The Ahmedabad-based cultural organisation’s podcasts allow listeners a deeper dive into classical music
Forty years ago, a group of classical music connoisseurs, led by tabla exponent Nandan Mehta and his sitarist wife Manju, set up a school for music in Ahmedabad called Saptak. They next began hosting a three-day annual music festival, which grew in both popularity and duration, and is today a 13-day long event. Another significant initiative was the setting up of the Saptak Archives in 2004 to digitise recordings of Saptak concerts and also to acquire rare classical music recordings.
In a recent lockdown treat, Saptak introduced podcasts and already, there are 40 podcasts covering Hindustani music, semi-classical and Carnatic-Hindustani jugalbandis. Says vocalist and contributor Srijan Deshpande, “Today the problem is not access to classical music online, it is knowing what to listen to, and what to listen for. Basically, we are trying to create a gateway to classical music.”
The music selected for the podcasts is not confined to the Saptak archives (managed by Prafull Anubhai, and comprising more than 20,000 recordings). About 30 minutes long, the podcasts are available on the Saptak YouTube channel and have been put together by a team of about 10 musician-scholars.
One of most recent podcasts was on the sitar — Manju Mehta introduced four main styles of playing the instrument — Etawah gharana, Maihar Senia, Vishnupur and Senia Jaipur.
Sitar playing techniques
Etawah gharana or Imdadkhani gharana was introduced by veteran sitariya Pt. Arvind Parikh. The right hand techniques of Hindustani instrumentalists (as opposed to Carnatic exponents) were highly evolved — the recordings of Ustad Imdad Khan in raga Bihag and of Ustad Inayat Khan in raga Bhairavi exhibited this.
Ustad Vilayat Khan, apart from modifying the sitar and eliminating the kharaj wire required for dhrupad-style aalap, focussed more on left-hand movements, which is today called the gayaki ang. However, it would be more precise to call it the khayal/ thumri ang. Ustad Vilayat Khan’s recording of raga Bahar showcases his fantastic tayyari; raga Sanjh Saravalli, composed by the legendary musician shows his immense creativity.
The Maihar Senia ‘beenkar’ gharana, established by Ustad Allaudin Khan, rightly focused on Pt. Ravi Shankar. The maestro’s disciple Shubhendra Rao, who presented the episode, explained the gharana’s link with Tansen through his daughter, who was married into a family of beenkars. Shubhendra spoke of the emphasis of the dhrupad style of aalap and jod, and then chose to focus on Pt. Ravi Shankar’s raga Parameshwari. This recording is one of his best. Episodes on the other two sitar gharanas are awaited.
Influences of gharanas
Srijan Deshpande’s three-part focus on Ustad Amir Khan (episodes 2, 13 and 30) fascinatingly traces the main musical influences on this trend-setting singer. Part 1 opens with a recording of Ustad Wahid Khan of the Kirana gharana whose ati vilambit aalap style was adopted, and prolonged further, by Ustad Amir Khan. Ustad Wahid Khan etches raga Darbari with masterly, confident strokes within the first minute or so; nowadays some vocalists tend to linger on three to four notes initially, and the contours of the raga remain obscure.
Part 2 showcases the influence of sargam (used extensively in the Carnatic vocal tradition) on Ustad Aman Ali Khan of the Bhendi Bazar gharana, which was adopted by Ustad Amir Khan. The raga is Hansadhwani, a Carnatic raga, which admirably lends itself to demonstrate this; sadly the recording quality is not good. Ustad Amir Khan’s recording of the same raga is of a private baithak; inspiring him to render some truly magnificent music.
Part 3 is devoted to Ustad Amir Khan’s amazingly intricate taans, which were inspired by Indore-based Ustad Rajab Ali Khan. Sadly, there are no available recordings of this master at his peak, so Srijan plays the recording of his disciple Ganpatrao Dewaskar in raga Adana.
Three-part Malhar series
Jaipur-Atrauli vocalist Radhika Joshi’s three-part series on Malhars (episodes 8, 19 and 33) unusually divides the Malhars into three periods — Megh, Shudh Malhar and Gaud Malhar pre-15th century; 15th-18th century includes Mian Malhar, Sur, Meera and Nat Malhars (the composition by Pt. Dinkar Kaikini in Nat Malhar is a rare gem); and 19th century till date includes Tilak, Sorath, Chaya and Anand Malhars (all combinations of Malhar with other ragas)
In episode 31, vocalist Nilesh Dhakras skilfully shows how a change of tempo in the same composition in raga Sohni sung by Pt. Gajananbua Joshi and his disciple, Pt. Ulhas Kashalkar, brings in virtually a new feeling to the raga. Sarod artiste Sohan Nilkanth brilliantly presents Ustad Ali Akbar Khan’s composed Chandranandan and Gauri Manjari ragas, in three episodes.
North-South jugalbandis by dhrupad exponents Gundecha Brothers and Carnatic vocalists Malladi Brothers (raga Kiravani) and the U.S.-based young singers Lalit Subramaniam (disciple of Tiruvarur S. Girish and Neyveli Santhanagopalan) and Jai Sovani (disciple of Aarti Ankalikar) singing ragas Subhapantuvarali and Lalit are other interesting episodes. The podcasts are a true treat for music lovers.
The Delhi-based author writes on Hindustani music