Written by Sameer Manekar
Vocalist Aparna Panshikar nervously got on to the stage on the third day of the 66th Sawai Gandharva Bhimsen Mahotsav for her debut performance. “There is definitely some pressure for performing at Sawai, since the audience of Pune is savvy with classical music. But it is a blessing to present your art on this stage where numerous legends have performed in the past, and I consider myself fortunate,” she said.
Remembering her mother, Panshikar started with a rarely performed raga, lajwanti, a melodious combination of kamod, chhayanut, and tilak kamod ragas, captivating the audience from her very first khayal in jhap taal. Bringing the subtlety of complex nuances of bhajans, ghazals, and thumris to her renditions, Panshikar brought to life the grief and anguish of Mirabai with a meera bhajan composed by her mother: chod mat jaiyo ji, maharaj, tum hi mere sirtaaj, O ji maharaj.
Balwant Singh Namdhari, who is from the musical village of Bhaini Sahib in Punjab, took forward the series of magical performances after Panshikar. Seeking the blessings of his late guru on his first Sawai performance, legendary vocalist and spiritual leader of Namdhari sect, Sadguru Jagjit Singh, he began with a Jaipur gharana bandish in raga puriya dhanashri, dedicated to King Dashrath and Shri Rama: chiranjeev raho dono.
A vocalist skilled in the nuances of Jaipur and Talwandi gharanas, as well as proficient in gurbani compositions, Namdhari brought the audience to tears with his impassioned rendition of Ustad Vilayat Khan’s composition, “barse rahi kari kari badariya” in raga Puriya Dhanashri, accompanied by the soulful strokes of pakhawaj jodi, an ancient drum instrument exclusive to Sikh music, and the beautiful melody of esraj, a Punjabi string instrument fiddled with a bow. He concluded with a peaceful shabad gurbani kirtan, “guna naad, dhuna anant bhed”, composed in raga Yaman in 7 ¾ beat by Sadguru ji, leaving listeners yearning for more.
Following the spectral vocal performances, debutant father-son violinist duo, Pandit Milind Raikar and disciple Yadnesh Raikar, explored the evening raga Bhoop, delicately fiddling the strings and creating a tranquil atmosphere. Mentored by violinist late Kishori Amonkar, among other maestros, the duo went on a jugalbandi, complementing and teasing each other with the highs and lows of notes. With Yadnesh playing the violin of legendary violinist D K Datar, the duo concluded by performing raga Hameer and a bhajan, baje muraliya baje, as a tribute to him.
To conclude yet another evening of spectacular performances, veteran vocalist Pandit Ulhas Kashalkar of the prestigious gharanas of Gwalior, Jaipur and Agra, explored the combination of Basant and raga Bahar, mesmerising the audience with his fine blend of the two late-night ragas. On the occasion, organisers Arya Sangeet Prasarak Mandal conferred the Kailaswasi Vatsala Tai Bhimsen Joshi 2018 award on Pandit Kashalkar.