Translated simply, the word ‘bandish’ would mean song or composition. But more than a century ago, some schools of Hindustani classical music held bandishes in such high regard that they would give them to their daughters as dowry.
Today, though not always the central focus of a classical music concert, the bandish — made up of melody, rhythm and lyrics — is still respected as the peg upon which a raga is hung.
This week, in its carefully curated three-day Bandish festival, the National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA) will shine a spotlight on seven of the most distinguished bandish composers in the history of classical Indian music, including Bade Ghulam Ali Khan from the Patiala gharana, Shrikrishna Ratanjankar from the Agra gharana and Bade Ramdas from the Benaras gharana.
To render the works of each composer on stage, the festival will feature performances by six celebrated contemporary vocalists, including Girija Devi and Ajoy Chakrabarty.
“The mainstay of Indian classical music is to bring out the personality of a raga,” says Suvarnalata Rao, curator of the festival and programming head for Indian music at the NCPA.
“The composers of a bandish provide the framework through which a raga can be remembered in a nutshell and then explored,” she adds.
Girija Devi, 84, a veteran Kolkata-based vocalist, says, “Some bandishes focus on the complexity of the rhythm and melody, while others focus on the lyrics.”
Girija Devi will present rare semi-classical compositions by Benaras gharana composers Shambhunath Mishra and Shyamcharan Mishra.
Since it was founded in 2010, the Bandish festival has commemorated several Hindustani classical composers such as Faiyaz Khan and Kumar Gandharva as well as saint-poets such as Tulsidas and Kabir. Last year’s Bandish had singers Anup Jalota and Shubha Mudgal explore devotional bandishes besides the classical repertoire.
This year, the festival will explore works from semi-classical genres such as thumri and dadra, and through the works of Thyagaraja and Purandaradasa, it will also bring on stage Carnatic classical music, where compositions are known as kritis.
“The word bandish is used mainly in Hindustani music,” says Rao. “But I wanted to highlight the fact that the idea of the composition is core to every genre.”