‘Bolava Vitthal’, an evening of abhangs organised by Pancham Nishad to celebrate Ashadhi Ekadashi at Chowdiah Memorial Hall in Bengaluru, has become an inalienable part of the city’s musicscape . The 13th year of this unique abhang festival featured renowned Carnatic vocalists Ranjani and Gayatri and Jayateerth Mevundi, the popular Hindustani vocalist.
Ashadhi Ekadashi is of profound significance to the devotees of Panduranga, the presiding deity of Pandharpur in Maharashtra. It marks the culmination of the annual yatra, Wari, undertaken by the Varkaris to the abode of Vitthala. Adhering to a time-honoured tradition, the devotees undertake the arduous pilgrimage on foot, during which they sing abhangs composed by saint-poets such as Gyaneshwar, Tukaram, Eknath, Namdev, and Chokamela. On reaching Pandharpur, a dip in the river Chandrabhaga followed by the darshan of Vithobha completes the spiritual journey .
The artistes captured the devotional fervour of the Wari by paying a musical tribute to the abhangakars. Ranjani-Gayatri and Jayateerth Mevundi commenced with the invocatory, ‘Alankapuri punyabhoomi pavitra’. Exuberantly hailing the glory of Pandharinath Maharaj, Jnanoba Mauli and Tukaram, the vocalists sang in unison in the gajar, ‘Jai Jai Ramakrishna Hari’, in raag Yaman, giving full rein to free-wheeling passages in an unhurried exploration of melody.
Ranjani and Gayatri began with a soulful rendition of the popular Tukaram composition, ‘Ata kote dhave man’, (How can my mind wander anywhere after being in the presence of Vitthala?) in raag Bhimpalas . Next came a medley of compositions, innovatively grouped under thematic clusters: a Kannada Vyasa Raya composition, ‘Ranga banda brindavanadalli ninda’ was paired with the Sant Eknath’s Marathi abhang ‘Kashi jau mi brundavana’. Both the compositions set to raag Brindavana Sarang created an indelible impact. Their improvisations in the prelude of the Vyasa Raya composition, ‘Vrajasundari sameta brundavana bhusha, anta-bahiranga prakasha’, were evocative. The delineation of the abhangs was an intricate process, marked by alap sequences, kalpanaswaras and gamaks. ‘Bolava Vitthala, pahawa Vitthala’ in raag Bhatiyar was the piece de resistance of the concert. This was followed by another medley — beginning with the Tukaram abhang, ‘Sada mazhe dola jado tujhi murthi’ (raag Mishra Malkauns), which was paired with a Purandaradasa composition, ‘Yaare rangana yaare krishnana kareya bandavaru’ (raag Malkauns), and climaxing in the ever-popular Tukaram abhang, ‘Pandaricha bhoot mote’. In the last composition, raag Chandrakauns overlapped with shades of raag Madhukauns as the duo negotiated a tricky ‘graha –beda‘, ‘moorchana’ sequence.
Ranjani and Gayatri were supported by an able and energetic team of accompanists comprising Nikhil Phatak on the tabla, Sukhad Munde on the pakhawaj, Aditya Oke on the samvadini, Shadj Godkhindi on the bansuri, Surya Kant Surve on the tal and conch and Sai Giridhar on the mridangam.
Jayateerth Mevundi began with the Tukaram abhang “Avade he roop gojire sagun’, which was marked by deep fervour and embellished with intricate sangathis, providing glimpses of raags Bihaagada and Jog simultaneously. Jayateerth invested his abhang gayaki with the same intensity and rigour that characterises his khayal gayaki and its impact upon the audience was unmistakable. Being a true-blue Kannadiga, Jayateerth took up the popular composition ‘Vitthala pidi enna kaiyya, Vittala pandariraya’ in Bhimpalas. His poignant articulation of the lines ‘Vitthala bhaktavatsala’ elicited a thunderous applause.
“Akara, ukara’, which came with an enchanting prelude and an elaboration of the line ‘Pari Vitthala aparampara’, was noteworthy for its iterations. The sublime note of bhakti invoked by the ‘Bap rakuma devi varu vitthala’ chants brought the imagery of the wari alive. ‘Na donkadarenu, ninna naama donke vitthala’ by Purandaradasa in shades of Sohni stood out for the singer’s imaginative approach.
‘Mazhe maher pandari’, a popular Eknath abhang, with flashes of raag Mand came with amazing improvisations in the raag. The Kannada composition ‘Tatitkoti nibhakaya jagannatha vithalayya’, in a combination of raags Deshkar and Bhupali, was accompanied by the melodious bansuri of Shadj Godkhindi. The percussive interlude in the Purandaradasa composition ‘Bhagyada lakshmi baramma’, a staple in Jayateerth’s concert, made for a fine finale. Percussionists Nikhil Phatak, Sukhad Munde, Surya Kant Surve and Sai Giridhar came up delightful rhythmic improvisations. Aditya Oke ‘s saath-sangat on the Samvadini enhanced the melodic appeal of the concert .