From a few hundreds of audience in early 1950s to crossing the 15,000 mark in the past few years, the popularity for Sawai Gandharva Bhimsen Mahotsav, a festival that celebrates Indian classical music and features a number of stalwarts from the field, has grown manifold since the time of its inception. The four-day festivals begins on Thursday.
The 82-year-old Subhash Bhambure got associated with the festival more than 55 years ago, when he was barely in his mid-20s. Initially, he did the job of placing musical instruments of the performing artistes on the stage and taking them back once the artistes were done with their performances.
For the last 25 years, he has been handling the job of writing the inaugural speech of the festival. Recollecting how he came to get attached to the festival decades ago, he says, “I used to learn singing from my guru Vijay Karandikar since I was small. However, when I grew up, my voice became so heavy that my guruji advised me against pursuing singing as a career. Later, when I was in college, my guruji called me to assist him in work at the Sawai festival. Since the order came from my guru, I didn’t even think before saying yes.”
The octogenarian is happy to have seen who’s who of Indian classical music from close quarters. Sharing an anecdote, he says, “Almost 30 years ago, Ustad Bismillah Khan had come to perform at Sawai. In the morning time, when he wanted to read namaaz, he asked if someone can take him to a mosque. My guruji asked me to accompany him till the mosque and back. I cannot forget that day and the minutes I spent in the company of someone as big as Khan Sahab.”
For the last 35 years, 63-year-old Jayanta Padhye handles an important task at the festival – receiving the artistes at the airport, dropping them to their respective hotels and then ferrying them to the venue of the festival. He hails from a family of musicians; both his father and grandfather were singers. “Almost every artiste recognises me – from Ustad Zakir Hussain, Pt Rajan-Sajan Mishra, Bhavani Shankar, Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia and so on,” says Padhye.
Once, after receiving renowned flautist Chaurasia at the airport, Padhye mentioned to him how a particular raga (raag jhinjhoti) played by Chaurasia in 1978 at Sawai still reverberated in his ears. “He said ‘chalo aaj mein tumhari pasand ka raga bajaoonga’ (Today I will play raga of your choice). And he kept his promise when he performed that same evening. I was so touched by his gesture,” recalls Padhye.
The task that 73-year-old Vidyadhar Bhagwat handles is crucial to any festival. While he joined Sawai as a volunteer in 1958 and handled different tasks in different departments for years, in 2004, he took over the task of procuring all the required permissions for the event such as letters from the collector, MSEB, police department, fire brigade, NOC from PMC, NOC from venue owner and so on. “In the last 57 years of my association with Sawai, I have done many jobs like overseeing seating arrangement, taking care of artistes in the green room, transportation and others.
Handling different tasks has been a learning experience for me,” he says.
Having witnessed Sawai years after years, the trio say the festival will only grow in the coming years. “The awareness, understanding and love for classical music has been increasing. While earlier only the middle-aged and senior citizens would attend the festival, participation of youngsters has been on a rise for the last few years,” says Bhambhure.
Day 1 of Sawai today
Namrata Gaikwad (shehnai)
Savani and Shilpa (vocal)
Pt. Vishwanath (vocal)
Rupak Kulkarni + Pravin Sheolikar (flute + violin)
Pt. Rajan & Pt. Sajan Mishra (vocal)
(Timing: 3.30 to 10 pm)