Some months ago, when Dr Suvarnalata Rao, head of Indian music programming at the National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA), began planning an Indian classical music programme, she wanted to take it beyond artistes singing ragas. “It is great for someone like me, who is into classical music, but I wondered what more I could do with it,” says Dr Rao, who is a musicologist, too.
Thus, NCPA Tata Capital Bandish was born. On July 6, Indian classical and semi-classical greats – including Girija Devi, Sudha Raghunathan and Ajoy Chakrabarty – will sing iconic compositions by some of India’s legendary composers. A bandish is a classical composition set in a specific raga and is often accompanied by a tabla and a percussion instrument. In a bandish, a performer often infuses his/ her own creativity in the original composition.
In its third year, NCPA Bandish decided to give a clear mandate to the performers – each performer was given a composer he/ she identified most with. Pandit Ajoy Chakraborty, who is from the Patiala gharana, will sing the Sabarang – a group of compositions by Bade Ghulam Ali Khan. “Many singers can sing Khansaab’s compositions but Chakraborty has learnt from the maestro. Few artistes can bring the intimacy he brings to Khansaab’s compositions,” says Rao.
The works of Pandit Bade Ram Dasji Misra (from Benaras) will be performed by Rajan and Sajan Misra because they come from the same musical lineage.
Girija Devi, a noted Thumri singer, will feature in the finale. Carnatic vocalist Sudha Raghunathan will perform compositions of Purandara Dasa and Thyagaraja. While compositions by the former are mostly in Kannada-Sanskrit, the latter’s work is in Telugu and Sanskrit. Rao, after observing Raghunathan’s work over time, suggested she pick the two composers because she (Raghunathan) has widely performed their compositions.
“Can you imagine the challenge involved – India, unlike most other cultures, hasn’t documented works of great artistes. We, as singers and musicians, rely on oral history for 200 year-old compositions. The performers not only have to maintain the sanctity of the original ragas, but also being their individuality to the performance,” explains Rao.
Individuality in classical music, too, follows it’s own course, says Raghunathan. “I have chosen Purandara Dasa’s compostition, which speaks of how, at the end of the day, no matter what man does, he does for a meal. I have rehearsed that raga heavily, but how I’ll sing the climax, for instance, will depend on what course the evening and the mood takes. The raga, as always, will be the soul of the composition, and on no account must an artiste ‘improvise’ for the heck of it. Creativity in a raga, too, must first respect it’s very foundation.”