One of the most interesting festivals I look forward to is the Jansmashtami celebrations at the place of living legend of Indian Flute – Bansuri – Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia. On the day of auspicious Krishna Janmashtami, Guruji holds this festival at his place.
Guruji started the festival in 1985 at his home. I joined in 1989 immediately when I started learning with Him. Basically it is 24 hours of non-stop flute playing! All his students and students of students, and some students of students of students come there to pay the respect and to pray the Gods – Lord Krishna as well as Guruji ! [ Although I am not aware, there could be the 4th generation students of His, too! ] Now since the completion of Vrindavan Gurukul, the festival is shifted there from his home.
His home in Mumbai has a big terrace outside his living room. And there is a small and very beautiful temple of Lord Krishna. When he started the festival Guruji used to sit next to the temple and start the festival by starting to play at the stroke of midnight, as that’s the birth time of Lord Krishna. We all used to accompany Him. There used to be mainly his family members and some others watching us play.
Janmashtami circa1992. Guruji with Rakesh, Rupak, Rajendra and Mahavir on flute and Avisha on Taanpura
Guruji would start with some night raag. Lots of times Yaman, or Bihag or such. It would get continued till early morning and then would start some morning melody, Todi, Bhairav or whatever in the wee hours of the morning. Only then we would realise that the night is slowly changing into the dawn. This is followed every year till today. One year Guruji got in a different mood and played Yaman straight for 8 hours ! He could play with his incredible intensity where half of us couldn’t even sit for that long!!
Later in the day some other students of His would arrive and they would take over the playing session. We would then go to freshen up and have the marvellous breakfast Maa ji – Guruji’s wife would have had made for us. Around the lunch time for years and years without fail Pt. Shivkumar Sharma and Yash Chopra would come with their families. They are very close friends of Guruji and again one of us – the night batch – would start playing that time. At my 4th or 5th Janmashtami festival when I got the opportunity to play at the lunch time, I felt so elated because Shivji and Yashji were listening to us sitting closely. First few years I wasn’t even good enough to be left there playing that time !
After lunch usually it was the time for Raag Madhuvanti or later on Marwa or Jaijaivanti or so. Usually in the evening one of the well-known Tabla players like Ustad Fazal Qureshi or Pandit Madan Mishra would come over and accompany. That time the style of music too changed depending upon who is playing the Tabla. Sometimes there would be no Tabla player there! Once I remember Guruji and I played Raag Jaijaiwanti for over 2 hours; then somebody came and joined in on Tabla! I too have played Tabla in one or two earlier Janmashtami festivals ! [ I don’t play Tabla, just can keep the beat – Theka at its minimum 🙂 ]
Janmashtami circa1992. Ustd. Fazal Qureshi is playing Tabla. Anuradha Pal, Ramakant Patil are sitting around.
Raag Bageshri, Chandrakauns or such beautiful night melodies would start after 8 pm and at midnight the festival would get over with the Aarati Om Jaya Jagadhish Hare.
Today after two decades the format hasn’t changed much. Just that it happens in a bigger scale.
Musically for the students this entire festival is a great learning and great experience. For the junior students it’s an opportunity to play with the seniors in this format. Otherwise mostly the training is in the lesson format. Here you land up playing for much longer duration than usually you would! In the past I have played anywhere between 14 to 20 hours in those 24 hours ! Whereas my personal Riyaaz is usually anywhere between 2 to 10 hours ! [Although for years and years it was always Guruji who played the most!!! ]
In the festival one Raag is played easily for 2 to 4 hours, which too is a great learning, as one gets to see all various musical ideas coming from different players ! And most importantly Guruji and Maa ji is listening to what you play !
Actually first few years I didn’t sleep even for a minute. But then it started proving to be too hectic as I too started having busier schedules in that month. In the beginning there weren’t many students, so we got to play longer durations too.
This entire music is totally non-commercial. The only feeling is devotional and while playing in the festival I can feel that my playing is changing. My approach towards the music is changing. My understanding is getting more vivid inputs, and my creativity too jumps up a lot!
For me it’s a great battery recharge. Today I am travelling performing all around the world. Janmashtami Festival at Guruji’s place is the true battery recharge for me.
This year in Janmashtami festival I went in the morning and stayed till the night. I must have played more than 8-9 hours easily. Guruji in the morning played Raag Bhatiyar. A beautiful melody I always wanted to learn! Famous producer director Subhash Ghai had come at lunch time while we were playing Vrindavani Sarang. It was Pt. Rupak Kulkarni, Pt. Rakesh Chaurasia and I playing alongside Guruji.
At night many musicians turned up Ustad Taufiq Qureshi and his wife well-known singer Geetika, Vidvan Shreedhar Parthsarathy, Gauri Pathare, Pt Madan Mishra, Pt. Kalinaath Mishra were amongst the audience. Actually Pt. Kalinaath ji played Tabla. But famous flautist Pt. Ronu Majumdar came a bit later and joined the festival. It was great to play with him along with Gurubandhu Pt. Rakesh Chaurasia and Vivek Sonar.