Maestros to perform at Delhi music fest

Maestros to perform at Delhi music fest

Shankarlal Festival Delhi

Top musicians will participate in Shankarlal Festival, which will take place from March 30 to April 2 in Delhi.

After Independence in 1947, patronage given to classical artists ceased as the princely courts ceased to exist. In one stroke the livelihood of thousands of highly trained artists was in jeopardy. At this point, the Shriram family, industrialists of Delhi, stepped in to create a wonderful institution that survives till today in the heart of Delhi; the Shriram Bharatiya Kala Kendra. Set up to train students of music by masters of music, the institution was conceived by Mrs Sumitra Charat Ram, and the concept was put into shape by Nirmala Joshi, and later, by a very able artist herself, Naina Devi. Artists of the stature of Ustad Hafiz Ali Khan were weaned away from Gwalior state to teach instrumental music, the senior Dagar brothers (Ustad Aminuddin Dagar and Ustad Nasiruddin Dagar) taught dhrupad, doyen of kathak Pt Shambhu Maharaj lived there too — in one stroke Delhi acquired a stature in the world of music it had lost more than 100 years ago with the taking over of the British of the Mughal Court.

Padmavibhushan Ustad Amjad Ali Khan reminiscences that “with the involvement of several great gurus, the Bharatiya Kala Kendra became an important music centre in the late 1950s. Ustad Waheed Khan (grandfather of Shahid Parvez, younger brother of Ustad Inayat Khan), Ustad Mushtaq Hussain Khan, Dilip Chandra Vedi, the senior Dagar brothers, Guru Sundar Prasad, Shambhu Maharaj and his nephew Birju Maharaj for kathak, my father and Guru (Ustad Hafiz Ali Khan), Nirmala Joshi, the first Secretary of the Sangeet Natak Akademi, created Bharatiya Kala Kendra. Sumitra Charatram took care of the financial responsibilities. I hope the staff takes forward this legacy that was a very central part of New Delhi’s “cultural scene”.

Part of the plan to spread classical music was by popularising it amongst people through regular musical soirees and later, a formally established annual music festival. Shobha Deepak Singh, current curator and director of the festival spoke of how the first Shankarlal concert was held – it was India’s Independence day in 1947, and the family held an all-night concert to celebrate “freedom from bondage”. This was such a success that subsequently every year concerts were held, at the Red Fort, Constitution Club and other venues.

The concerts were held under the banner of “Jhankar Music Festival” and a huge support to the concept was provided by none other than Pt Ravi Shankar himself, who taught Mrs Bharat Ram, and later her sons Vinay and Arun Bharat Ram. Throughout the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s Shankarlal was the only really grand music festival in Delhi, and it soon acquired the stature of older earlier established festivals like Allahabad and Harivallabh.

Shankarlal was also the venue of the spectacular trigalbandi between Ustad Vilayat Khan, Pt Ravi Shankar and Ustad Ali Akbar Khan. A spontaneous, unscheduled concert, it witnessed amazing virtuosity on the sitar of a hitherto unprecedented level by a young and utterly uninhibited Ustad Vilayat Khan, prompting an enraged Ustad Allaudin Khan to chastise his disciples later, as to why they had agreed to sit in concert! (an eyewitness recalls him stamping his feet in frustration after the concert while talking to Ustad Ali Akbar Khan and Pt Ravi Shankar). The public debate is now divided on the concert, but an eyewitness to the concert, Lalita Khanna avers that indeed it was an amazing display of mastery on the sitar by Ustad Vilayat Khan. Shankarlal is still the most prestigious classical music festival in Delhi with even senior artists calling up even now to enquire about their inclusion. This year, the festival celebrates its 70 years and several artists who have been associated with the festival over the years are participating. The release of CD’s of concerts recorded at Shankarlal is a periodic feature, and again eagerly awaited by fans.

ABOUT AUTHOR