IN INDIAN music,the voice is regarded as superior and everything else considered lower, says Suvarnalata Rao,head of programming for Indian music at the National Centre for Performing Arts (NCPA),Nariman Point. She proceeds to explain how,until 100 years ago,musical instruments were regarded as accompaniments to vocal performances. That,she says,is a misplaced representation,as these instruments are capable of holding their own in performances consisting of no vocals at all.
To illustrate this point,two years ago the NCPA hosted a two-day annual festival dedicated solely to Indian instrumental music. Titled Saz-e-Bahar,the aim of this event was to showcase the many musical instruments that the country has,a number of which are forgotten. Every year,the NCPA organises a festival of vocal music in September. To juxtapose that festival,we created this festival to feature artistes with exceptional talent in instrumental music, says Rao.
The third edition of Saz-e-Bahar will be held on April 12 and 13 at Experimental Theatre,NCPA. The inaugural edition of the festival in 2011 saw performances by Bhimanna Jadhav and Group (sundari) and Partho Sarothy (sarod) with Ashoke Mukherjee (tabla) on the first day and Ulhas Bapat (santoor) with Makarand Tulankar (tabla) and Suresh Talwalkar and Group (tabla and pakhawaj) on the second. Last years festival featured Aditya Kalyanpur (tabla) and Rupak Kulkarni (bansuri) on the first day and Murad Ali (sarangi) and Kushal Das (sitar) on the second.
This year,on the first day,Shubhendra Rao will play the sitar,accompanied by his wife,Saskia de Haas Rao,on her specially adapted cello,which consists of one extra playing string as opposed to the usual four and 10 sympathetic strings. With a normal cello,I was sitting on the chair while my guru was sitting on the floor and performing, says de Haas Rao,So,when I decided to sit on the floor alongside,the cello had to be condensed to a form suitable for that kind of seating arrangement. Now,when she performs with her husband,the cello,she says,becomes the masculine counterpart and the sitar the more feminine.
On the second day,Sabir Khan,a descendant of tabla players from the Farrukhabad gharana,will play the tabla,and Chitravina N Ravikiran the chitravina. The latter,a 46-year-old musician,was once regarded a child prodigy,having made his first musical appearance at the age of two. Since then,he has become one of the best-known proponents of the chitravina,a 20 or 21 string instrument that is now played primarily in South India.
Being a two-day festival consisting solely of Indian instrumental music,Saz-e-Bahar finds itself in a space that is not well-explored today. Vocals (in music) dominate everywhere in film music,classical music and so on, says Sabir Khan. Instruments such as the tabla and sitar are very popular,but the harmonium and chitravina are not,and need more exposure.
According to Ravikiran,instrumental music is not limited,unlike vocal which is mostly restricted by language. The chitravina,for instance,he says,can be used to play almost any raga. Khan,a proponent of the tabla,says as opposed to vocal compositions which build up slowly,instrumental music is instantly upbeat. The setback,they all maintain,is that Indian classical music on the whole does not receive as much attention as it should. The future is always bright for Indian classical music,and we are trying to bring this music to the younger generation,but it needs more exposure, says Khan.