News & Notes

Shankarlal Music Festival 2024

What started as an informal gathering of musicians, presented to a closely knit circle of friends, is today Delhi’s oldest classical music festival. Sponsored privately, by the Charat Ram branch of the Shriram family, initially ticketed, today this festival is open to all. Usually held at the close of the music season in Delhi, the event is eagerly awaited.

The who’s who of the world of North Indian classical music have been featured; no eminent musician from the 1950s onwards has not performed at Shankarlal. Rare exceptions are Krishnarao Shankar Pandit, of the Gwalior gharana and Kumar Gandharva.

In its 75th year, the festival had some innovations this year. Unusually, there was no morning music session; this is an awaited session as one gets to hear morning ragas. There were only two artists per evening which was welcome as, in the past, listening for 45 minutes to an artist was frustrating and did not result in leisurely music being performed at ease. For the first time, vidushi N. Rajam and her daughter Sangeeta Shankar performed.


The festival opened with a first time performer on this stage, Pravin Godkhindi on the flute, accompanied by his absolutely stunning 22-year-old son Shadaj.  Festival curator, 80-year-old Shobha Deepak Singh said, “We wanted to give an opportunity to a young artist too. We usually feature established artists, but have always tried to present youngsters too; in their time it was Biswajit Roy Chaudhury, and Manjiri Asnare” .

Pravin opened his concert with the evening raga Marwa. Performed at the end of the day, at sunset, the mood of the raga had a certain lament, a realisation about the ending of the day, closure of activities, a certain sadness and also perhaps restlessness. Pravin showcased the sadness in the vilambit portion. Slowly reaching the ‘teep sa’, after nearly 25 minutes, the duo enunciated the notes with remarkable steadiness, and no trace of the breathy sound that some flute players are unable to suppress. His son most ably captured the mood too, and enhanced the portrayal magnificently. It is not easy to keep pace with your guru, but Shadaj was more than adequate. The Ektaal composition  gave way to a Teen taal composition; it was only here that tabla maestro Ram Kumar played a restrained solo. This was laudable; nowadays the build up of the raga by an instrumentalist, in the vilambit portion is frequently disturbed by an eager tabla player, anxious to showcase his dexterity. In this portion, Pravin and his son added soft gamakas and taans to keep the recital interesting.

The next raga was Hamsadhwani; Pravin played  briefly on the new flute he has devised, to play bass notes. Made of a malleable material, that is bent, the instrument has a pleasant deep sound. Pravin announced he would play this raga in the ‘tantrakaari’ or instrumental style, and indeed, in the drut he incorporated sounds to simulate bolkaari (stroke work), and played tihais, which is more a  tantrakaari technique.  The sawaal-jawab with Ram Kumar Mishra was fairly predictable; his drut Teen taal composition somewhat flamboyant in structure. Holding a note for over a minute was impressive; expectedly, and deservedly, the performers got a standing ovation.

The evening ended with vocalist Ulhas Kashalkar, accompanied on the tabla by Suresh Talwalkar, on the harmonium by Vinay Mishra and vocally by Delhi University music scholars Anshuman Bhattacharya and Abhimanyu Sharma. Singing one of his finest concerts that this writer has heard recently, Ulhas Kashalkar was in his element. He sang a comprehensive raga Kedara, mellow, contemplative and soothing. Starting with the traditional vilambit  composition Jogi ra in Tilwada taal, the beautiful notes unfolded with practised ease, in the Gwalior gayaki style, with sweeping movements, dignified like the gait of an elephant. Since Ulhas Kashalkar has trained equally in two other singing styles - Jaipur style and Agra gayaki, he sometimes places emphasis on one style more. This was Gwalior gayaki at its best. One felt he was singing for himself, with nothing left to prove, enjoying his own music. The next khayal was the popular Sughar chatur bayeeyan in Ektaal. Singing the same pattern of notes in two octaves, the maestro displayed his pitch perfect mastery.  Vinay Mishra on the harmonium was given more space than usual, delighting the audience with his subtle embellishments.

Acknowledging the spring season, Ulhas Kashalkar next sang raga Basant, Phagwa brij dekhan ko chalo re that speaks of experiencing the Spring season in the holy lands of Braj. Next he sang a tarana in Teentaal. The several intricate taans he essayed with ease, one felt are now tools he uses; they are no longer essential to his concert. This happens with masters; where the music takes over and the virtuosity plays a secondary role.

Enjoying himself, Ulhas Kashalkar next sang two beautiful Holi compositions in raga Kafi. The drut composition in Teentaal Aaj mann bas gayi had an interesting anecdote which he shared later that this again was a very old composition, taught to him by Pt Ginde. He concluded with Aayo phagun maas in raga Bhairavi, again appropriate to Spring.  The novel note patterns he essayed here were truly remarkable;  clearly on-the-spot creativity at its best. To the audience, it seemed as if the maestro was just enjoying the Holi season through his music, not really mindful of the audience, lost in the notes. It was a great concert.

The next day started with Jaipur Attrauli vocalist Manjiri Asnare. She sang the rare raga Sampuran Purba. Purba is a rare raga today, Sampuran Purba  seems to be extinct. Explaining that this raga had both dhaivats,Manjiri sang  two compositions in Teentaal with expertise. The slow taans which are a hallmark of the Jaipur Attrauli gharana style were sung in a measured assured manner. The next raga was the lyrical Hameer; again she sang two compositions, this time they were familiar; in Roopak taal, Sunn sunn re balam, and then the Punjabi khayal  in Ektaal  Tendere te mendere yaar. She concluded with a Holi dadra.

She was accompanied on the tabla by Vinod Lele and on the harmonium by Vinay Mishra.

The evening concluded with the 85-year-old doyenne N. Rajam accompanied by her daughter Sangeeta Shankar. On the tabla was Banaras gharana’s Abhishek Mishra. N. Rajam has always welcomed Banaras tabla accompanyists, perhaps due to her long stay there. She played raga Darbari Kanada; a slow plaintive exposition, pathos laden, vilambit Ektaal composition, then teen taal. Her engagement with the tabla kept the audience  entranced; Sangeeta’s reach of the ‘teep sa’ in the third octave was impressive. Next, she played a brief raga Jhinjhoti before concluding with raga Bhairavi.

It was a pleasure to hear leisurely concerts, the first performers for around an hour-and a-half, the concluding artists for over two hours. This has now become a rarity.

The concluding session commenced with Purbayan Chatterji on the sitar. He started with raga Maru Bihag; a brief alap-jor-jhala. The meends on the bass kharaj wires were impressive as was the jhala reminiscent of his idolNikhil Bannerji, with a pause between the strokes, making it out of the ordinary. However his jor was executed more as phrases of notes, which though pleasing to the ear, were not the systematic jor taans the Maihar gharana is known for. The very word jor means to join; a certain system is required in building up the raga from the alap to the fast jhala.

Purbayan’s vilambit gat was in teen taal; he was accompanied on the tabla by Ojas Adhiya whose interactive sangat delights a younger audience. Purbayan’s crystal clear taans in chaugun speed, were impressive, matched with equal dexterity by Ojas. The drut gat was in teen taal, ending again in a superb four bol jhala, including ulta jhala. He concluded with a dhun in misra Piloo. The admirable sense of proportion, exciting phrases always make Purbayan’s concerts hugely enjoyable; this time Ojas’s accompaniment enhanced the experience.


The evening concluded with the doyen of the Patiala gharana,  Ajoy Chakrabarty, accompanied vocally by his disciple, Meher Paralikar. Impressively, he sang the somewhat raretaga Bhinna Shajad also called Hindoli, for over an hour, weaving a spell with his golden sonorous voice and measured embellishments. The bandish in vilambit Ektaal was a composition of his guru Gyan Prakash Ghosh that he dedicated to Amjad Ali Khan who was in the audience. The tambooras were loud, which distracted the otherwise pristine presentation. The next composition was Aayo basant, appropriate to the season, in Teentaal. The profusion of sargam taans and gamak taans extended the rendering of the raga. The interesting interchange of laya phrases with Yashwant Vaishnav on the tabla, then with Paromita Mukherji on the harmonium make Ajoy Chakrabarty the legendary singer he is; he is able to create a magical ambience. He concluded with a Bhairavi thumri with shades of other ragas including Kamod Hameer Jaijaiwanti. The lyrics were linked with Holi, dhoom mach hai. The style was pure ‘purab ang’ thumri; he explained the so called Punjab ‘ang’ thumri actually did not exist, but just came to be so called due to the type of embellishments by the Patiala gharana thumri singers including maestro Barkat Ali Khan.           Shankarlal’s 75th edition presented the finest musicians, in a beautiful setting.