Pt. Dhananjay Kaul of Kashmir captivates music lovers
Pandit Dhananjay Kaul, the Sufiana maestro from India, received a standing ovation from delighted music lovers at a concert on Sunday evening, July 16, 2017, at the Impact Center of Global Mall in metro Atlanta.
After a sumptuous dinner, introductions, and a brief presentation of bouquets by community leaders, emcee Subash Razdan (a Kashmiri from Ahmadabad) welcomed the maestro, as did Consul D. V. Singh and Sachid Shukla and his team from Shiv Mandir Atlanta.
The well-organized feast of dinner and music was a benefit program towards construction of a replica in Atlanta of the Kheer Bhawani temple. Architect Tej Kaul of Kashmir Overseas Association (KOA) – Georgia gave an overview of the planning and design of the proposed temple within the 11.4 acre premises of Shiv Mandir Atlanta in the northeast corridor of Metro Atlanta.
“The tranquil temple in Kashmir, which shines like a pearl in the shell, has a marble platform with idols inside and under the marble canopy in the middle of the spring. And this is what Kashmiris overseas are hoping to replicate along with allied festivities in Atlanta with support from Shiv Mandir Atlanta!” explained Tej Kaul. (It is noteworthy and encouragingly auspicious news for Hindus of Georgia that Shiv Mandir had its own successful ground breaking for construction a few weeks earlier.)
Kashmir’s Kheer Bhawani is the most venerated temple dedicated for Maa Ragnya Bhagwati, another form of Durga, at the holy spring in Tula Mula about 15 miles from Srinagar. “The Goddess is viewed as central in Shakti and Shaiva Hindu traditions. Kheer (porridge/pudding) is offered to the sacred spring (kund) in worship (puja) as a tradition, hence the name Kheer Bhawani. The holy spring surrounding the majestic temple is reported to change its color with various hues of red, pink, orange, green, blue, white, etc. A black tint of the spring water is believed to be inauspicious by the superstitious,” added Dijjotam Raina, a sponsor of the concert.
Another KOA enthusiast, Dr. Aarti Ganju Raina, remarked “We feel blessed by the divine coincidence to have the announcing of the plans for Kheer Bhawani (a dream, vision, and support of many Kashmiris in USA, especially the initial guidance by the Bhupendra and Veena Gouri family), under the auspices of a prominent musician, Dhananjay, who himself was born in the vicinity of Kheer Bhawani at Safapur village, Kashmir.”
The spotlight for the evening nevertheless was on Pt. Dhananjay Kaul of India, and the stage with backdrop and decorations typical of Kashmir was set for his florid vocalism.
Trained in Patiala and Shyam Chaurasi gharanas (styles) and recipient of numerous state and national awards, Dhananjay’s gayaki (singing) is cast in a devotional mould and his voice is full-throated and bold with a beautiful tapestry of swaras and shrutis. This leading exponent of music is known to embellish his renderings with a blend of Sufiana music (devotional music of the Sufis, Islamic mystics) and Indian classical vocal music with thumri, kafi, sufiana kalams, ghazals, Sanskrit stotras, etc.
Clad in an intricately embroidered Kashmiri Jaamwar shawl, the Pandit invoked Lord Shiva with the classical bhajan (devotional) recital of a Sanskrit stotra in raag/raga Bhairav with his nimble fingers controlling the keys of his harmonium (a small, hand-pumped organ-like instrument) with a slow melody. The pace became faster and more intense with entrance of the tabla played by Bhavesh Patel of Atlanta, a student of Pandit Shree Divyang Vakil, disciple of Ustad Alla Rakha Khan.
His second striking melody, the Kashmiri sufi kalam (song) “Roz roz,” set a lighthearted tone. The mood became more dramatic and electrifying as it progressed with his sustained high-pitched ethereal voice.
It was now time for some Sufiana ghazals. Ghazal is a poetic verse in Urdu language in which ‘an idea is fully expressed in a single line divided into two hemistiches of equal syllabic lengths and with rhyming words at the end of the second hemistich.’ Dhananjay enthralled the audience with the compositions of singer Mehdi Hasan including the ghazal of Ahmed Faraz, “Ranjis hi Sahi” in raag Yaman followed by “Zindagi mei to pyar” in raag Bhimpalasi. He also sang a few other popular ghazals in raag Khamaj and Kafi, reviving great memories of the legendary Mehdi Hasan!
Rouf dance on Kashmiri folk song "Bhumro."
He then shifted to Hindustani classical, singing a nostalgic thumri of Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan in raag Kaushik dhwani. The crescendo heightened when Dhananjay sang Punjabi sufi kalams “Nit khatr mangan” in raag Megh and Baba Bhule Shah kalam “Mera piya ghar aya” in raag Pahadi. The audience broke into spontaneous dance and ovation for his Punjabi/Patiala gharana beats with the climax being “Bhumro Bhumro,” a Kashmiri folk song adapted by Bollywood film Mission Kashmir. He continued entertaining with the famous Kashmiri Sufi kalam of great Saint Ahad Zargar, “Na chum tan pan” in raga Bilawal.
Pt. Dhananjay Kaul accompanied by Bhavesh Patel on Tabla.
The interplay between the alternating harmonium and the resonating tabla created an interesting dialogue especially with the rendering of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s “Dum mast qalandar” in raag Kafi.
On popular demand and as requested by Jyoti Ganju, one of the organizers of the concert, his final song for the evening was a minimalist lyrical rendition of Kashmiri sufi kalam by great Saint Niyma Saeb, “Che gaste hai” in raag Khamaj.
After the concert:
Dr. Rakesh Raina, a dentist who organized a Kashmiri concert a few years ago, described his performance, “Even when the ensemble was limited, Dhanajay still managed to create interesting renderings. At the forefront were his voice and the lyric quality of the melodies!”
Dinesh Purohit of Shiv Mandir, a musician himself, passionately added, “His melodies were substantial enough to be music on its own but his mastery of his harmonium added a framework or context for his voice, like a setting in a story. Interestingly, as his song developed, his harmonium would join in an intimate veneer to create diverse compositions, captivating everybody’s attention. Simply put, his music was lovely as it spoke directly to the audience.”
Concert coordinator Raj Razdan, a Kashmiri from Pune, India and settled in Atlanta since 1977, was no doubt exhilarated by the response and fundraising support by the Atlanta community, reckoned, “As Atlanta’s Sandip Savla kept the audio/PA system moving flawlessly for his entire concert, Dhananjay made us laugh, tap our hands and feet, moving us nostalgically, and even sing with him a few times together. The tabla accompaniment also lived up to the maestro's nods, shakes, and whispers.”
“A few of his renditions were also streamed concurrently online on Facebook,” reported Surinder Dhar of KOA-Ga.
The charity concert, which sold out with an attendance of over 200 expatriates, raised over $20,000 (total collections so far) for the Kheer Bhawani USA Temple Fund.
“Although a tall order considering the small number (approx 30) of Kashmiri families in Georgia, the optimism, will, and enthusiasm arising out of this successful concert shall positively serve as a stepping-stone in that direction and is bound to nudge the Kashmiri community across USA (enough to provide the necessary critical mass) to unite towards the establishment of Kheer Bhawani USA,” reaffirmed Dr. K. K. Vijai, pioneer of Indo-Atlanta community and one of the significant sponsors of this recent concert in Atlanta. K.K. and Girija Vijai have vivid memories of their visit to Kheer Bhawani/Kashmir many years ago before the outbreak of the violence.
“The Dhananjay concerts in Atlanta and elsewhere in the U.S., from all accounts, seem to be a success, as the maestro rendered Kashmiri songs in the earnest hope of return of peace and tranquility in the Kashmir valley,” beamed Dr. Shakun Malik, President of the national Kashmiri Overseas Association (KOA). Dr. Malik, Suresh Sus, and other members of her KOA team had inspired and facilitated the maestro’s successful 2017 music tour of the USA.
Background and history:
Over 300,000 Hindus of the Kashmir Valley, a large majority of whom were Kashmiri Pandits (the name Pandit reportedly given to the intelligent/learned Saraswat Brahmins of Kashmir by the Moghul ruler, Akbar) were forced to flee the Valley in 1989-90 as a result of terrorism and with hundreds killed. Many who fled for their lives, their homes usurped, plundered, burnt, and destroyed, could only take with them what they could fit in their handbags. As per some 2016 reports, only 2,764 Kashmiri Hindus were left behind in vulnerable and unsafe conditions of Kashmir Valley since the last round of ethnic cleansing of 1990.
Kashmiri Hindus settled in USA and elsewhere have naturally united to commit and dedicate themselves to assist the displaced Kashmiris uprooted and lamenting in the refugee camps in Jammu, Delhi, and other neighboring states in India, away from their homes in Kashmir and have strived to help contribute towards the cause of the education, sustenance, and well-being of their kin in those pathetic camps in India.
Additionally, those Kashmiris who have willingly migrated (before and after 1990) and settled in USA have also experienced the usual challenges of the cultural separation, language, and differing family value system associated with the human transplanting from the world left behind into the new environs. To alleviate such socio-cultural-religious imbalances and maintain continuity with their heritage, the Kashmiri Hindu community in USA, like any other community, hopes and is passionate, among other things, about preserving their ancient and rich Kashmiri Hindu culture, language, music, education, history, that includes conscious religious identity with the wonderful ancient shrines of Kashmir such as the shrine of Mata Kheer Bhawani. Thus the desire for Kheer Bhawani USA in Atlanta!
All the attendees; sponsors/donors; media; dinner by Aziz Ali of Ashiana at Global Mall; printing by Sanjay Pandya of Davis Printing; photography by Tracy Marshall; and so many others.
Pt. Dhananjay (standing in black near the center of the backdrop) is flanked by his admirers/fans in Atlanta.
[The article above is a Website Bonus Feature, appearing only on the website for May 2017, not in the May print/digital issues.]
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