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2023 - The Year That Was

Places impact you for a variety of reasons. And the same place impacts different people in different ways. This is especially true when it comes to spiritual experiences, where every single person’s experience is unique. And personally, every spiritual experience is unique, the same person can have different deeply spiritual experiences at different places, at different times. This thought has emerged because of my own experiences over the years, but especially so this year, with different and unique experiences at various places I have visited recently. I began this year with a visit to Baroda (Vadodara) with friends. It was meant to be a relaxed trip, a touristy trip, with our sons. We enjoyed ourselves to the hilt, but the highlight of that trip was a visit to the Lakulisha temple at Pavagadh. It was the iconography of the temple that I connected with, and I spent a few hours simply lost in the details of the figures carved around the temple. There was an indefinable connect with

Sirpur Music and Dance Festival 2015

Music, they say, is a feast for the soul. When music and dance come together across genres, language and region, that too in a place steeped in history, the result is something even greater – a feeling I can only describe as Divine! I had an opportunity to experience such bliss at the recently concluded Sirpur Music and Dance Festival, thanks to an invite from the Chhattisgarh Tourism Board.

To give you a brief background, Sirpur in Chhattisgarh has a history spanning centuries. It must have been one of the most ancient sites of civilization in India, and was an important centre for trade during the 5th and 6th centuries AD. Recent excavations have unearthed numerous temples and Shrines – Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain – as well as ancient marketplaces. The city then played host to numerous guests from across the seas, and featured in travelogues of the ancient travellers. It is therefore rather appropriate that the city today hosts a festival bringing together artistes from across the world!

The most striking thing about the festival was the blend of local and international music. Set in rural Chhattisgarh, home to the most tribal societies in India, it was fascinating to see how beautifully the tribal music and instruments blended with Hindustani, Carnatic, and Western Music. One of the most spellbinding performances, for instance, was the Taal Chhattisgarh, a percussion ensemble, bringing together over 50 tribal performers with Grammy Award winner Pete Lockett, Ghatam player Giridhar Udupa, Swaminathan on the Kanjira, Anubrata Chatterjee on the Tabla, and Umar Farukh on the Bhapang. I am sure that percussion instruments of such variety have rarely been seen on stage together, and the resulting symphony was beyond imagination!

If I was blown away by the fascinating opening performance of Taal Chhattisgarh, words fail me to describe the experience of Vishnamo, which brought together maestros like Ustaad Shujaat Khan on the Sitar, Vidwan Vikku Vinayakram on the Ghatam, Prasanna on the Guitar, and George Brooks on the Saxophone!  I simply closed my eyes and let the music transport me to another plane – one which I still find myself on, when I think of that amazing musical masterpiece!

These two performances might have been the highlight of the festival (at least for me), but the other performances were just as fascinating. Whether it was the local Dewar group singing bhajans which they usually perform at temples….

Or the Danda dance, which reminded me of the Kolattam of Southern India, and Dandiya of Gujarat, except for the fact that here, the men danced while the women sang!!!

Yasmin Singh enthralled us by her Kathak performance…

And Rahul Sharma jammed with Rajasthani musicians…

The massive Taiko drums had us awed, wondering how on earth the petite Leonard Eto and his companions managed to handle their size and weight! And then he surprised us further by bringing forth a pair of huge cymbals! Cymbals and drums! Perfect for a temple!

We missed the Odissi dancers, but Anuradha Paudwal had the audience enthralled with her songs. I don’t think any other performer got as many requests from the audience!!!

However, the grand finale was indeed something we all carried back with us…. Birju Maharaj himself! He not only danced, but also sang and played the instruments, showing us just how versatile he was! in spite of the biting cold, he danced barefoot, at his age, itself an achievement; and when he, and his students performed extempore, the audience simply erupted with joy!

Three days of the festival seemed to fly past, so immersed were we in the performances. We need many more events like this, to showcase not just our local music and dance, but also to emphasize the fact that music and art know no boundaries – neither of genre, nor of region, neither of language, nor religion! Kudos to Banyan Tree Events and Mr. Mahesh Babu for bringing together artistes to create mesmerizing performances like these, and kudos to Chhattisgarh Tourism for organizing the event, and giving us the opportunity of experiencing such divine music! 

  • About the festival: This was the 3rd edition of the festival, and is held each year in January. The dates vary according to the calendar, so keep a look out for the announcement if you plan to attend.
  • How to Reach: The nearest railway station as well as airport are at Raipur, which is about 80 Km away. The distance takes about two hours to cover, but there are only a few buses which ply the route regularly. The tourism department organizes special buses to ferry visitors during the festival. It is best however, to hire a vehicle, and keep it for the 3 days because there is no other mode of transport available there either. You will need the vehicle to get to the venue from the resort too.
  • Where to Stay: The only accommodation available at Sirpur is the Hiuen Tsang Tourist Complex run by the Tourism Department. There are only a limited number of rooms, so make sure you book well in advance if you wish to stay in Sirpur. Rooms can be booked online as well as by phone. Check the Chhattisgarh Tourism board website for more details.
  • What to do: The festival usually starts at 5 PM and goes on till late at night. It can get quite cold, so be sure you carry enough warm clothes. There are plenty of stalls outside which provide food, especially local fare, so be sure to try them out.
  • Sightseeing
    • Sirpur is a treasure trove of monuments, so you can easily spend all three days simply visiting and appreciating them.
    • When you are at Raipur, visit the Mahant Ghasidas Memorial Museum. The sculptures are beautiful and well worth a visit.
    • If you are a nature lover or a wildlife or birding enthusiast, keep one day aside for Baranawapara Wildlife Sanctuary, which is about 30 Km away. The tourist resort there is excellent, and it is worth staying a night there, and going for a safari. Besides, you can watch plenty of birds just near the resort.


  1. And it was great that we Anu, finally!

    1. Absolutely, Mridula! hope we meet again sooner next time!

  2. This looks like such a lovely festival that I missed :(

    I must make it next year,

    1. Yes, Param, it was wonderful! Plan ahead next time!

  3. Beautifully written and explained about each music :)

  4. But was there Pandvani, the local folk art form of storytelling? Chattisgarh is home to some of the best artistes of this folk art. Watching Birju Maharaj must have been such an elevating experience.

    1. no, zephyr. there wasnt. i wish there was, though. and yes, watching him was a wonderful experience. but i had seen him live many times before.... it was the fusion of instruments and music that i really enjoyed the most, as many of them were new to me.

  5. is there any link to download the videos of above events

    1. Sorry. I did not record any videos , but i am sure there are some somewhere on youtube. also, it was telecast live on DD Bharati, so there must be something there as well

  6. Wonderful! Looks like you had a great trip to Chhattisgarh!

  7. Beautifully narrated & your pics are excellent! Chhattisgarh is very rich in folk tales and heritage.


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