“Rhythms of a river” by Gulf News, Jyoti Kalsi
Kalsi, J. “Rhythms of a river.” Gulf News. 7 October 2011.
Rhythms of a river
By Jyoti Kalsi, Gulf News, Dubai
October 7, 2011
A Dubai show captures the many melodies that blossomed along the banks of the Ganges and drew inspiration from it.
The Ganges is revered in India and is an important part of Indian mythology, folklore and tradition. Many important cultural centres of the country, such as Banaras, Haridwar, Allahabad and Patna, are located on its banks. And it is this connection with culture, especially with poetry and music, that has been explored in the latest production by Malhaar, the UAE’s first Indian choir.
The show, titled O Ganga: Echoes From the River of Life, includes compositions by poets, singers and musicians who lived on the banks of the river and drew inspiration from it. “Our show is not about mythology, religion or the environment. We want to take the audience on a journey along the course of this mighty river to discover the many flavours of music that have blossomed on her banks over the centuries.
“So our repertoire ranges from the traditional thumris of the Banaras gharana to the poetry of Kaifi Azmi and Harivanshrai Bachchan; from the profound dohas of Kabir to the melodious sounds of Rabindrasangeet; from the traditional folk songs of Bihar to the spiritual Buddhist and Islamic chants; and from well-known ghazals to our original contemporary compositions,” says Jogiraaj Sikidar, founder of Malhaar.
Sikidar is a gifted Hindustani classical singer and composer. He established Malhaar two years ago as a forum where music lovers could meet and explore the rich musical heritage of the subcontinent. The group has presented many successful shows in Dubai, with themes ranging from Indian festive songs and Sufi poetry to the cultural renaissance in Awadh during the reign of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah.
“Because this is an abstract theme, we have taken a philosophical and spiritual approach. The river is visualised as a metaphor for the soul as it travels on the journey of life. And the narrator is an ageless and timeless boatman who ferries the soul in the boat of life on its journey from birth to death,” Sikidar says.
The group has done months of research to select songs and compositions that effectively convey the different stages of life. The journey begins with the birth of the river in the Himalayas and its childhood in Haridwar and Rishikesh. The lively songs in this segment portray the energy and innocence of a child. The merging of the Ganges with the Yamuna and the Saraswati rivers in Allahabad is represented as a teenager, meeting new friends and encountering new experiences. Harivanshrai Bachchan’s Madhushala is perfect for this stage.
The river reaches Banaras in the prime of youth and passionately embraces life. The thumris of legendary maestros from the Banaras gharana convey this mood. It then matures under the influence of Kabir’s dohas and begins its spiritual journey in Pataliputra, the city of Buddha and Ashoka.
As the river enters Bengal, the restlessness and the reflective mood of the ageing soul is expressed through Tagore’s poetry. It then enters Bangladesh, swollen with all the experiences it has assimilated throughout the journey.
It finally disappears into the Bay of Bengal, only to reappear again in the eternal cycle of birth and death.
“The music is the main focus of this show. But we have also woven in elements of theatre, dance and interactive audio-visual effects,” Sikidar says.
“As always our biggest challenge is finding sponsors. We want to thank Transworld Group for always supporting us, but we also want to appeal to other local companies to support local talent and homegrown productions.”