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Vibrations of the Wind

Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia Comes to Kresge

By Shruti Chandrasekhar

Hariprasad Chaurasia, Flutist

Kresge Auditorium

Sunday, September 23, 2001

Sunday’s performance by classical Indian flutist Hariprasad Chaurasia in Kresge Auditorium was beyond description. It was genuine Hari Prasad, which means “Blessings of the Lord” in Sanskrit. Chaurasia’s god-given talent and his consummate artistry made every moment spent at Kresge worthwhile. MITHAS (MIT Heritage of the Arts of South Asia), in cooperation with Sangam and New England Hindu Temple, organized the show.

Chaurasia is the foremost flutist in India and one of the best in the world. At the age of fifteen, enamored by the simplicity of this instrument, he decided to abandon vocal training to pursue the art of this wind instrument under the guidance of Pandit Bholanath. After a tenure of five years with the All India Radio at Cuttack, he was transferred to All India Radio, Bombay. It was there that he entered the most significant phase of his career, under the guidance of the Sur Bahar virtuoso Shrimati Annapurna Devi, the illustrious daughter of the all time great teacher and musician, Ustaad Allauddin Khan of the Maihar school of music. Her influence not only gave his music depth and dimension, but also inspired him to pursue a new, unrestrained performing career.

Today, accompanied by Vijay Ghate on the tabla, Chaurasia set off the evening with a rendition of the Raag Bhimpalas. On being asked why he chose this Raag, Chaurasia replied that “only a raag as emotional and playful as Bhimpalas could mitigate the pain that a country as beautiful as America is now facing.”

Indian Hindustani Music is built on raags or scales -- each invoking different emotions, set at different times, and having their own identity. A raga is a melodic scale, consisting of notes from the basic seven known as sa, re, ga, ma pa, dha, and ni synonymous with c, d, e, f, g, a, and b of the Western classical scale. Apart from sa and pa which are constant, the other notes may be in sharp or flat. Depending on the notes included in it, each raga acquires a distinct character. The form of the raga is also determined by the particular pattern of ascent and descent of the notes, which may not be strictly linear. Melody is built up by improvising and elaborating within the given scale. The level of improvisation depends on the acumen and ability of the performer.

Bhimpalas is a Kafi thaat raaga that is always a challenge to perform. It has a serious intent, and is set for the mood of the end to an afternoon. The meditative quality of the raag with Madhyam (F on the Western Scale) as the resting place is blended with the soulful transition from Pancham (G on the Western Scale) to Komal Nishaad (B sharp on the Western scale). This combination of notes, when played skillfully, can bring about a sense of bliss that is stronger than the graveness it symbolizes. Due to this nature, Chaurasia began the recital with around an hour’s rendition of this raag. This piece, although dexterously presented by Chaurasia, was a dash too serious to capture one’s complete attention.

However, the mood livened up when Chaurasia broke into a enthusiastic performance of the spry Raag Hamsadhvani. Hamsadhwani or “Voice of the Swan,” a raag having its roots in southern India, enraptured the audience’s heart and soul. Its life and joy filled the air with excitement, and Chaurasia’s buildup of notes was such that the audience’s enthusiasm so cumulated that they broke into a standing ovation when Chaurasia reached his crescendo.

On popular demand, Chaurasia then performed Raag Pahadi, in which he played a jugalbandi or musical dialogue with Vijay Ghate, his companion on the tabla. This is what I would call the heart of Indian Music -- the ability to create new melodies based on the moment. Chaurasia gave an amazing display of this skill, making each one of us appreciate the joy that music can elicit.

In all, the concert this evening was one that made us understand and experience the joy that music can evoke. As always, the dexterity of Chaurasia’s fingers on the bamboo flute enlivened many music lovers.