The yearlong celebrations of the silver jubilee of ITC Sangeet Research Academy commenced with Rãg Parikrama. Held at the Sandre Hall, Calcutta School of Music on the 7th, 8th and 9th of August 2003, it was a seminar with a difference. Addressing detailed analyses of both common and uncommon ragas, it also brought within its ambit related topics like application and significance of ragas, their historical perspective, the future of Hindustani classical music and the role of the younger generation of musicians. Eminent musicians and senior musicologists from all corners of our country were present, along with the academy’s own gurus, scholars and other performing artistes from the city. All the sessions were highly informative and absorbing, including discussions, demonstrations (both vocal and instrumental) and constant cross-questioning from the audience. The seminar opened with Amit Mukerjee, the executive director of the academy, delivering the welcome address. This was followed by the keynote speech by Kumar Prasad Mukherjee.
The first session titled ‘Raga and the forms of music’ dealt with the portrayal of the raga in dhrupad, khayal, thumri etc. and also included instrumental music and Rabindrasangeet. The general opinion was that the true depiction of the raga does not necessarily depend on these forms but rather on the abilities of the performer. The knowledge of ragas however, has to be given as much importance as the development of an artiste’s technical knowledge and skill. Raga-based music like bhajan, geet, some varieties of thumri and even Rabindrasangeet are allowed certain liberties and may depart from the rigid raga structures justify the lyrics. The second session, ‘identification of major rag-angas’ was about establishing the key phrases or ‘pakads’ of some groups of ragas like Bilawal, Kalyan, Nat, Kanhara etc. This of course included constant demonstrations, supportive bandishes and a very active participation of the audience. The last session on the first day analyzed foreign influences on our music.
It was opined that Indo- Persian relations and cross cultural exchange of musical ideas led to some gradual yet very significant changes in our music. Some beautiful examples of ‘Maqams’ from Persia and Kazakhstan - that closely resembled some of our very own ragas were given along with compositions of Hazrat Amir Khusrau.
The second day began with ‘Classification of mishra ragas’ which redefined terms like chhayalag, jod and sankirna ragas with numerous examples like Basant Bahar, Hindol Bahar, Pravat Bhairav etc. The role of gharanas in evolving such ragas was also clarified. The post lunch session, ‘Some specific ragas and closely-related ragas’ involved all the panelists and the audience in a heated discussion. There was a plethora of bandishes but it would have been better if the ragas were illustrated more lucidly through sargams. Some ragas like Suha, Sughrai, Shahana were presented differently by different gharana exponents and left the students in some confusion. This once again reaffirmed the gharana system and the inherent discrepancies in the interpretation of ragas.
The first session of the third day discussed the reasons behind the gradual disappearance of some ragas from the concert scene. These ragas were however ‘lokpriya’ even a few decades back. Some factors, which may have resulted in their absence, are the limited repertoire of the present day performers as also the limitations in the scope of a raga. One major factor has been the time theory associated with the performance of a raga. Though it is important it is not totally sacrosanct. Looking at today’s socio-economic environment and constraints, everyone agreed that some amount of departure from the actual time of the ragas is acceptable for the very existence of our raga sangeet.
The general opinion at the end of the seminar was that published material on ragas and their analyses must be made available through various media. As Amit Mukerjee mentioned in his valedictory speech, the sole purpose of this seminar was to disseminate the conclusions on a very wide scale. He also added that the Academy’s own website, www.itcsra.org already has eighty-five such ragas complete with chalans and bandishes sung by its gurus. This not only is very educative for young scholars, but also provides, at times, useful reference material for senior musicians. The excerpts of this seminar are available as a publication.