A feast of classical music

ByManjari Sinha
Mar 10, 2023 07:19 PM IST

The Mahendra Sanatkada Lucknow Festival 2023 showcased a range of forms including khayal, thumri, ghazal, soz and marsiakhwani that are a part of the city’s rich tradition of the performing arts

Even Nawab Asaf-ud-daula, who shifted his capital from Faizabad to Lucknow, had no inkling that the latter city would become the nucleus of a unique culture. The Lucknow Durbar reached the peak of its cultural glory under the Nawabs of Awadh up until Wajid Ali Shah. This year, the Mahendra Sanatqada Lucknow Festival (3-7 February) showcased the city’s rich tradition of Raqs-o-Mausiqi (dance and music), which includes a range of flourishing forms like khayal, thumri, ghazal, soz, marsiakhwani and dastangoi with an emphasis on the Lucknow ang ki thumri and the Lucknow gharanas of tabla and kathak.

Sangeeta Nerurkar paying a musical tribute to Begum Akhtar at the Mahendra Sanatkada Lucknow Festival 2023. (Rakesh Sinha) PREMIUM
Sangeeta Nerurkar paying a musical tribute to Begum Akhtar at the Mahendra Sanatkada Lucknow Festival 2023. (Rakesh Sinha)

“Lucknow has been home to innumerable poets, musicians, and songwriters. This region has contributed talents and made an indelible impact on the popular music of the Mumbai film industry as well,” says the festival curator Askari Naqvi. “As we explore the artistic heritage of this region, we also hope to shed light on the traditions that ingrained dance and music into the sociocultural tapestry of Awadh. From qawwalis at dargahs, marsiyakhwani in imambadas, bhajans in temples and mujras and musical baithaks in mansions, to the grand musical operas at the Parikhana and the rich folk music reverberating through the countryside, the story of Awadh is inseparable from the story of its Raqs–o-Mausiqui,” he adds.

A scene from the play Bandish (Rakesh Sinha)
A scene from the play Bandish (Rakesh Sinha)

The five-day festival, which hosted several performances of indigenous music and dance forms, opened with a glittering Brass Bands competition. The main attraction of the inaugural evening was Nagmat-e-Akhtari, a musical tribute to Begum Akhtar by Sangeeta Nerurkar, a seasoned vocalist who has researched the life and art of the queen of ghazals. Each of the ghazals and thumri-dadra she presented was prefaced with interesting anecdotes about the legend. One was about the performer as a 13-year-old singing Ai But-e-Harjai, kuchh aisi ada pai/ Takta hai teri surat har ek tamaashai at her maiden concert at Alfred Park, Kolkata, just after a devastating earthquake. She immediately won the hearts of thousands of music lovers. The evening included renditions of Na socha na samjha, na dekha na jana/ mujhe aa gaya khud bakhud dil lagana which recalled the zestful voice of a young Akhtari Bai Faizabadi, and of Ishq mein ghairat-e-jazbaat ne rone na diya which conveyed the sad state of a dejected lover in the seasoned voice of Begum Akhtar. The performance concluded with the lilting dadra in Bhairavi, Humri atariya pe..., which stirred memories of one of the greatest exponents of these forms. Nerurkar’s expert musical renditions and engaging commentary kept the audience glued to their seats for nearly three hours.

TM Krishna performing at the MSlF, Lucknow (Rakesh Sinha)
TM Krishna performing at the MSlF, Lucknow (Rakesh Sinha)

TM Krishna rendered the Thyagaraja Krithi and Kshetraiya Padam in Carnatic music and then won the hearts of the Lucknow audience with Jamuna kinare mora gaanv, Sanvare ai jaiyo… and Shri Ramchandra Kripalu Bhajman to the accompaniment of taanpuras and unobtrusive percussion instruments.

The Sufiana qawwali by Janab Haidar Baksh Warsi elicited enthusiastic “waah waahs” and clapping from the crowd.

The play Bandish written and directed by Purva Naresh with music direction by Shubha Mudgal, which featured eloquent and well trained singing actors, also left a lasting impression.

While the Lucknow tabla gharana was showcased in a melodious solo by its present Khalifa, Ustad Ilmas Khan, the city’s kathak gharana was represented by Shinjini Kulkarni, the granddaughter of Pandit Birju Maharaj. At an early morning performance against the backdrop of the magnificent Baradari, she traced the history of the Lucknow kathak gharana to the Saryupari Brahmins of Kichkila village in Allahabad, who recited kathas and sang bhajans before shifting to Lucknow. Incidentally, as gurudakshina for teaching him kathak, Wajid Ali Shah gifted the Kalka Bingadin Deodhi, now a museum, to the ancestors of Pandit Birju Maharaj.

Janab Haidar Baksh Warsi performing at the MSlF, Lucknow. (Rakesh Sinha)
Janab Haidar Baksh Warsi performing at the MSlF, Lucknow. (Rakesh Sinha)

As part of the programme, I spoke of my own musical memories of the Raks-o-Mausiqi of Awadh and of Abdul Halim Sharar’s memoir Guzishta Lucknow (Lucknow of the Bygone Days). Yatindra Mishra, who spoke about the devotional songs of the Awadh Rajwadas, brought alive musical traditions of the past like the Jagmohana sung on Janmashtami and the Mubaraqbaadi sung on other special occasions.

Salempur House, a part of the Qaisar Bagh Palace built by Nawab Wajid Ali Shah hosted a session on Awadh and its influence on cinema and music. Filmmaker Muzzafar Ali and actor Atul Tiwari discussed the film Indra-Sabha (1932) and its connection with the nawab’s dance-drama of the same name. Written by Amanat, Inder Sabha used to be performed at Safed Baradari with the nawab himself playing Devaraj Indra and the inhabitants of his Parikhana playing other roles. The film based on the original play featured Jahanara Kajjan, who was born in Lucknow to the tawaif Suggan. The singing star of early Hindustani cinema also featured in Alam Ara. “Awadh is an interesting garden of inspiration; We must understand its subtle shades,” said Muzzafar Ali, who made Umrao Jaan.

Taal vadya kacheri at the MSIF, Lucknow (Rakesh Sinha)
Taal vadya kacheri at the MSIF, Lucknow (Rakesh Sinha)

The session Ek Khas Mulaqat which brought together several musicians including Ustad Gulshan Bharati of the Lucknow Qawwal-Bachcha Gharana, Ustad Ilmas Khan of the Lucknow Tabla Gharana and Srishti Mathur from the Bhatkhande Culture University, discussed the diminishing audiences for classical music. “Classical music is dealing with a constant threat due to reality shows also. The young generation is keen to learn from these shows only, not to carry forward the legacy,” said Gulshan Bharati.

Still, the vibrancy of the presentations at the Mahendra Sanatqada Lucknow Festival gave audiences a reason to be optimistic about the future of classical music in India.

Manjari Sinha is a senior music critic.

Enjoy unlimited digital access with HT Premium

Subscribe Now to continue reading
Story Saved
Saved Articles
My Reads
My Offers
Sign out
New Delhi 0C
Wednesday, March 29, 2023
Start 15 Days Free Trial Subscribe Now
Register Free and get Exciting Deals