  a dilemma all organisers have to deal with. Expecting concentrated listening for more than three hours at a stretch is unrealistic. However to try to accommodate so many artists from across all over India, and in all genres, is a challenge.

 The festival is truly a one-of-a-kind experience, bringing together musicians from all over India to pay homage to the father of North Indian classical music, Mian Tansen.