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CHAKRADHAR SAMAROH IN RAIGARH, CHATTISGARH- CELEBRATION OF INDIAN CLASSICAL MUSIC, DANCE AND THEATRE.
I was invited by Chattisgarh Tourism Department to attend 34th edition of Chakradhar Samaroh in Raigarh district of Chattisgarh. It was a celebration of Indian classical songs and dance as well as regional folk music, dance and theatre.
If you have read my previous blogs and social media updates, you will know that my interest in Indian classical music and folk songs and dance grew after attending the annual Kala Ghoda Arts Festival in Mumbai for the first time.
Ever since, I look for opportunities to experience such shows in different parts of India. The good news is that such shows are free to attend at many places. I was lucky to attend the 34th Raigarh Chakradhar Samaroh, few hours away from Raipur, the capital of Chattisgarh. The 10 days long festival was held in the month of September. It was a spectacular kaleidoscope of Indian cultural songs, dance and theatre.
Isn’t it a privilege to be able to see the best of Indian artists from all corners of India perform live? And it costs nothing! Be it the performance of Channulal Mishra or the popular Roop Kumar Rathore and his wife Sonali Rathore or the immensely talented local artists, each day was an audio-visual extravaganza, worth traveling to Raigarh for.
I had seen Channulal Mishra perform live in a Tansen music show (again free) in New Delhi and I remember how mesmerized I was. So impressed I was with his music that I YouTubed his songs and listened to them for weeks, especially …. “Digambar Khele Masane Me Holi” which is a soulful song of Lord Shiva playing holi, the festival of colors.
I missed a golden opportunity to see him perform live again as I arrived towards the last leg of the event. I still managed to catch some very riveting performances which I will remember for a long time. Just like, the 1 hour long performance of Padmashri Channulal Mishra which I saw 3 years ago, has still stayed with me. This is what brilliant music does to you.
HISTORY OF CHAKRADHAR SAMAROH:
Chakradhar Samaroh is celebrated in Raigarh every year in memory of Maharaja Chakradhar Singh. It is not very often that you come across a ruler of the state who was also proficient in playing table, make music and dance.
Maharaja Chakradhar ruled Raigarh from 1924 to 1947. The ‘sangeet samrat’ of Raigarh nurtured performing arts under his wings and even penned books on music. Maharaja Chakradhar Singh also invented a new style of Kathak which is known as ‘Raigarh Kathak Gharana’.
Under his patronage, music and dance flourished. The legacy is continued in the form of the annual musical extravaganza that Chakradhar Samaroh is. No wonder, Raigarh which is also known as sanskardhani has produced many talented performers, a glimpse of which I witnessed in Chakradhar Samaroh. Famous musician Kumar Gandharv and Madhukar Pande belong to Raigarh. Cultural activities and literature is still a way of life in Raigarh. Born in the tribal Royal Gond family, Maharaja Chakradhar Singh was the second son of Raja Bhoopdev Singh.
Chakradhar Samaroh, which is celebrated since 1985 in Raigarh around Ganesh Chaturthi is a 10 day long festival. I arrived to attend the last two days of the festival. As my cab picked me from Raigarh Railway station, I could not help but enjoy catching a glimpse of various Lord Ganesha idols in different pandals (tents), many of which were huge and some quirky. The huge posters of Chakradhar Samaroh punctuated the cityscape of Raigarh. The air of Raigarh was infected with unmistakable festive fervor.
The Ram Leela Ground where the Chakradhar Samaroh was being organized was already full of eager audiences, whether locals or travelers. I was impressed with the arrangements done by the local authorities.
The administration at Raigarh had taken good care of the layout and seating, facilitating good vantage points to all the spectators. Carts and makeshift shops by local vendors made it more atmospheric. In between performance breaks, I took out some time and explored the local food such as the lip smacking aalu chat, gupchup aka panipuri and roasted peanuts.
The roof of the pandal was covered but was open on all other sides so that those who were unable to find a seat (It was a houseful on both days) could still see it. This egalitarian approach of the administration was much appreciated. This spirit of making available the international level performance to all classes alike was commendable. As they say, music has no boundaries!
INTERNATIONAL LEVEL PERFORMANCES AND BOLLYWOOD AT CHAKRADHAR SAMAROH:
Those who attended the Chakradhar Samaroh prior to my visit, told me how amazed they were when Bollywood singer Mahalaxmi Iyer regaled the audience while Ghazal maestro Roopkumar Rathore and his wife Sonali Rathore had cast a magical spell on the music connoisseurs.
I, however badly wanted to see Padmabhushan Pandit Channulal Mishra perform live. I missed the performance by few days. I fondly remember how he had created a mehfil of sorts with his divine music and inimitable wit in an event in Delhi I attended few years ago. The audience refused to let him go. And despite his old age and chilling Delhi winters, he obliged, with a smile.
MIND BLOWING LOCAL FOLK MUSIC AND THEATRE OF CHATTISGARH:
Folk music, dance and theatre attract me the most in any such event. It gives me a direct access to the core and soul of the place where the music belongs to. Music from a particular regions best reflects the ethos, values and lifestyle of the respective places.
The spell binding performances by artists of Chattisgarh proved me right. Whether it was Panthi by Shekhar Giri from Raigarh or Chattisgarhi Lokrang, a spectacular musical theatre by Shri Deepak Chandrakar or Pandvani by the very talented Ms. Rashni Verma.
FOLK STORYTELLING ART OF CHATTISGARH
Pandvani was the most interesting folk performance for me. Made popular by the household name Teejan Bai, Pandvani is a unique art form where artists tell stories through song and loud and theatrical monologues. The passionate retelling of Mahabharata by Rashni was had me in splits.
During her performance, she picked the chapter where the Pandavas lose the game and Draupadi’s self respect was at stake.
The monologue continued with Draupadi pleading Lord Krishna to rescue her from the evil Kaurawas.
We have all grown up listening to these stories from Hindu epics and mythologies. And yet, I was intently listening to her with a childlike curiosity. It was all new and exciting for me.
Despite being in the local dialect of Chattisgarh, I could pick some words as it was similar to Hindi and Bhojpuri, both my native languages.
Panthi is another local art form of Chattisgarh where Shri Shekhar Giri narrated stories and sang songs while young boys and girls danced flawlessly with cheerful expressions. The energy and rhythm filled me with positivity. It was an arresting performance.
CHATTISGARHI LOKRANG ARJUNDA
What totally surprised me was the Chattisgarhi Lokrang Arjunda. It was a musical theatre performance. The theme was about a young couple, who is unable to marry due to opposition from their family and are eventually a victim of honour killing committed by their own relatives.
The done to death story was told in such a beautiful manner that in no time I was pulled into the narrative and started empathizing with the main leads. I didn’t pick all the dialogues and lyrics because it was a very fast paced performance. However, I could make out much of it.
The musicians and singers sat at the back of the stage. Each singer was assigned a character. The actor lip synced on the lines spoken with perfect timing by the singers.
I remember catching the singers in singing with such passion that their eyes often closed as they felt the pain of separated lovers. The singers knew that no one was watching their expressions. But they lived the pain and feelings of the characters so passionately that it reflected on their voice and facial expressions.
This is the kind of folk art I am mad about. Sadly, such art is still not mainstream. But this is how a large chunk of India gets entertained and informed on a regular basis. There were many instances when I was rooting for the main characters who were separated and united by destiny time and again.
The facial expressions, exceptional acting prowess, flawless dance moves and melodious songs made for a heady cocktail.
It won my heart instantly. I hope one day, I will also get lucky to experience other folk art from Chattisgarh such as Bhatra nach, Danda nach, Bhojli, Sela Nritya, Dadariya etc. I hope to return to Chakradhar Samaroh next year, just for the folk dance, music and theatre.
In an age when people have deficit attention span and no time to listen to new stories, I found myself emotionally manipulated by the artists on the stage telling me a story which I have listened to so many times. It is a great achievement for the artists and musicians.
INDIAN CLASSICAL SONGS AND DANCE AT CHAKRADHAR SAMAROH RAIGARH:
The classical songs and dances were equally riveting if not more. Some of the impressive performances I saw were Odishi dance by Shrutidas from Raigarh and Padmashri Debdhara Group, Kathak by Paramitra Moitra and group from New Delhi, Tabla by Pandit Pooran Maharaj from Varanasi and Ustad Sabir Khan from Kolkata.
The classical singing by Kalapini Komkali mesmerized the audience while the Punjabi bhangra group all the way from Patiala filled the air with infectious energy.
The Odishi group told the story from an important chapter from the life of Hindu deities viz. Lord Shiva, Lord Ganesha and Goddess Parvati. We have all grown up listening to the popular mythological story where Lord Ganesha guarded the entrance of the place where his mother Goddess Parvati was taking a bath.
He didn’t even allow his father Lord Shiva to enter the premises. Enraged, Lord Shiva chopped off the head of his own son. When he realized his mistake, he implanted an elephant head.
This already known story acquired a new meaning when the Odishi dancers told it through their bhavs and poses. It was a poignant story presented in a stunningly beautiful way.
The Kathak dancers were not behind on setting the stage on fire with their livewire performance. The fish like swift body movements, visually gorgeous swirls and sharp facial expressions made me watch the entire performance without perhaps blinking my eyes.
The powerhouse performer that she is, she kept the audience glued to their seats with her melodious bhajans and aalaps. In the age of Indian Idols and Sa Re Ga Ma Pas, she still firmly believes in the traditional Guru-shishya parampara (Teacher-student tradition). It reflects in her art. The audience didn’t want her to leave the stage, so spell binding her art was.
She is a celebrated Hindustani classical vocalist. Daughter of the legendary Kumar Gandharva, she has continued her legacy. I was very fortunate to see her perform live.
The view from my Soul Window is mind blowing!
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