Tribute to Tagore event mesmerises Manchester audience

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A unique concert that fused Tagore songs with traditional Hindustani classical bandishes enthralled the audience. Rahul Laud reports

Surangon, the education wing of Moksha, the performing arts organisation, launched in 2012 presented a mesmerising evening to the lovers of Hindustani classical music and Tagore’s songs.

Surangan whose teachings are mainly based on  the works and philosophy of Rabindranath Tagore, the first Asian Nobel Laureate, offered rich tributes to the late Dr Prof Ajit Halder on the occasion. Ajit Halder, an academic by profession, was a committed community champion and admirer of Tagore. A founding member of RVM, Bolton, he was the driving force behind the annual Rabindra Kavya Dibash concert in partnership with the Manchester Metropolitan University and worked with multiple communities across the North West to promote Indian and Bengali culture.

Popularly known as Ajitda, he was an organising member of Banga Sammelan first held in Liverpool in 1996. He served as the Hindu Chaplain for the Prison Service. He started and administered an IT learning group at the Indian Senior Citizens Centre where he would help people learn to navigate the digital world. Having suffered the loss of sight in one eye, he volunteered at the RNIB to assist those more unfortunate than himself. He was a devoted grandfather, father and husband, leaving behind a rich legacy of cultural foundations and a greater sense of community.

Rishi Banerjee and his mother Ballari Banerjee who were the lead organisers of the event said, “Tagore remains a towering figure whose literary works have enriched not only the educational, social and cultural environment in India but also helped to establish a rapport between the East and the West.”

Tagore’s Kalmrigaya presentation brought together an ensemble of over 40 people of various ages and backgrounds. Rishi Banerjee who is an accomplished singer conceived, adapted and directed the musical opera. Renowned classical Kathak dancer Roshni Sarkar in the role of Dasaharath showed her dancing and acting prowess. Ballari Banerjee gave vocal direction to the music arrangement of Kolkatta-based based Subrata Mukhopadhya.

Composed in an operatic format in 1882, Rabindranath Tagore’s Kalmrigaya is inspired by the epic – Ramayana. A pioneer and innovator in Bengal, Rabindranath introduced the concept of “Geetinatya” or musical opera, having first composed Balmiki Pratibha in 1881. As a composer, he blended Western music (Scottish and Irish folk melodies) with Hindustani classical music traditions such as Dhrupad and Khayal as well as Bengali folk such as Kirtan.

Influenced by the Greek tragedies, Kalmrigaya is a significant landmark as he first introduced the Bonodevis or wood nymphs who play the equivalent role of a Greek Chorus setting the scenes, telling the story and warning the audience of anything ominous. Kalmrigaya explores the themes of forgiveness and regret through the characters of Andhamuni and Dasharath. A valiant hunter and loyal servant to the King, he oozes confidence. Yet, after killing Rishikumar he shows genuine shock and remorse for his actions. Tagore shows that even the greatest hunters have their flaws and they too have a heart. He may not have been forgiven but he is magnanimous enough to admit his fault.

The story unfolds as the young boy Rishikumar, son of the blind sage Andhamuni, goes to fetch water for his father in the forest. At the same time, the crown prince, Dasharath goes hunting in the forest and in the stormy monsoon conditions mistakes Rishikumar for a baby deer and kills him. Granting the young boy’s wish to take water and his body to the blind sage, the prince begs for forgiveness. The blind sage, enraged, curses the prince to experience the pain and suffering of losing a son, but ultimately forgives him.

The highlight of the evening was Sur Sangam anchored by Gopali Chakraborti Ghosh. Eminent Vocalist Koyel Bhattacharya, disciple of Ustad Rashid Khan with her full throttled powerful voice brought huge weightage to the show. Accompanied on Tabla by her husband Kuntal Das, student of Pt. Shubhankar Banerjee the duo regaled the audience with Rishi Banerjee who sang Tagore songs based on the different ragas. The Sur Sangam was a unique “Sangam” – a fine blend of Hindustani classical bandishes and popular Tagore songs. Amith Dey on keyboards displayed his professional talent and the apt use of piano and other instruments on the keys clearly showed that his vocal training added superb blend to the vocalists.

The vocalists featured Raag Desh, Bhoopali, Yaman Kalyan and Bhairavi. The Farida Khanum sung ghazal Aaj Jane ki zidd na karo in Yaman Kalyan in her trained mellifluous voice by Koyel stole the audience’s hearts. Her bandish in Bhairavi was the icing on the cake. In a very unusual pattern the vocal concert ended with devotional song in Raag Malkauns.   

Ballari said, “At Suranagon. We are proud to be teaching students of differing ages, various backgrounds and communities and we have also been fortunate enough to perform across the country presenting the works of the Bard.” The students also had the opportunity to perform in Kolkata and record their first album – “Kon Nutoner Daak” launched in December 2018, Banerjee added.

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