The magnetic charm of Hindustani classical music was on full display during the opening performance of the 140th Harivallabh Sangeet Samellan here, when Shehnai maestro Pandit S Ballesh was able to pull a crowd inside by just the power of his notes.
This was his first time at the annual music festival. “I have performed all over the world but I had been waiting for long to play at the prestigious Devi Talab Mandir,” he said. The audience was captivated in an instant. Pandit S Ballesh has played for movies such as ‘Raanjhana’, ‘Rockstar’, ‘Bahubali’ and ‘Swadesh’ and worked with the noted music director AR Rehman.
His grouse is that new music — rap and hip-hop, especially, had declined the standard of the art. He demonstrated it by singing classical notes and comparing it with the present-day Bollywood music. “Only a few film-music directors are doing good work,” he said, “but nothing is more peaceful than classical music. It is music for the soul and Harivallabh is a dream platform,” said the maestro, who was accompanied by his son, Krishna Ballesh.
“Have you listened to my father’s notes in ‘Ik ho gae hum aur tum, to ud gayi neenday re’. It’s rap music using Shehnai,” said the junior Ballesh.
Started in 1875, Harivallabh Sangeet Samellan, is the world’s oldest music festival dedicated to Indian classical music. Baba Harivallabh started it in the memory of his guru, Swami Tulsagiri, and hermits would attend it then. Baba Harivallabh ran the event for 10 years till his death in 1885, after which it was renamed after him.
The festival has a rich history. In 1913, Pandit Vishnu Digambar performed on this stage and refused to accept the fee of Rs 250 from the organisers. Instead, he added Rs 5 to it and offered it at the memorial of Baba Harivallabh. His disciples follow this practice till date.
People bring their families to this festival. Ujagar Singh, 75, an old regular, said: “Every year, I wait for the event. Nothing else has ever given me more peace.”
On Friday, classical vocalist Pandit M Venkatash Kumar and youngest President’s Award recipient Abhishek Lahiri also performed at Harivallabh for the first time.