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Monsoon festival

It's raining ragas

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The monsoon is here and so are a shower of festivals.The heat that sends classical circuits in India into a two-month torpor has ended. The rains have, in Met parlance, finally 'covered' India and concert halls are busy hosting various monsoon festivals.

Over the next two months, audiences will be treated to the awesome, cloud-busting notes of Miyan ki Malhar, Surdasi Malhar, Ramdasi Malhar, the sombre Megh and several variants of these ragas. For the rest of the year, few musician will defy tradition and touch these ragas, so makes sure you have your fill before getting back to the Yamans and Bagesrhees.

The first wave of monsoon concerts hasalready hit Mumbai. It has so far seen the ambitious three-day Megh Malhar and the start of the six-city Barkha Ritu series hosted by Banyan Tree. Sensibly, the latter is arriving in Delhi after the first showers of the season. There is nothing more off-putting than musical visions of clouds and words like badarwa, ghana and garaje when the air outside is sizzling.

This weekend will see a fusion concert by sarodiya Rahul Sharma and a pure classical performance by sitarist Shujaat Khan. Indian classical arts, dance and music are highly sensitive to the state of nature, wired to shift shape with the time of the day and season. "If you just open your mind to its incredible beauty you can sense how it does this, " says sitarist Shujaat Khan. This weekend he plans to play the rarely heard Gaur Malhar. "There are some rare and antique compositions I have picked up from the great Ustad Amir Khan saheb, " he says. "Some of the compositions that my family has been playing go back 200 to 300 years. "

Barkha Ritu moves to Pune next weekend with the father-son duo of Abhijit (keyboard) and Ajay Pohankar (vocal), and the versatile Vishwa Mohan Bhatt playing the mohan veena. Dharwar vocalist Venkatesh Kumar and Hariprasad Chaurasia will then explore monsoon melodies in Bangalore. Ahmedabad will hear Ashwini Bhide sing and Shivkumar Sharma on the santoor. The series ends in Hyderabad with Chhanulal Mishra singing in his inimitable Benarasi style followed by Rahul Sharma's third big concert of the season. July 26 in New Delhi will see the start of the Monsoon Festival at the India International Centre. The two-day event opens with the Chennaibased Lakshmi Sreeram's Hindustani concert, followed the next day by dance performances in the Odissi and Bharatanatyam styles. "The seasons have been beautifully depicted in Indian dances using both literature as well as ragas, " says Odissi dancer Sharmila Mukerjee who is readying to do a special piece and a pallavi based on Megh, which will be rounded off with a Tagore song on the rains.

On the last two days of July, Spandan will present Monsoon Magic. The opening concert is a jugalbandi by two youngsters, Lakhsay Mohan (sitar) and Aayush Mohan Gupta (sarod). Both have studied in the Maihar gharana style followed by Pandit Ravi Shankar and are fiercely traditional in their playing but have unbent to do a jugalbandi because they believe it will help attract youngsters their age. "We are planning on playing Ramdasi Malhar but we might take it as it comes, " says Lakshay.
Veteran Kathak dancer Shovana Narayan will present Megh Darshan, followed the next day by an Odissi recital by Sharon Lowen and a vocal concert by Ojesh Pratap Singh, a leading disciple of Ulhas Kashalkar.

The malhar theme is a great hook to draw audiences to classical concerts. They may or may not get the finer nuances of the combination of notes and scales, but it's impossible not to be moved by the grandeur of the music.

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