Pandit Umakant Gundecha and nephew Anant Gundecha performing
during the Sangeet Sammelan in Jalandhar
The 144th Shri Baba Sangeet Sammelan in Jalandhar was a star-studded one with senior vocalists like Pandit Ajay Chakravarty, Begum Parveen Sultana, Vidushi Shashwati Mandal, Pandit Umakant Gundecha, Pandit Raghunandan Panshikar, Prof. Harwinder Singh and senior instrumentalists performing
As Hindustani classical music enthusiasts, the better half and I decided to travel to Jalandhar from Delhi to attend the 144th Shri Baba Harivallabh Sangeet Sammelan held from December 27-29, 2019 at Devi Talab Mandir that has been its venue since inception.
The Government of India has recognised Shri Baba Harivallabh Sangeet Sammelan as one of the National Festivals of Music. This festival has been recognised by the Limca Book of Records also as the oldest festival of Hindustani classical music in the world.
According to the background to this well-known music festival, Baba Tuljagiri, a great saint, Sanskrit scholar, phenomenal exponent of Dhrupad style of classical music and the ‘Mahant’ of Baba Hemgiri’s ‘Gaddi’ used to live in a temple at Devi Talab in Jalandhar in the present state of Punjab. Harivallabh’s maternal grandfather used to visit Devi Talab and listen to Swami Tuljagiri singing bhajans and would often take the young Harivallabh along with him to Devi Talab where the young man would listen to Swami Tuljagiri’s bhajans with undivided attention. The enlightened ‘Guru’ found a devoted ‘Shishya’ ready for total surrender. Harivallabh possessed a remarkably melodious voice and soon touched great heights in classical music. Baba Tuljagiri named Baba Harivallabh as his successor to the ‘Gaddi’ and when Baba Tuljagiri left this mortal world in 1874, Harivallabh thus became Baba Harivallabh. What began as Baba Harivallabh’s homage to his Guru through a memorial where Sadhus and Sants congregated to sing bhajans at the Samadhi of Baba Tuljagiri has now grown to become this prestigious Sammelan, where leading classical music exponents in the country vie to perform, pay obeisance and receive the ‘ashirwaad’ of Baba Shri Harivallabh. All the artistes consider it an honour to be able to perform there. There are many who have acknowledged their rise in the music world after performing here.
The 144th Sammelan that we had the opportunity and pleasure of attending, was a star-studded one with senior vocalists like Pandit Ajay Chakravarty, Begum Parveen Sultana, Vidushi Shashwati Mandal, Pandit Umakant Gundecha and nephew Anant, Pandit Raghunandan Panshikar, Prof. Harwinder Singh and senior instrumentalists like Pandit Nityananad Haldipur on the flute, Dr N. Rajam, her daughter and granddaughter on the violin, S. Kiranpal Singh Deoora playing the santoor. Other well-known artistes included vocalist Kashish Mittal, Lakshay Mohan and Aayush Mohan on sitar and sarod and the child prodigy Rimpa Siva on the table. Dr Vinay Mishra and Paromita Mukherjee on the harmonium and Vinod Lele, Ram Kumar and Akram Khan on Tabla provided outstanding support.
We ensconced ourselves at the centrally located Sarovar Portico, whose warm interiors warded off the outside cold. We then reached the venue of the Sammelan nice and early on the first day. The Sammelan starts in the afternoon with the Saraswati Vandana and the bhajan of Baba Harivallabh. The tempo rises with the advent of the senior artistes later in the evening. Since we had reached early, we were able to acquire good seats. The artistes, who come there as a pilgrimage, give their all and one was able to experience some inspired performances. Pandit Ajay Chakravarty was flawless as usual and Begum Parveen Sultana reached her dizzying heights and mesmerised the audience. Dr N. Rajam showed her customary command over the violin strings.
The organising committee puts in a lot of effort over the year to coordinate and put up a good show and get the best artistes from all over the country. They obviously do a good job as the performers never fail to acknowledge the invite.
There is a lazy comfort that pervades the whole atmosphere. There are delays galore. There is a lot of lighting of lamps and honouring of guests and VIPs with a total disregard for the artiste who is performing on stage. Often 8-10 local VIPs are invited on stage to fete 4 performers and the mandatory photograph has organisers jostling to be included. One also gets the idea that there is a lot of schmoozing and socialising with the local bigwigs. There are photo-ops and lamps are lit and welcomes happen around the stage—all of which is quite disturbing for the audience sitting behind. Huge badges and dining for the special guests who don’t sit for too long. (The Governor of Punjab Shri VP Singh Badnore did sit till 2.00 am till Begum Parveen Sultana finished her mesmerising performance).
The arena is covered and there are heaters to combat the Jalandhar cold. It also seems to be a fashion for members of the audience to land up carrying a blanket though warm clothes also suffice. Since the performance is in the Mandir premises all the members of the audience remove their footwear before entering the venue. Don’t worry, there are some excellent volunteers who think nothing of handing you your shoes however many times you take them to exit the shamiana to grab a bite or a cup of tea. The food in the stalls outside was hot, wholesome, tasty and reasonably priced. And the tea and coffee provided some welcome warmth during the breaks!
The shamiana is very clinically divided into two. People carrying the required ‘Invitation Card’ are welcomed into the enclosure in the front where there are sofas and chairs and also a baithak seating. The hoi polloi (people like us who have travelled from somewhere and so without the ubiquitous ‘card’) and other rasiks from the city and outside sit in the enclosure at the back. Have attended scores of prestigious music festivals in the capital and never has one seen an iron barrier separating different sections of the audience. Even when the performances are ticketed, they are on the basis of seat numbers so that barrier definitely was a bit of a put-off. The website boasts of ‘people coming from all over the country’ to listen to music but one huge challenge is to get a cab back to one’s hotel at 2.00 am in the morning. There is no public transport and cabs are few and far between. We had a bit of a scare when it took us an age to get a cab one night. The people and the security detail at the venue we asked for assistance and information coolly brushed aside our queries with an indifferent—no, you will not get any transport here. Thank god for the app-based cab driver who was around at that time.
All in all, a remarkable Sammelan to be a part of and tick off your bucket list. The whole programme is shown live on YouTube and it feels good to go back and relive the time the performances that we heard live and also listen to the artistes who performed in the previous years.