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Meditative Moments – a Unique First Ever Concert Debuts in Houston

Gundecha brothers with Kanniks Kannikeswaran (center)

By Sunil Pangarkar

HOUSTON: As a child growing up in India, I had often heard and recited by rote that, India is a land where there is Unity in Diversity. It took a greater part of my life to appreciate the depth of that concept via argumentation and observation. For most part I could see the diversity more than the unity. The power of music can however shorten the process of the realization of unity, by making one feel it. Clearly the first demonstration of this was through the 1988 national Integration message in India through the now famous song Mile Sur Mera Tumhara.

For me, the second realization of Unity in Diversity in the musical context, was during the Houston concerts in March 2010 called Shanti- A journey of Peace, composed by eminent musicologist and composer Kanniks Kannikeswaran and performed by Houston’s United Nations Association International Choir together with singers from the local Indian diaspora. The third and somewhat deeper and more subtle realization was on the Buddha Purnima day on 5th May 2012 in Stafford center during the concert Meditative Moments.

The chosen day of Buddha Purnima was perhaps apt – deeper realizations in life come at special times. The chosen form of musical expression was classical – a form that has emotionally connected people and has stood the test of time.  Hence the music was Dhrupad the oldest form of Indian classical music mainly practiced and appreciated in the Northern part of India. The compositions were those of Muthuswamy Dikshitar the South Indian poet, composer and one of the musical trinities of Carnatic music from late 18th century.

The concert Meditative Moments was brought to Houston by Art of Living Foundation founded by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. This is one of the largest NGO in the world promoting the unifying message of peace via stress free mind and violence free society.

All works of substance – be it in art or industry, need moments of inspiration, decision and perspiration. Kanniks Kannikeswaran as a composer, musicologist and Carnatic musician thrives on uncovering the facets of rich musical traditions. In 2002 when he was listening to Shivastutis by the Gundecha Brothers (Ramakant and Umakant Gundecha who are the Dhrupad stalwarts of India today), he was blown away by the similarity of those renderings with some of Dikshitar’s compositions.

He had studied the theory and structure of Dhrupad, the kritis of Dikshitar and the context behind both genres of music. But he now imagined bringing it together in a recording or concert at some point. It was to happen much later, after an initial meeting in Boston with Akhilesh Gundecha (who accompanies his elder brothers on Pakhawaj) followed by Kannik’s  visit to Gundecha brother’s Dhrupad gurukul in Bhopal in 2011. Kanniks proposed his idea and Gundecha’s brothers were extremely receptive. Then came the opportunity of Gundecha Brother’s 2012 US tour. As only a fast acting, can-do Texan can do, Shankar Jayaraman of Art of Living Foundation, offered to host the first ever unique concert. Then it was all about hard work and organization by Art of Living members led by Shankar, and numerous other individuals and organizations that supported this cause to make Meditative Moments happen.

The concert began with very important formalities and messages by the organizers. Art of Living Foundation made a presentation that connected with the local audience. It was great to see volunteers in Houston help local school kids in teaching how to deal with stress and thereby get the best out of them.

Art of Living Foundation also felicitated some of the music and dance gurus in Houston area teaching Hindustani and Carnatic genres of music and classical dance. Prominent among them were Dr. Rathna Kumar, Pt. Suman Ghosh, Pt Shantilal Shah and Vidushi Raja Rajeshwari Bhatt.

The foundation of classical tradition is the Guru-Shishya tradition and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s spiritual message to all was that Guru-Shishya relationship becomes effective when both the Guru and the Shishya explore knowledge together thereby transforming teaching to learning.

Prior to the concert Kanniks gave the audience a presentation – like a canvas on which Gundecha brothers were about to paint on. The concert began with a long Alaap in Kumudkriya which is an infrequently heard Carnatic Raaga but uniquely seen in Dikshitar’s tradition. Ardhanarisvaram a composition that was sung in the same Raaga in 12 beat Chautaal , in some ways relates to the Shiva-Shakti unity/dependence – a very apt first composition.

A short Alaap in Hindustani Raaga Hamir and a composition parimala ranganatham in 12 beat Chautaal followed. Musically I felt like the mood of the Raaga somehow fitted very well in the sequence. The next two compositions were Gundecha Brother specials.  They are liked by audiences all over the world. Jayati Jayati in Raaga Malkauns or Hindolam (same Raaga with different names in North and South respectively) has a structure and lyrics very similar to Dikshitar’s compositions and showcases the Unity aspect of the two genres. The commentary by Kanniks in between each composition was extremely useful for both the Hindustani and Carnatic connoisseurs to understand the context of each composition.

The final composition set to 10 beat Sultaal was Shiva Shiva Shiva in Raaga Adana. The mood of Raaga Adana and particularly this composition has both the seriousness and the energy that leaves the audience spell bound.

It is said in Dhrupad circles that the best applause after a concert is complete meditative silence. This was indeed the effect. The characteristics of Dhrupad music is that key instruments like harmonium are not used since they cannot produce the shrutis or sub-tones that are needed to create the specific mood of a Raaga.

In my opinion this back to basics purity perhaps makes the confluence of the two genres stand out.  Also in my opinion, not only the concert was musically unique and satisfying at the same time but the whole idea of Unity, repeatedly came to fore every step of the way.

Finally, let me tell you one uncomfortable truth – for all these years I have not really ventured into the Carnatic music world and I know there were many in the audience who had not ventured into the Hindustani world! This concert allowed me to explore something new and different.

Only in Texas!


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