Report: The Sankat Mochan Sangeet Samaroh 2022
The Sankat Mochan Sangeet Samaroh celebrated its 99th edition from 20th to 25th April at the sprawling Sankat Mochan Mandir in Varanasi. Started on Hanuman Jayanti in 1923 as a celebration of the deity Hanuman, the mightiest devotee of Lord Ram and one who is considered to be well versed in all branches of knowledge, this annual festival continues to draw reputed classical musicians and dancers. The Hanuman-Durbar of Sankat Mochan (Reliever of all obstacles) is open to all regardless of caste, creed and nationality and draws performers and audiences that comprise rich and poor, young and old from all over India and abroad.
Thousands of devotees, music lovers and connoisseurs thronged the venue to watch the performances held on a stage adjacent to the main temple, and the open spaces where the programme was shown on big screens. Incidentally, the courtyard featured large cutouts of the artists like Pt Jasraj, Pt Rajan Mishra, Pt Birju Maharaj, Prof Debu Chaudhuri and Prateek Chaudhury who died during the pandemic. The events included music and dance performances by both established and young musicians from across the country. Alongside was a gallery where artists executed live paintings inspired by and in time with the music.
The six-day festival opened with a mandolin recital by U Rajesh and Shivamani’s percussion that included the tabla, mridangam, drums, and a variety of ghanta and ghantis (big and small bells). Gautam Kale, a young disciple of Pt Jasraj performed before Pt Vishwa Mohan Bhatt regaled the audience with a rendition of raga Bihag on the Mohan Veena. He was accompanied by his son and disciple Salil Bhatt and young tabla player Abhishek Mishra. Other stellar performances by Pt Ulhas Kashalkar, a tabla solo by Pt Kumar Bose, Hindustani vocals by Prasad Khaparde, disciple of Ud Rashid Khan, and a sarod duet by Shiraz Ali Khan and Deeptnil Bhattachary accompanied on tabla by Pt Badri Narayan followed. The inaugural overnight concert concluded with Pt Sajan Mishra and his son Swaransh’s rendition of the Salagvaradi Todi, a rare variety of this raga.
The audience comprised a variety of people. While weaver Rameshwar came to the festival after a long day of work at his sari shop, Gyaaniji, who makes prasad in the temple kitchen, swayed to the sound in his vest and knee-length gamchha. When Sadhu Prahlad Baba was asked about his views on the music he replied “Yeh ehsaas ki baat hai!” (You can only feel it, not describe it!)
The programme for six evenings in a row included eight performances of vocal and instrumental music preceded by different classical dance forms. The performances included the pensive Malkauns Khayal set to Vilambit Jhoomra and teental by Ud Mashkoor Ali Khan from Kolkata, Vilambit Ektala by Pt Jayteerth Mevundi, Khayal Rageshri and Tappa/Tarana in Kafi by Vidushi Kalpana Jhokarkar from Indore, the timely Bhairav and Vibhas by Pt Mashup Mudgal and the concluding concert by Pt Harish Tiwari. There were bhajans by Anup Jalota and vocal recitals by Pt Devashish De, Ud Ghulam Abbas Khan, Deepika Varadrajan, Vijay Patil, Dr Jyotsna Laxmi, Amrita Chatterji and Sanyukta Das. The nostalgic memory of Pt Jasraj, who stayed in the temple premises during previous editions of the festival, was brought alive by his disciples Rattan Mohan Sharma, Neeraj Parikh and Gautam Kale.
The Sankat Mochan Sangeet Samaroh has such a reputation for its discerning audience, which includes the present mahant Vishwambhar Nath Mishra, a practising Pakhawaji and professor at Benaras Hindu University, that popular sitarist Neeladri Kumar, known for his modern approach and electronic zitar, opted for a sombre Darbari Kanada with aalap-jod adorned with the typical kharaj-laraj ka kaam’ in the lower octaves, and a madhya-vilambit gat in rupak tala of a seven-beats cycle. This was followed by a traditional composition in raga Jhinjhoti. His avant-garde avatar was seen only in the concluding Bhairavi, and that too after repeated calls of “once more”!
The Maihar flavour of the shuddha kafi played on the sarod by Pt Tejendra Narayan Majumdar accompanied on tabla by Pt Kumar Bose, the Jogeshwari by Ud Shahid Parvez with Sanju Sahay on tabla, sarod by Devjyoti Bose and Shakir Khan on sitar, Dr L Subramanium on the violin with songs by Kavita Krishnamurthy, flute recitals by Pravin Godkhindi and his son Shadja Godkhindi, santoor by Pt Tarun Bhattacharya and Nat-Bhairav on sarangi by Moinuddin Khan were some of the instrumental treats.
Tabla solos by Pt Suresh Talwalkar and his daughter Sawani Talwalkar, Vidwan Yella Venkateshwar Rao’s musical kucheri on mridangam, Dr M Lalitha and M Nandini’s violin duet of Pavanaatmaja in praise of Lord Hanuman in raga Chala-Nattai composed by Muthuswamy Deekshitar were some other attractions. The sisters also played a Thyagaraja Krithi in Hamsanadam, concluding with the popular Tulasidas Pada Thumuk chalat Ramachandra, accompanied on mridangam by Rohit Prasad and conducted by their guru and mother Smt Subbulaxmi Muthuswamy.
Bharatanatyam dancer Pavitra Bhatt’s presentation of Hanuman Chalisa stole the hearts of Benarasi rasikas who were awestruck by his energy! Sujata and Ratikant Mohapatra’s presentation of the Chudamani-Pradanam episode of the Ramayana in the Odissi style brought alive nostalgic memories of Guru Kelu Charan Mohapatra, who performed at this venue many times. All four gharanas of Kathak were also presented.
Considering the success of the event, audiences hope the Sankat Mochan Sangeet Samaroh will be even bigger during its centenary celebrations next year.
Manjari Sinha is an independent journalist who writes on classical music and dance.