Purab Anga Gayaki Utsav
19 October 2012
Meena Banerjee was in Delhi to attend the event
Dr Girija Devi is the beacon of Purab Anga Gayaki Utsav (PAGU). With Girija-ji in the lead, the second season of Purab Anga Gayaki Utsav (PAGU) began at Delhi’s WWF (Sept 29-30) by paying glowing tributes to the late Naina Devi, another doyenne of this genre who was born in Bengal as Nilina Sen. This granddaughter of the legendary Brahmasamaj leader Keshab Chandra Sen and youngest sister of the famed starlet Sadhona Bose (1930-40s) was convent educated (very uncommon in those days), learnt music at the feet of the legendary Girija Shankar Chakraborty and got married to Maharaja Ripjit Singh of Kapurthala. Ater the death of her husband she stepped out of the lifestyle of nobility and transformed herself as Naina Devi only to be able to sing, organize soirees, help musicians in need and groom several celebrated disciples. ‘By dedicating the PAGU baithaks to Nainaji, I, in all humility, acknowledge my personal debt to her. If Girija Devi sowed the seeds of love for classical music in my heart, it was Naina Devi who nurtured it with unreserved affection and care,’ said a visibly moved Vinod Kapur, the spirit behind PAGU and the famed VSK Baithaks - organized by his Keggfarms, before presenting the participants of the two-day long opening festival of 2012-13.
During its first season in early 2011, Kapur had singlehandedly organized twelve informal Baithaks in Delhi, Kolkata and Varanasi, presented 36 talents from all over India and honoured six most-gifted participants with ‘Girija Devi Puraskar’. Despite its name and its beacon’s lineage, PAGU took the Punjab-Anga in its fold, because its sole aim was to focus on thumri and related forms. Like last year, each day featured four exponents of various age-groups, allotted 30 minutes to each participant for one thumri and one dadra, kajri or some such lighter item and studiedly avoided the guru’s names to avoid any prejudice while assessing them for the Puraskars. Celebrated thumri exponents like Rita Ganguly, Shanti Hiranand, Malashri Prasad and veteran critics like Manjari Sinha and several aficionados including feted photographer Avinash Pasricha were invited for melodic photography and unbiased evaluation of the participants. Interestingly, this year too, the clutch of 8 vocalists had one each from Delhi and Pune and six brilliant singers from Kolkata!
Four of them were featured on day one. Anal Chatterjee, the sole male participant, opened the fest in his honeyed tone with ‘Dekhe bina bechaen’, a Khamaj thumri set to dipchandi. The use of different phrases during bol-banao was imaginative, so was his well-balanced display of emotion and skill. He also sang a Kirwani dadra. Blessed with a deep voice so well-suited for the genre, Sanjana Chakraborty sang Kafi thumri in jat and a lively Pilu dadra that lost its zing due to inapt tabla accompaniment. Later Moumita Mitra handled both Shanti Bhushan Jha (tabla) and Badlu Khan (harmonium) with confidence and her mellifluous voice with an impressive range did full justice to her Pilu thumri and Bhairavi dadra. Soulful pukars and neat laggi were the most striking points of her renditions. A more experienced and husky-voiced Abanti Bhattacharya, aided by her husband Aurobinda Bhattacharya on the tabla, was a picture of expressive confidence. This made her recital of Khamaj-jat thumri and Pilu dadra very enjoyable. The second evening began with Delhi-based Tanvi Bhattashali’s rendition of Khamaj thumri and Gara dadra. Albeit with a little nasal and delicate voice, her innovative bol-banao and sense of rhythm were quite impressive. Pune-based Shivani Kallianpur’s sweet voice with desired weight caught attention instantly. Her inventive improvisations made the Pancham-se-Gara thumri and a Kajri enjoyable. Both Sabina Mumtaz Rahaman and Tapasi Ghosh were from Bengal; both are blessed with mellow voices; both began their recitals with different Majh Khamaj thumris and ended with dadras. Despite all these similarities the impact was different and that is the beauty of Indian classical forms.
PAGU’s journey so far established the fact that, a highly evocative and complex form, thumri is like the female face of khayal. (Most probably that is why very few male singers ventured to participate in PAGU.) With compositions set to medium-paced jat, dipchandi, addha talas, thumri’s systematic but short-phrased improvisations are free to explore beyond one raga to enhance the subtleties of emotions more aesthetically. Bandish-ki-thumri, Bol-baant-ki thumri, Ghanakshari thumri etc are some of the popular varieties. Out of its two major styles Benaras-style or Purab-anga emphasizes on heavy, meend-laden elaborations and tappa-anga taans. Punjab-anga uses superfine embellishments like khatka (jerk) and murki (fine-grained half-notes) ala ghazal/qawwali. Lilting laggi, the tailpiece, gives tabla player a space to showcase his mastery while acting as an acid test of the vocalist’s ability to handle the complex rhythm-patterns. The even-paced improvisations in the first leg of the laggi must pick up varied speeds later, and both artistes must close together with a neat tihai. Other idioms (dadra, chaiti, hori, kajri etc.) usually portray seasonal moods and rituals. After thumri, these lighter compositions are sung in faster dipchandi (chaanchar), kaherwa, khemta, dadra talas with an optional mystic doha/shaer (couplet).
Artificially cultivated urban sophistication adds luster to these presentations; but its soul dwells in full-throated expression of deep, heavy emotions. Deep-rooted rustic culture of the Ganga-Jamuna region with all its simple sincerity is its core. For thumri the voice: high pitched, sharp, low or deep, must have a natural, rustic appeal; the type that gels well with the image of an experienced woman, who is utterly feminine, a home-maker, takes care of her folks, longs for their love, loves nature, respects familial bonds and candidly expresses her feelings. All this adds to the voice to make it Swara or self (Swa) that shines forth (Ra). This too demands a lot of introspection and experience.
Experience from Life
There is no doubt that thumri singing is much more complex than suggested by its ‘light classical’ tag, as it essentially is a lyrics-based emotive idiom which demands good knowledge of the dialects (Avadhi, Bhojpuri, Brij-bhasha) used. It is a tall order. Moreover, emotions attain maturity with experiences of life. A child cannot understand the real import of the words like ‘Sawariya’ or ‘roothna-manaana’. The bol-banao (melodic improvisation with lyrics) in thumri needs a lot of sensitivity resulting out of minute observations and ability to incorporate several ragas to etch those observations in melody. The latter needs in-depth knowledge of the ragas.
One, therefore, cannot expect matured emotions, impeccable stage presence and impressive connectivity with the audience from younger singers. But gradually a malleable voice can easily carry out the combined commands of head and heart – so essential for thumri. Abhinaya through well-trained voices emerge easily but such colours of emotions sans intellectual appeal have no value. The singer is bound to feel the strong undercurrent of emotions once melody, rhythm and lyrics are mastered. These also help develop the mizaj or temperament suited to its gayaki and then even the uninitiated gets attracted to its beauty. A flowered musician, with all these attributes at their peak should also know how to connect with the audience.