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Discernment. Online


Evoking Bade Ghulam Ali

While many of us were not alive to hear the late Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan perform live, Dr. Tapan Bhattacharyya's concert of morning ragas on Saturday, May 15, in suburban Chicago, gave us a good idea of what it must have sounded like. Anil Datar accompanied on the tabla, while Somnath Bhattacharyya played the harmonium besides providing some vocal support.

The artistes, all of whom are based in the Chicago area, were in top form. Tapanji began with the raga Gurjari Todi, presenting a vilambit bandish in ektal ("Ja ja re pathikawa"), a drut bandish in tintal ("Aba mori naiyya paara karo re"), and then a tarana in tintal. Despite initial microphone problems, the exposition of this raga was brilliant and fully brought out the pathos that characterizes the Todi family of ragas. At one point, Tapanji plumbed the depths of the scale down to the mandra saptak Sa. The performance was marked by a variety of filigreed taans, virtuosically sung boltaans, and sargams, as well as intricately crafted tihais. The sargams deserve special mention as Tapanji danced through the scale, adroitly exploring a wide range of complex, yet aesthetically pleasing, note permutations. Some tongue-twisting improvisations using the bols- dir tom ta na etc…were rendered during the tarana. A break for tea and snacks followed the Gurjari Todi.

The second half of the concert was inaugurated with a relatively compact presentation of the early afternoon raga Gaud Sarang, which provided a nice contrast to the previously sung Todi. In his opening remarks, Tapanji noted that due to its large number of permitted melodic phrases, Gaud Sarang is a "benign anarchy" in Indian classical music. The first composition ("Paati jhara gaiyya") was in the rarely heard jhumra tal of 14 beats. Tapanji handled the jhumra tal with finesse, often coming back to the "sam" via interesting rhythmic avenues. The navigation through Gaud Sarang's colorful melodic mazes was carried out effortlessly, always returning to the tender phrase "ga re ma ga". Tapanji did extremely well in portraying the many faces of this sweet, unusual raga to the audience, occasionally recapitulating the important phrases using the note names. The second composition was "Piyu palan laage mori akhiyaan" in tintal, made famous by the late Pandit D V Paluskar. Tapanji unleashed a profusion of improvisations around it, all of which served to bring out the essential rasa of the composition and of the raga. The Gaud Sarang rendition was rounded off by a tarana in ektal.

This would be a good time to mention the accompanying artistes. Anil Datar on the tabla played crisply throughout and executed some spectacular solos, particularly during the Gurjari Todi drut and tarana. He and Tapanji exhibited a good chemistry. Somnath Bhattacharyya's harmonium playing sounded downright electric. He ably followed even the fastest, most difficult phrases. His vocal support during the Gurjari Todi indicated a good understanding of the raga and composition.

The penultimate item was the well known thumri in raga Jogia, "Piya milana ki aas". In his elaboration, Tapanji summoned up shades of ragas Lalit and Ahir Bhairav and also sang sargams typical of the Punjab style of thumri. The concert was concluded with an unusual bhajan in praise of Sita ("Thumak thumak, thumak chalata, chal Janakanandini") in dadra tal, set to raga Bhairavi. This provided a perfect ending to a concert that will be remembered for a long time.

Tapanji did an excellent job in explaining the ragas and compositions to the diverse audience. The whole event was very well hosted by Shanta and Madhu Sudan in their home. To learn more about Tapanji's musical activities, please visit his website at

Ashwin Rode

Published on 1 June 2004

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