To commemorate the 350th birth anniversary of Gurū Gobind Singh, The Anād Foundation—in collaboration with the Government of Bihar—curated Gurū Gaurav, a six-day showcase of musical, dance and literary excellence with a particular focus on the expressive traditions of Bihar and Punjab. Conceived and realized by Bhai Baldeep Singh, Chairman of The Anād Foundation, Gurū Gaurav was designed to pay homage to the legacy of the tenth Sikh gurū, Sirī Guru Gobind Singh, whose contributions toward the preservation of religious and cultural diversity are unparalleled. Artists and scholars from across India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, North America, and Europe converged at Patna’s Shri Krishna Memorial Auditorium for the festival, which began with an all-night program, the Rain Subāī, on the 31st of December, 2016 and included performances by 50 artists and their accompanists through the 5th of January. Singhs and Kaurs, Khans, Pandits and others shared the stage to honor Gurū Gobind Singh’s message of religious harmony and celebration of human diversity, demonstrating our shared capacity to bring great beauty to the world when we all work, sing, and dance in concert with one another.
The festival was a unique addition to the Sikh music being offered throughout Patna during this 350th celebration. It was a feast of excellence and diversity, bringing the highest quality artists and students, male, female, transgendered, young and elderly, from a variety of disciplines, genres, and regions together, including dhrupad, khayal, thumri, gurbani kirtan, folk and instrumental music as well as dance, poetry, and theater from Afghanistan, Rajasthan, Punjab, Karnataka, Chennai, Bengal, Maharashtra and Bihar as well as the United States and Europe. The atmosphere of camaraderie and respect among the various artists throughout the Gurū Gaurav festival, which local scholars including top musicologist Professor Gajendra Narayan Singh called the most diverse and biggest-ever music festival at least since India’s independence, gave the experience of an artist-mēlā. The performers enjoyed listening to each other and many of the soloists also sat as accompanists for their peers. Every night familiar faces could be seen in the front row of the auditorium, which was occupied by attentive artists and enthusiasts who came each night to share in the experience alongside appreciative listeners who enjoyed the aesthetic quality and musical diversity of the event that represented the whole of Bharat’s diversity, which Gurū Gobind Singh fought so tirelessly to preserve.
The inaugural Rain Subāi opened with alāpa and dhrupad sung by Bihar elder, Pandit Raghuvir Mallick, of the Dumraon-Darbhanga gharana. Sixteen additional performances throughout the evening and into the morning included dhrupad vocalists Pandit Ram Kumar Mallick, Sri Jagat Narain Pathak and Pandit Indra Kishore Misra. Gurbani kirtan featuring bani of Sahib Sirī Gurū Teg Bahadur and Sahib Sirī Gurū Gobind Singh was offered by Bibi Ashupreet Kaur, Dr. Alankar Singh, and Bhai Balbir Singh Ragi, one of the last remaining links to the original Gurbani Kirtan Parampara of the Golden Temple in Amritsar. The festival’s director, Bhai Baldeep Singh, is also an accomplished musician and demonstrated great skill on the jori in a lively solo performance. His student, Nihal Singh, traveled from the United States to participate in the festival and performed an adept solo on the tabla. Four additional percussion performances included pakhawaj solos by Sangeet Pathak, Ashutosh Upadhyay, Sri Mohan Shyam Sharma, and Dr. Anil Chaudhary. Mohan Shyam Sharma’s solo was notable for the deliberate inclusion of many fixed percussive compositions that do not typically characterize his playing. Pandit Rajendra Gangani, Delhi’s Kathak phenomenon, offered a scintillating performance by way of tribute to the great Gurū. Pandit Yashpaul, the senior-most living exponent of the Agra school of khayal presented a solemn recital in raga nat bhairav early in the morning of January 1. Vidushi Jyoti Ganapati Hegde traveled from Karnataka to share the wonders of rudra vina, immersing listeners in waves of resonance from deep in the bass register to melodious taans from the higher strings.
The next night, on the evening of January 1, the program opened to a full house of 2000 listeners. Bhai Baldeep Singh gave a warm welcome and introduced the conceptual framing for the event, which was to honor Gurū Gobind Singh and his efforts to protect the cultural richness of the world. He explained that the program as well as the stage itself reflected this theme with a visually stunning backdrop of a blue and gold bamboo grid decorated with twelve canvas prints of artist Sidharth’s Bara-Maha. The stage design by Bhai Baldeep Singh and Italian conservation architect Micaela Petricca (Santsubhag Kaur) represented both the timeliness and timelessness of Gurū Gobind Singh’s message. The images indicated that over the next twelve months events will be organized at thematic locations across India and all over the world to honor the importance of preserving India’s rich and diverse cultural heritages past this six-day historical event.
During the first musical performance of the evening, pakhawaj soloist Ravi Shankar Upadhyay delivered a spectacle to the delight of the anticipating crowd. Dr. Ajit Pradhan of Patna, in his raga katha, dwelled on the musical legacy of Gurū Gobind Singh as he spoke on ragas included in one of Gurū Gobind Singh’s Raga-guldasta, “Baajat basant ar bhairav hindol raga”. He was followed by Dr. Nirinjan Kaur Khalsa, Ph.D. from Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles, California, who spoke movingly about Gurū Gobind Singh’s call to stand for equality and justice for all and Dr. Kulwant Singh Grewal who recited Punjabi poetry. Ustad Aashish Khan’s dynamic sarod performance was received enthusiastically by all who attended, including Chief Minister of Bihar, Nitish Kumar, who himself received admiring applause and a warm welcome from the audience. Bhai Baljit Singh Namdhari and his brother Gurmeet Singh Namdhari closed the evening with a meditative performance of gurbani sangeet which showcased their decades of classical training under the tutelage of some of India’s great maestros.
The program on the 2nd of January was a creative blend of art forms. Singers included Punjab’s top Dhādi exponent, Desh Raj Lachkani, who recited ballads on the life and contribution of Gurū Gobind Singh. Pandit Prem Kumar Mallick from Bihar’s Darbhanga tradition sang alāpa and dhrupad including brilliantly rendered compositions of Sahib Sirī Gurū Teg Bahadur and Sahib Sirī Gurū Gobind Singh. Jaswant Singh Zafar read Punjabi poetry and Pandit Manu Seen delighted everyone with his joyful sitar performance. Parminder Singh Bhamra of the Amritsari Bāj demonstrated an extensive repertoire in panjtaal-di-sawari, a fifteen beat rhythmic cycle through a skillful pakhawaj solo performance. For many, the highlight of the evening came when the stage was cleared and reset for a moving theatre presentation on Bhagat Kabir composed and performed by Sri Shekhar Sen. In this mono-act, Mr. Sen in long hair, beard and robes, brought the voice of Bhagat Kabir to life through his inspiring monologue and original songs.
The fourth program in the series was presented on the evening of January 3. After a reading of Urdu poetry by Nashir Naqvi, Pandit Uday Kumar Mallick sang dhrupad, followed by Bahauddin Dagar on the rudra vina. Dagar was accompanied by Bhai Baldeep Singh on jori and together they painted a sonic landscape of poetic beauty and stillness. Vidushi Gopika Varma reached deep into the hearts of the audience through Mohiniattam dance portraying deep-felt emotions of love, life, and loss. The evening ended on a high with Pandit Vinod Pathak’s ferocious display of tabla prowess and Jasbir Jassi’s rendition of traditional folk poems from the Punjab, one ghazal of Bhai Nand Lal Goya and the famous “Mitar pyare nu” by Sahib Sirī Gurū Gobind Singh with his band accompanying him on electric keyboard, bass guitar, drums and Parminder Singh Bhamra joining on pakhawaj. After completing their program, this popular band gave multiple encores via requests shouted from the audience until the wee hours of the morning.
On the evening of January 4 those in attendance were treated again to a night of poetry and music. The musical presentations included a variety of traditions, each with its own unique instruments including tabla, harmonium, sarangi, kamaicha, dholak, khartal, pakhawaj, rudra vina, guitar, banjo and sarod. The program opened with the sweet notes of thumri compositions performed by Pandit Ram Prakash Misra, followed by an energetic concert of the Manganiars from West Rajasthan. This group led by vocalists Kachra Khan and Lakha Khan, who also played the Sindhi sarangi, and Ghewar Khan on kamaicha, presented a selected repertoire of ragas common to both the Gurbani and Rajasthani traditions, with outstanding solos that set the audience on fire. The atmosphere was refreshed by a presentation of three poems on Gurū Gobind Singh, written by Rabindranath Tagore and recited in Bengali in the traditional style by Samiran Sanyal. Sukhwinder Amrit also recited original Punjabi poems, and Gurinder Harnam Singh gave a khayal interpretation of dasam bani shabads. Suvir Misra treated the audience to the meditative resonance of the rudra vina. Although it is rare to hear rudra vina performed, this was the third time this magical instrument made an appearance at the festival. The evening ended with Dr. Madan Gopal Singh and his group Chaar Yaar’s performance of Sufi songs in a modern arrangement, with the beautiful accompaniment of Deepak Castelino on the Spanish guitar.
The auditorium was fully packed on the last day of the Gurū Gaurav festival, reinforcing the success of the event among the local and international communities. Punjabi Giddha with Soniya Duggal and her Jaggo Tareenjan Group, a transgender troupe, who opened the program to a welcoming crowd. Their colorful performance was a brilliant reminder of the rainbow of hues in our human family. They were followed by artist performances from Italy, Afghanistan, the United States and several Indian states who added their own splashes of color to the evening. Dr. Francesca Cassio’s singing set the tone for classical renditions of Gurbani compositions. Dr. Cassio, the Sardarni Harbans Kaur Chair in Sikh Musicology at Hofstra University New York, performed traditional dhur-pade from Sirī Gurū Gobind Singh and Sirī Gurū Teg Bahadur. Echoes of Gurū Gobind Singh’s rabab were heard in the playing of Afghani musician Daud Khan Sadozai, who mesmerized the audience with the voice of his instrument, the Afghani robab, accompanied on tabla by Sri Madan Mohan Upadhyay. “Songs of the Khalsa” were presented by a group of American members of Sikh Dharma International, directed by SS Harbhajan Kaur Khalsa, accompanied on guitar by Nanak Nihal Singh, on tabla by Nihal Singh and on pakhawaj by Nirinjan Kaur. Sung in harmony, these English language ballads told stories of Sirī Gurū Gobind Singh and the Khalsa, inspiring a series of “Bole So Nihal, Sat Sri Akal!” from the appreciative audience. The evening continued with Professor Ritwik Sanyal’s spellbinding dhrupad concert. The Bengali musician and musicologist from the prestigious Banaras Hindu University performed a full alāpa in raga multani followed by two famous verses written by Sirī Gurū Gobind Singh set to his own musical compositions in chārtaal and sultaal . After a masterful solo performance on mridangam by notable exponent Dr. Umayalpuram K. Sivaraman from Chennai, which enthralled the audience, and a poetry reading by Dr. Surjit Patar, Bhai Baldeep Singh concluded the six-day-festival with a presentation of gurbani kirtan, accompanied by Ustad Roshan Ali Khan on sarangi and Parminder Singh Bhamra and Ashutosh Upadhyay on pakhawaj. During his finale, Bhai Baldeep Singh sang remarkable samples of the repertoire handed down from the ten Sikh gurūs and the pirs, bhagats and saints whose compositions are included in Sirī Gurū Granth Sahib, reminding all of us of the legacy of excellence and unity that we celebrate as we honor this 350th birthday of Sri Gurū Gobind Singh.