Chhattisgarh Tourism’s tagline reads ‘Full of surprises’, and it couldn’t be more apt. Archaeological ruins, ancient temples, different tribal communities and their unique musical notes and dances, Sirpur had a lot more to offer than I was able to explore. A small town situated close to 94 km away from Raipur, Sirpur hosted Sirpur National Dance and Music Festival’s third edition this year. I was graciously invited by Chhattisgarh Tourism to attend it and I am so grateful I had the opportunity to visit a state that has been marred by a history of crime and violence creating a volatile environment for outsiders. But once you are there, you realise that there is another side to this state that sadly gets shrouded under its foggy past. This is why the Sirpur National Dance and Music Festival has been a successful initiative in showcasing the state’s oft-ignored talented artists and local art forms.
From percussionist Pete Lockett and santoor player Rahul Sharma to saxophonist George Brooks and Kathak’s most revered exponent, Pandit Birju Maharaj, this year saw a blend of Indian and international artists perform on one platform. But the musicians who stole the show were the tribal percussionists from a group known as Taal Chhatisgarh. The stage was set against the backdrop of the Laxman Temple, one of India’s oldest brick temples. Sadly, the temple was not quite visible from the audience seating as the stage comprised giant replicas of dancing deities, together with pillars bearing intricate carvings representing some of the prominent archaeological finds in Sirpur.
|The Laxman Temple|
While many of the attendees were offered special invitations, there were a huge number of locals present as well. As an initiative to allow locals at Raipur to also come for this festival, the tourism board organised about seven buses that would ply to and from Raipur for attendees, explained Mr Santosh Misra, MD, Chhattisgarh Tourism.
Here are some of the highlights of the three-day event.
The inaugural day began with a performance by Rekha Dewar presenting ‘dewar geet’—songs of joy and merriment that represent the tribal culture of the Dewar sect of Central India’s largest tribe, the Gonds. This was followed by Danda Nritya by Sampariya and Group—a stick dance celebrating Chaitra Parva or the arrival of spring. Other notable performances included the graceful kathak dancer Yasmin Singh of the Rajgadh gharana and abhangs by Shounak Abhisheki and Asha Khadilkar.
The performance that stood out though the amalgamation of sounds created by 50 tribal percussionists and their unique musical instruments, together with Grammy Award winner Pete Lockett.
|Pete Lockett with a few of the tribal percussionists|
They were joined by other well-known percussionists such as Giridhar Udupa on the ghatam, Swaminathan on the kanjira, Anubrata Chatterjee on the tabla and Umar Faruq on the bhapang. It was quite a spectacle to see the tribals in their local garb. The ensembles were colourful and distinct, making each one stand out from the other.
|Gaur Maria Dancers|
On the second day, it was santoor maestro Rahul Sharma’s impromptu collaboration with Rajasthani folk musicians that got the audience asking for more. It was the first time I had seen Rahul Sharma perform. I am not an ardent follower of classical music, but I really enjoyed listening to the delicate tunes of the santoor. Among other performances on this night were devotional songs on Maa Durga by Anuradha Paudwal and Group; an Odissi dance presentation by Purnashree Raut and Lucky Mohanty Troupe; Gaur Nritya by Maya and Group; and Panthi Nritya by Uttam and Group.
My personal favourite on day two though was Taiko drumming by Leonard Eto and Group. Taiko (meaning fat drum) are Japanese percussion drums, usually of different sizes. Leonard Eto, one of the most prominent Taiko drum players, has been playing since almost 30 years. He radiated with bursts of energy and his synchrony with his team of two was incredible. I was quite mesmerised by the music, tapping my feet and doing dance moves in my head! I hope to attend more of his Taiko drumming performances in the near future.
|Leonard Eto's team|
On the last day I had the honour to watch Kathak legend Pandit Birju Maharaj perform. After his students completed a series of dances, he took on the stage himself and enthralled the audience. At the age of 76 and on a seriously cold winter night where even he was wrapped in a shawl till the moment he took to the stage, Panditji performed with so much energy and grace; it was inspiring. He combined his dance steps with a dash of humour and said “It is so cold that you are unable to clap with both your hands.” This of course drove the audience into a clapping frenzy and many even gave him a standing ovation. He also said, “I am feeling so cold, but yet I can keep going all night as the conversation between the ghungroos never stops...” It was a pleasure to see a legendary artist like him being so humble and dedicated to his art.
|Pandit Birju Maharaj|
Yet another memorable performance was the result of a merging of Indian and western artists. Sitar player Ustaad Shujaat Khan, ghatam player Vidwan Vikku Vinayakram, guitarist Prasanna and saxophonist George Brooks together created a magical symphony. For me, it was Vinayakramji command over the ghatam that really stood out. He so effortlessly played the instrument with such finesse.
|Ustaad Shujaat Khan and Vidwan Vikku Vinayakram. Photo courtesy: Chhattisgarh Tourism|
For more information, log on to the festival’s official website.
*This trip was an invitation from Chhattisgarh Tourism