136 years for Jalandhar music festival

Jalandhar (Punjab) : This town has kept a musical tradition alive for 136 years. As the famous Shree Baba Harivallabh Sangeet Samelan gets under way Friday, musical notes will reverberate in its lanes once again.

One of the oldest festivals of Hindustani classical music, the sammelan is organised on the last weekend of December every year at the ‘samadhi’ of saint-musician Baba Harivallabh in Shri Devi Talab neighbourhood and it is said that Mahatma Gandhi too had attended it once.

“The sammelan attracts audiences from India and abroad every year. During the three days of the sammelan, the audience count goes up to 20,000,” Purnima Beri, the general secretary of the Harivallabh Sangeet Mahasabha, said .

“Jalandhar has some very good listeners of Hindustani classical music. We get audiences from 12- to 13-year-old music lovers to those in their 90s.”

Baba Harivallabh was an exponent of classical music and the festival was first held in 1875.

“Drawing inspiration from Baba Harivallabh, who started it in the memory of his guru, Swami Tulja Giri, the sammelan has provided a platform where distinguished musicians can give the best of their art and where anyone interested – initiated and uninitiated alike – can listen to them free,” the Harivallabh sammelan website states.

Mahatma Gandhi, accompanied by Pandit Vishnu Digamber Paluskar, had visited the sammelan in 1919.

“The sammelan is a great place for Hindustani classical music. Many people from the region brave the December cold to be part of this great cultural festival every year,” Jalandhar resident Tarsem Lal Sharma, who has been attending it for over two decades, said .

Entry to the Harivallabh Sangeet Sammelan, which is listed among the national music festivals by the central government, is free for all.

“In earlier times, no invitation cards used to be printed. Dec 26-29 used to be the dates fixed for the sammelan. The artists, the music lovers, the donors, everybody knew about these dates. These dates were published even in the ‘Panchang’ under the heading -Important Festivals of Northern India,” says the website.

Big names of the Hindustani classical music scene have been associated with the festival over the years. Some include Hari Prasad Chaurasia (flute), Bhimsen Joshi (vocalist), Pandit Jasraj (vocalist), Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan (vocalist), Vishwa Mohan Bhatt (mohan veena), Ustad Allah Rakha Khan and Ustad Zakir Hussain (both tabla), Ustad Sultan Khan (israj), Gangu Bai Hangal (vocalist), Pandit Ravi Shankar (sitar) and many more.

“Prominent artists of Hindustani classical music from India and Pakistan have come and performed at the Harivallabh Sangeet Sammelan at one time or the other during the last 136 years,” Beri said.

Till 1929, only vocal artists attended the sammelan. ” ‘Vichitra veena’ was introduced on the Harivallabh stage by Mian Abdul Aziz of the Patiala Gharana, sitar by Ravi Shankar, sarod by Amjad Ali Khan and the flute by Shri Panna Lal Ghosh,” the website says.

Every year, the sammelan gets 15-20 prominent artists, including vocalists and instrumentalists, to perform over three days.

“Earlier the performances used to carry on till early morning. But now, we try to end by 2 a.m.,” Beri said.

For this year, young sarod masters Ayaan and Amaan Ali Khan, the sons of famous Sarod player Amjad Ali Khan, will be performing a ‘jugalbandi’ Dec 23.

A unique jugalbandi or fusion this time will be between a sitar and the cello by Subhendra and Saskia Rao.

Pakistani Dhrupad singers Labrez Afzal Khan and Hafiz Ali Khan, whose ancestors used to perform with the Sikh gurus, will also be coming to perform this year.

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