When the Bombay High Court’s 1994 order on curbing noise pollution came into effect, the festival was stopped. In 2009, it was moved to the steps of the Asiatic Library and renamed the Mumbai Sanskriti festival, which continued to be held physically until last year
When the Bombay High Court’s 1994 order on curbing noise pollution came into effect, the festival was stopped. In 2009, it was moved to the steps of the Asiatic Library and renamed the Mumbai Sanskriti festival, which continued to be held physically until last year

Drama to the duet

The Mumbai Sanskriti Festival’s virtual avatar is set in a landmark Mumbai structure lovingly restored by the India Heritage Society
By Shruti Nair
UPDATED ON APR 25, 2021 08:14 AM IST

It’s been said that culture lies on the frontlines of conflicts across the world. A walk around the streets of South Mumbai tells you tales of a different era; the structures show the influence of the Venetian and Gothic era at the time when Mumbai was Bombay Presidency.

In 2016, when I’d frequent the Bombay High Court for assignments, I’d pass by Mumbai University and stare at the Rajabai Clock tower, modelled on the lines of London’s Big Ben, admiring how the architectural delight had withstood the test of time.

But it was only a recent conversation with the Indian Heritage Society (IHS) chairperson Anita Garware that made me realise there is a good reason why these heritage structures in South Mumbai still stand tall over the years – timely conservation efforts.

“The Rajabai clock tower and the Asiatic Library are iconic landmark structures of South Mumbai, and when we spoke with the chancellor of the Mumbai University for renovation, Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) joined hands with us in the efforts to restore them to their original glory,” says Anita.

Held in trust

Both the Rajabai clock tower and the Asiatic Library are fairly recent efforts on the part of IHS. But the society has been engaged in conservation efforts since 1979. Its first restoration projects were of the Banganga tank and the adjoining Rameshwar and Ganpati temples in 1991.

The renovated convocation hall of the Mumbai University is the venue for the Mumbai Sanskriti fest 2021
The renovated convocation hall of the Mumbai University is the venue for the Mumbai Sanskriti fest 2021

“There was a proposal to fill the Banganga tank and build high-rise buildings in its place. In order to save this tank built by the Silhara dynasty between the 10th and 12th centuries, a small committee was formed under the chairmanship of the then municipal commissioner and efforts began to bring awareness among the residents of Mumbai about the tank with a two-day festival. This festival’s theme was live music to save our heritage and it was called the Banganga Festival. The first one was held in January 1992.”

When the Bombay High Court’s 1994 order on curbing noise pollution came into effect, the festival was stopped. In 2009, it was moved to the steps of the Asiatic Library and renamed the Mumbai Sanskriti festival, which continued to be held physically until last year.

“Built heritage is a manifestation of culture, food, music and dance. Heritage is not something I’ve inherited but what I hold in trust for future generations,” Anita says.

With everything going digital due to the pandemic, the Mumbai Sanskriti festival this year is being held online. The 2021 edition of the festival features internationally acclaimed artistes, including Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma, vocalist Ashwini Bhide-Deshpande, Sufi musician Radhika Sood Nayak and tabla player Fazal Qureshi playing at Mumbai University’s convocation hall through the month of April.

Past, present and future

“I have played for IHS before and besides having a good relationship with them, they’re making people aware of the history of heritage structures,” says Fazal Qureshi. “Venues like the Convocation Hall make you feel a sense of pride in belonging to this city. For a performer, the waah-waahi from the audience is extremely important, jab tak woh nahi milti, kuch adhoora sa lagta hai (until you get that, it feels incomplete). So without the live audience, where does the artist gain inspiration from? I got mine from the venue,” he says.

(Top) Mumbai Sanskriti festival 2019 edition; the artistes performing in the 2021 edition include (from left) Ashwini Bhide-Deshpande, Pt. Shiv Kumar Sharma, Fazal Qureshi, and (inset) Radhika Sood Nayak
(Top) Mumbai Sanskriti festival 2019 edition; the artistes performing in the 2021 edition include (from left) Ashwini Bhide-Deshpande, Pt. Shiv Kumar Sharma, Fazal Qureshi, and (inset) Radhika Sood Nayak

Sufi musician Radhika Sood Nayak says, “When the venue is beautiful, even if you’re missing the reverse flow from the audience, you can still be grateful for the place. Though I grew up in Delhi, and the connect of growing up in Mumbai is missing, landing up in an unexpected place is always a beautiful experience. Every venue has its own vibe! Performing in a venue that signifies wisdom and knowledge, I also became a seeker.”

Nayak believes that the venue synergised with her performance. “The influence of the heritage venue was not lost on me while performing. I was performing 16th and 17th century poetry which remains relevant even today and the synergy of my poetry with the venue enriches the present and the future.”

Vocalist Ashwini Bhide-Deshpande, who hails from the Jaipur-Atrauli gharana of Hindustani classical music, believes her music contrasts with architecture.

“We build a raag against architecture and the training is to appreciate the legacy I’ve imbibed over the years, so the beautiful stained glass of the Mumbai University’s convocation hall made me feel like I was singing to the departed souls who performed at the venue earlier,” she says. “I got to know that Ustad Alladiya Khan, the foremost musical maestro of my gharana, had performed here in 1944 and to have the opportunity to perform at the same venue as him, I feel blessed.”

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From HT Brunch, April 25, 2021

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