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Thumri Festival 2017: Representing the very best of North Indian vocal music traditions

Published : Aug 29, 2017, 12:47 am IST
Updated : Aug 29, 2017, 12:47 am IST

Banaras’s very own, thumri doyen, Pt Chanulal Mishra ends the concerts on the first day.

Indrani Mukherjee
 Indrani Mukherjee

At the time of India’s Independence in 1947, all the Princely States, which were the main patrons of the classical arts and maintained artists in their courts, were abolished. In one stroke, thousands of custodians of our invaluable artistic heritage were rendered homeless and without a means of income.

At this point, theoretically, the Central government and state governments were supposed to step in with institutions created to support artists, and promote the classical arts. These included All India Radio, a prolific employer of artists, the Sangeet Natak Akademi, Zonal Cultural Centres, Indian Council for Cultural Relations and many more.

In the 70th year of our independence, we see that in many cases, the original objectives of promotion of the arts and artists have been diluted.

However, this is not the case with the Sahitya Kala Parishad, part of the art culture and language department of the Delhi government, which has over the last seven years given a rich and varied musical fare to Delhiites. The Thumri Festival over the years has come to represent the very best of our North Indian vocal traditions; innovatively, the organiser Shrimati Sindhu Mishra has persuaded even those singers not exclusively wed to the thumri genre to perform on her stage. As she put it, “Pts Rajan Sajan Mishra, though from the Banaras gharana, one of the premier thumri gharanas, had never before sung only thumris on stage, and it was quite difficult to get them to agree to perform”.

Kalpana ZokarkarKalpana Zokarkar

Vidushi Shruti Sadolikar has learnt thumri extensively from the great master Ustad Gullubhai Jasdanwalla, but it is usually for her strictly traditional Jaipur Attrauli gharana khayal for which she is better known; again, her inclusion at the Thumri Festival in 2013 was an unexpected delight.

The stage has also provided a platform to extremely talented, but not over-exposed artists like Debashish Dey of Banaras, and Dalia Raut, again representing Banaras thumri. Youngsters like Samrat Pandit, Nitin Sharma and Moumita Mitra have been given an opportunity to perform, alongside established doyens like Vidushi Girija Devi, Pt Channulal Mishra, Pt Ajoy Chakravorty, Vidushi Savita Devi, and Pt Ajay Pohankar.

This year’s lineup of the festival on September 1 to 3 at Delhi’s Kamani Auditorium is equally riveting — the first day features Vidushi Arti Ankalikar, representing the Jaipur Atrauli gayeki.

Indrani Mukherjee is next; she has learnt thumri from the renowned Vidushi Purnima Chaudhari, and is now learning from the very erudite Manju Sundaram from Banaras, whom she says teaches in the old fashioned Gurukul way, with students living in house, and teaching happening, formally and informally all day. Indrani verbalised what thumri as a genre means — “after years of singing and learning khayal gayaki do I dare to now sing thumris.

It is the most complete genre of music, with every element in it; I don’t know why it is referred to as a semi-classical genre. It is wonderful that a festival of this magnitude is held on such a scale, and I am grateful I am being given a chance to perform on this platform.”

Banaras’s very own, thumri doyen, Pt Chanulal Mishra ends the concerts on the first day.

On September 2, is the extremely talented Kalpana Zokarkar from Indore, whose main taalim in thumri was from Vidushi Sushila Pohankar (Pt Ajay Pohankar's mother), and inspiration from thumri doyen Vidushi Shobha Gurtu. She has of course a great musical pedigree which includes training in the tradition of the legendary Ustad Rajab Ali Khan, from whom her father learnt.

This platform will be a first for Kalpana, who admitted she “was excited;” and recalled that as early as “1977, at the Akashwani All India Competition, from Indore, I stood first in the thumri (light semi classical) category”. She is followed by Ramakant Gaikwad, a talented upcoming singer representing the Patiala gharana thumri, and the evening ends with the ever popular Padmashri Smt Malini Awasthi.

The last day features Pooja Goswami from Delhi, another Delhiite, Meeta Pandit, fifth generation singer of the learned Gwalior Pandit family, and the grand finale is by none other than Padma Vibhushan Vidushi Girija Devi.

Tags: classical arts, indian council for cultural relations, thumri festival