The Sacred Pushkar: A musical delight

  • Poulomi Banerjee, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Jan 03, 2016 16:39 IST
Ensemble La Grande Chapelle performs early sacred music at the old Akbar Fort in Ajmer.

Like a good book, good music stays and resonates in the soul long after the last strains have been sung or played. Like the eclectic medley that united to compose The Sacred Pushkar.

Held in the last few days of the annual Pushkar Mela, the first edition of the three-day The Sacred began on November 22 and brought together the best of local, national and international talent to create an unforgettable experience.

It included walks through the old town of Pushkar and was celebrated as a festival of yoga, meditation and music, but it was the latter that took precedence for most of those who attended. And with reason.

Among those performing were Nathulal Solanki on the nagaras, Shubha Mudgal, Yom and Wang Li from France and China respectively on bass clarinet and Jewish harp, Pandit Vishwa Mohan Bhatt on his mohan veena, Kailash Kher, vocalist Vidya Shah, Azim Ahmed Alvi on the sitar, qawwal Sarfaraz Raza and La Grande Chapelle ensemble with their rendition of early sacred music from Spain.

Following a mesmerising maha aarti on Raj Bohra Ghat, reminiscent of the better known Ganga aarti in Varanasi, Solanki drummed up a beat that was as poignant and soul-stirring as it was bold. Sunil Kant Gupta on the flute and Shubha Mudgal with classical songs such as ‘Nand ka kumar’ and ‘Raam rat lagi’ followed. The breeze from the lake, fireworks in the sky and Mudgal’s mellifluous voice combined to create a refreshingly spiritual moment, far removed from the humdrum of everyday life.

If day one had a predominantly classical edge, day two flirted with the experimental and popular. The mood was set by the young voices of Jaisalmer Boys, with a strong rustic flavour as they belted out hits like ‘Aayo re aayo’, ‘Allah hu’ and ‘Jhoole lal’. With members ranging in age from 7 to 15, they sang, danced and won hearts in perfect harmony.

Presenting a fusion flavour, Yom and Wang Li’s music was all about echoes and vibrations that sought to offer a peek into the natural world. “When I play, I tell a story, but there are no words. In the West, words became so important that they overcome the reality. It is important to give images about a reality in a way that doesn’t need words,” said Yom.

Day three began with Vidya Shah, who combined classical strains with better-known songs like ‘Mast kalandar’ and ‘Vaishnav jan to’. The mood set by Vidya was kept alive by the qawwal Sarfaraz Raza and La Grande Chapelle in the evening.

In their first performance in India, the Spanish group presented the compositions of Juan Hidalgo. “Although he is almost exclusively remembered as the creator, in collaboration with Calderon de la Barca, of zarzuela and the Spanish Opera, the vocal chamber music of Juan Hidalgo (1614-1685) — principally secular and sacred airs — had undeniable success in its day. For this programme, we chose music that went beyond its capacity to delight, and will fill a gap in our knowledge of the Spanish baroque,” explained director Albert Recansens.

What added to the experience at The Sacred was the choice of venue. If the stage for the evening of aarti and classical music was set at one of the ghats of Pushkar’s scared lake, for the second evening of experimental tunes, it shifted to the open sands. On the third day, the old Akbar Fort in Ajmer created the perfect backdrop for the qawwali, Azim Ahmed Alvi’s sitar rendition and La Grande Chapelle’s early sacred music.

Like a prop in a stage act, these backdrops became an important element of the experience.

(The writer was hosted by the organisers.)

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