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The Surmandali Concerts At The CIEFL Well

The Surmandali Concerts At The CIEFL Well is an event that took place between 30-Nov-2000 and 03-Dec-2000 in Hyderabad.
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This old well at the CIEFL, with two-storyed corridors surrounded by thick, wild vegetation, had become a dump yard for many years. Until it was discovered (so to speak) and spruced up, so that the unique stairs down the still waters and the arched Deccani verandahs were fit again to host the best of the cultural razzmatazz. Now the Hyderabadi music lovers flock to it in earnest, anxious for the evening to dawn and looking expectantly at the facing arch to be occupied by the music maestros of our time.

Indeed, amidst the crowded cultural calendar of our city, there are but few events that are eagerly looked forward to. "Pandit Motilal and Pandit Maniram Sangeet Samaroh", instituted by Pandit Jasraj over three decades ago, has been the sole regular event that caters to those who devour upon the lilting Hindustani melodies staged by ace artistes of the country. And this year Pandit Jasraj himself appeared along with a host of his disciples. Presenting a day-upon-day account.

30 November, Day 1
This was the day of the Guru himself. He started off with his favorite compositions from 'Guru'. With much reverence, the music is attributed to the 'guru', and draws parallels with the Almighty.

The ever so earnest Mohe Lage Lagan Guru Charan Lagi and Guruva Jane Nisi Din Rahiyo set the mood for the remainder of the concert that extended till the wee hours of Friday. However, the melodies were often interrupted by elaborate eulogizing comments by the coordinator, Sunita Bhodiraja, who often introduced the music and musicians to the audience and sought to symbolize the music and the performers with Nature. This was something of a drag, and made some restless. Music and Nature, and artists and their acts, have to be felt and valued; verbose descriptions of the same can mar the picture. But patience, for once, seemed to be in abundance.

For the enduring audience, a young Santoor player, Satish Vyas, and Tabla player, Vijay Ghate, elaborated the Hamsadhwani raag with the twinkling sounds of the 100-stringed Santoor, and the base rhythms of Tabla. Guru Jasraj, along with his daughter Durga Jasraj, and disciples Suman, Trupti, Pritam, Chandra and Niraj, again took over the stage in the post-interval show with rag Marubehag. Na Ja Baabul Ke Des… illustrated the pains of separation.

Jasraj's exercising his vocal chords with veritable variations, optimizing the emotional appeal of the music, created just the impact that the crowd expected of him. One wished that we could have him in the city more often.

1 December, Day 2
The festival had on its second evening some of the brilliant performers of the country like Niraj Parikh, Ronu Mujumdar, Pt.Bhavanishankar and Vijay Ghate. The evening of music and rhythms dawned with Niraj occupying the central arch of the amphitheater to render his songs of glory. This prime disciple of Pandit Jasraj Niraj explored the 'Bhajan Sampradai' in Hindustani classical music. Bhajan with its Bhakti cult pleases one and all and creates a genial atmosphere. Niraj's voice had that religious fervor and perseverance apt for singing Bhajans.

A breezy flute recital by Ronu Majumdar engulfed the audience and also the surroundings with its mesmeric husky resonance. The classical melodies that he chose or the compositions that he rendered did not matter; what did was an hour of 'musical transportation' for the audience.

In sharp contrast was a percussion jugalbandi that almost got the audience onto their toes, torn away from the blissful slumber of listening to the wind-blown instrument. This energizing and stunning experience had Pakhawaj artist Pandit Bhavanishanker and Tabla player Vijay Ghate dancing their fingers on the percussion producing pure classical rhythms in varied times cycles and sequences. These cadences at once seemed to sing a song and have a sportive dialogue, all in quite an abstract language.

On the whole, the entire evening displayed different aesthetics and creations of Hindustani music.

2 December, Day 3
A ten-year-old Iswari, granddaughter of Pandit Jasraj, takes the mike, and with her husky-sweet voice religiously renders the guru vandana before elaborating the 'aalap' in Behag. Her shivering octaves soon smoothen up creating a symmetric lilt that gradually grows in intensity, culminating with the song Sab Sakhiya Chalo Prabhu Ke Darshan. The little girl then runs to embrace her 'Dadu' - Jasraj - even as the audience continues its ovations! And the evening air at the 'well' once again takes to its compelling hue, on the third day of Surmandali's festival.

Gargi Siddhanth from Assam, another disciple of Jasraj, followed with her seasoned singing. Holding a Tanpura in one hand with another hand rising and waving in the air as though tying in with her song, and with her eyes closed, she made a perfect picture of an austere vocalist. With Shyam Murari Banvari and Mrig Nayani Rasiyaan, Gargi created the ambience of the classical Rajasthani glory of music and class.

The much-awaited Bharatanatyam recital by Shobana kept the audience delighted throughout, thanks to her choosing a lively repertoire. The dancer performed a Varnam composed by violin maestro Lalgudi Jairam. Here Shobana, with brilliant choreography, enacted a devotee, illustrating the sagas Narasimha, Sudhama and Vamana. Each strip was framed up with clear cult stances and gestures. A unique improvisation was that of the support of Veena artist Rajesh, who followed every movement, gesture and expression of the dancer, enhancing her dramatization.

Nee Maatalu Yemaayenu Raa, a swift Javali, showed the dancer in a sportive spirit, where she, as a heroine, spurns her lover for not keeping the promise of gifts. A lullaby set to a pleasant Neelambari raga has surprising intermittent pieces where mother Yashoda, putting her little Krishna to sleep, narrates excerpts from the Ramayana. Other good parts were an intensifying narrative of Ahalya's relieve from the curse, and the melodramatic 'Sita Swayamvaram' in a humorous accent where the dancer shows many a boastful men, and their efforts going in vain!

The evening was sealed late in the night with yet another pleasant vocal concert by Prabhakar Karekar.

3 December, Day 4
The grand finale of the annual Hindustani music festival was on a chilly evening that in no time warmed up with luminaries of vocal music performing, and numerous music lovers flooding in to the 'well'. The noted Pritam Bhattacharjee rendered a repertoire of deep-throated base melodies. The ragas rose to spirituality and wove the classic compositions into emotive matrices.

The Sitar player Pratik Chowdury's performance that followed was in contrast, with its streaming music of strings. These traditional classical ragas with waves like stretches, movements and ups and downs -'mandra sthai' and 'tara sthai' - in all their intricate symmetric patterns, seemed delightfully charming and contemporary.

Tripti Mukherjee's vocal recital that followed also had those peak extends and a poignancy. And for fans of Anup Jalota, he appeared at the arched stage almost like a frenzied devotee - and festoons of bhajans flowed, with the audience swinging to the revered tunes. Along with a host of co-performers like Kedar Pundit, Vijay Ghate, Nitin Mitta, Surendra Bharathi and Mukund Petkar, he rendered a number of bhajans. Many verses by Meerabai, Tulasi Das, Kabir and Surdas were recapitulated, while the essence of it all remained the 'Bhakthi' aspect and the philosophy of life, often referring to the preaching of Krishna.
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