News & Notes

Ragas by the River

Music has always been inspired by nature; in the classical tradition there are even specific ragas for different seasons – more commonly known are of course the Spring season ragas of Basant Bahar Hindol, and the monsoon ragas of the different Malhars.

A recent music retreat by the flowing waters of the river Kosi, on the outskirts of North India’s largest wild life sanctuary, the Jim Corbett National Park, made waves last weekend.

Entitled Ragas by the River, (the concept incidentally has now been copyrighted by the organiser Vir Srivastava, who plans other festivals in the #RagaBy series), the event featured top ranking musicians Amjad Ali Khan, Shujaat Khan, Hariharan, Rakesh Chaurasia, Kaushiki Chakraborty,  Amaan Ali and Ayaan Ali Bangash and Arunaja and Band. Showhouse, headed by the multi-dimensional Omer Haider handled the logistics of  the whole event. Amjad Ali Khan lauded the festival as one of the finest he has played at (with a performing career of nearly 70 years, that’s quite a statement!).

What made the festival unique was not so much the grand line-up, but the venue. The artists were at ease, visibly enchanted by the beauty around them. Vir Srivastava who had conceived the event said that the inspirational surroundings had been experienced by every musician who had ever stayed there. Being an amateur singer himself (as a child he had learnt from late Ghulam Mustafa Khan) every time he sat near the river for his morning ‘riyaaz’ he was inspired.  Vir added that Amjad Ali Khan, while relaxing on holiday there, and quietly singing to himself, had said ‘yahaan ki jo hawa hai, awaaz hee alag lagti hai.” (he is a frequent visitor to Jim Corbett because of his twin grandsons interest in wildlife).

The beauty and tranquillity of the place made even listening to music  there special; small baithaks in the past were hugely popular, Vir shared. Surprisingly, no music event had ever been held at Corbett before, despite the region being a favourite weekend getaway for city folk.  Despite knowing music would be experienced in a unique way there, in the open, Vir had huge doubts as to whether people would pay to come and attend concerts. Incidentally, the event was sold out within 10 days of its launch, with several keen listeners remaining on the waiting list.  

The festival was held in two hotels which were both booked only for the music retreat. As such, it as a truly immersive experience, with the audience and artists going for wild life safaris in the early morning; the evenings being devoted to music.

 There were four different venues for the seven artists – two per evening at two different places, the pop band in another,  and the morning concert at a fourth.

The first evening featured Kaushiki Chakraborty accompanied vocally by her talented son Rishith. She sang raga Aiman, including the appropriate ‘kinare kinare dariya’. She also included  a seven-beat cycle (roopak taal) composition by her vocalist husband Parthasarathy Desikan who was also there. In fact, most of the artists had come with their families, knowing that the music  was only one part of the whole experience. As Holi was around the corner, Kaushiki concluded with a Holi ‘rang daarungi’ .

Shujaat Khan performed next, touchingly starting his concert by asking Amjad Ali Khan, seated in the audience, “chacha, bajaaoon?” Of course, the tradition of formally asking ‘ijaazat” before starting a concert is an old one, but the relaxed informality of Shujaat’s query showed how this festival was different. After an expansive raga Jhinjhoti, Shujaat brought in a mellowness by singing two ghazals composed by women ‘shayars’, and other favourites.  The  night ended with an energising concert by Arunaja and her band.

The next morning featured a beautiful recital by Rakesh Chaurasia playing the morning raga of Gurjari Todi, followed by the post noon raga Shudha Sarang.  Expectedly, he concluded with raga Pahari; being in the foothills that was an inevitable choice.

The afternoon was enlivened by a traditional Kumaoni folk dance group, bringing in the flavour of the Uttarakhand region.

The concluding evening started with Amaan Ali and Ayaan Ali Bangash playing a ragamala, before their main piece which was raga Desh. Their father Amjad Ali Khan played next; his main piece was raga Darbari, and he concluded with raga Zila Kafi. In an expansive mood, sharing memories, Amjad Ali Khan verbalised his happiness at playing in front of other artists, in the beautiful surroundings.

The evening ended with Hariharan singing a plethora of favourite songs including film hits and ghazals. Naturally the audience danced along. The evening ended informally with the anchor, noted actress Suchitra Pillai, on request, singing a song. This relaxed informality was visible throughout the festival, and was a charming feature of the festival.


The festival had aesthetic stage backdrops; each one different. From using  wheat sheafs and grass as one elegant backdrop, the next stage was just white flowers, with the festival logo brought out with yellow flowers. The third day saw different shades of pink, with candles. Decorator Ambrish Prasad from Delhi had done a fabulous job.  As such, the entire ambience was conducive to  a unique experience. The presence of the artists listening to each other also brought forth great performances; sadly artists listening to each other is becoming increasingly rare at music concerts.