As the summer sets in with heat and dust, cultural events too take a short break. After the hectic winter season when artists were busy travelling and performing, summer time is when we start touring outside India with concerts mostly in Europe, North America, and other continents. My guru Pandit Ravi Shankar always told me how important it is to stay close to the cultural roots. I remember an interview I heard with Ustad Zakir Hussain long time ago where he mentions the advice given by my guru in the early 1970s, “Beg, borrow or steal but make sure you are in India during the music season in the winters”. It is difficult to explain why, but this is so true even today.
In March, there were two festivals among many others where I performed with my wife Saskia that stand out in my memory—in Chandigarh and Amritsar. Both are unique cultural events that have been there for a long time now. In Chandigarh, Pracheen Kala Kendra (PKK), which was celebrating its diamond jubilee, invited us to perform in its seven-day festival. PKK was established in 1956 by late M L Koser and his wife Shobha Koser, a Kathak teacher. The aim was to provide facilities for education, training, research, holding of examinations for the subjects pertaining to performing and visual arts. Over the decades, PKK has gone on to establish itself as one of the leading institutions that not only provides quality education in the field of classical music, dance and fine arts under the guru-shishaya parampara but also invites established artists in its annual cultural events. All leading artists of the country have performed on this platform. The dedication towards promoting and propagating classical music and dance shown by the Koser family is something so wonderful and needs all support that we all can give.
The other festival was the 111th Annual Sangeet Sammelan of Shri Laxmi Narayan Raag Sabha in Amritsar. This festival was originally held in the Golden Temple but for some religious and political reasons, got shifted. Some people took it up as a challenge to recreate the same atmosphere for the festival and finally in 1925, they started holding the concerts at the Shri Laksmi Narayan Temple, a replica of the Golden Temple. Many beautiful stories are told about this temple and about the artists who have performed here. I especially love the story of the Hanuman temple which is in the complex. According to a legend, the banyan tree in the temple is the same one where Lava and Kusha tied Hanuman. The temple itself is supposed to be standing in the place where parents come to pray for a son and if a son is born with Hanuman’s blessings, they bring their sons to this temple every year. The sons are dressed up like langoors and dance in the Navratra procession in September/October.
Artists do not come here to perform for money but as an offering. Even today, the organisers go around the city, collecting donations from various people, and work with limited budgets. The atmosphere inside the temple where artists perform is indeed magical. Somewhere deep within, you are able to connect with your inner self. It is wonderful that there are some dedicated people who continue to work hard to organise these festivals and I sincerely hope that more people—not just from Punjab but all over the country—come forward and help. We have such an amazing and rich history. Let’s indeed preserve it by cherishing the right values we can learn from it and by passing it on to the next generations.
The writer is a renowned sitar player.