It’s 21 years since I last performed at the Sankat Mochan Sangeet Samaroh in Varanasi. This beautiful five-day music festival is the culmination of the nine-day Hanuman Jayanti. Unfortunately, most of the summer months starting from early April onwards, I would tour outside India. I have never got the opportunity to go and perform there again. But this year, I made it a point to be here in India to be able to perform at this unique festival.
The first Sankat Mochan Sangeet Sammaroh was held almost 90 years ago and today, there is not a single artist who would not like to go and pay their respects to Lord Hanuman, the reliever of troubles. This year is unique because it features for the first time the legendary ghazal singer from Pakistan, Ustad Ghulam Ali. Never in the 92 years of its history has a musician from Pakistan performed at this sacred temple. This beautiful gesture reiterates that music has no religion, caste or creed, and is the only universal language. Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted that he wished he could be there at the Sankat Mochan Mandir listening to this legend. Music transcends all worldly barriers and I really wish that more and more people were able to listen, appreciate and understand our beautiful classical music and its rich tradition.
What started off as a one-day event initially has now grown into a full six-day celebration. Every evening, the concerts start at 7:30 pm and finish by 7 am in the morning with about six artists performing every single night. There are about 4,000-5,000 people every single night, listening and absorbing the music.
My concert was slated to be the third in the evening and scheduled to start at about 10 pm but it could not start before midnight. There was a downpour and a thunderstorm immediately after the second concert. Hundreds of people sitting in the temple compound got drenched and were soaking-wet but no one wanted to move away either. Finally, some volunteers brought mops to clean up the entire place. There I was sitting on the stage and enjoying this almost surreal thing in front of me, waiting for the water to be drained out, people to sit down so I could start my concert. Where in the world can we witness this? People, even though drenched to their skins, were parched for the music and indeed, it is at such places where the belief in my music gets strengthened. There were shouts of Har Har Mahadev and Jai Bajrang Bali before I started and the whole place was charged. Totally devoted and dedicated people are involved in organising this mega event, year after year. For the six days of this festival, they hardly get any sleep. I do hope this festival continues for ever. It is because of these moments that India is what it is—a spiritual haven.
Even for the most accomplished musician, the music is an offering or a seva of Lord Shri Hanuman who is considered to be an embodiment of supreme talent, expertise and strength, even in the realms of music. This year too, most of the leading artists, including Pandit Jasraj, Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia, Pandit Birju Maharaj and Vidushi Sonal Mansingh, did the seva. I remember the beautiful atmosphere from 1994 when I was there last. I remember playing one of my Gurus’ compositions, Raga Parameshwari. I would really like to soak in the very special atmosphere that will prevail there and make it a memorable experience.