Jadunath Bhattacharya, the court musician of Panchetgarh and poet Bankim Chandra Chatterjee’s teacher, set Vande Mataram — a piece of poetry from Chatterjee’s Anand Math — to raag Desh. A sweet sounding, hymn-like melody from the Malhar family, the ascent of the composition — as first sung by Rabindranath Tagore in the 1896 session of the Indian Nation Congress — captured a nation’s endless variety in six verses. After years of being a battle cry for the independence movement, the national song has been a tableau of India for years. So, when three classical musicians set it to a different tune, playing around with the “sacrosanct” structure, one wondered if it would stick.
The khalifa of Delhi gharana Ustad Iqbal Ahmad Khan, violinist N Rajam and sitar player Saeed Jafar Khan performed a version of Vande Mataram last week as a tribute to Pingali Venkayya, the man who had designed the Indian tricolour, at a concert in Kamani auditorium.
Sitar strings were plucked to perfection to open Vande Matram, followed by an alaap by Khan, paired with Rajam’s deftly created melody lines. And soon the composition began, a mix of three ragas— Miyaan Malhar, Soordasi Malhar and Megh Malhar. “There is nothing more traditional than the ragas.
And merging three ragas in the honour of the tricolour was a great idea. I had to make sure that there were no patches,” says Khan.
But moments into the piece, and it begins to sound like any other bandish being sung and played by classical musicians. It may have been well-composed (it has a legend like N Rajam at the helm) but will its complexity strike a chord with the nation? That remains to be seen “I will be looking at recording this in future,” says Khan.