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!