Amrit Yatra, an ensemble of ancient Indian instruments

Amrit Yatra, an ensemble of ancient Indian instruments

The 10th Ritachhanda Festival, held recently in Kolkata, provided the audience an opportunity to witness Amrit Yatra under the direction of Kalamandalam Piyal Bhattacharya, a Sangeet Natak Akademi awardee.


Piyal, who trained in Kathakali at Kerala Kalamandalam, is a renowned Natyasastra research-scholar. He has been working to recreate the dance practices of the Natyasastra and the music tradition of that period.

The Amrit Yatra, a unique presentation, was an ensemble displaying antediluvian instruments. It was a fascinating journey through the corridors of time.

Kalamandalam Piyal Bhattacharya playing Dardur

Kalamandalam Piyal Bhattacharya playing Dardur

Talking about his study of ancient Indian instruments, Piyal said, “The essence of rasa-nishpatti, the attainment of aesthetic experience, in our music is facilitated through the intricate melodies produced by the one-string tube zither, also known as Ghosha Veena. Albeit non-existent now, its presence is immortalised in the Bengal sculptures of Saraswati, riding a mesha (male sheep), and symbolising its significance as the origin of all string instruments. Later, another Ekatantri (one string) veena was invented. It was known as Alapini or Alavu. I found that it is played by Lalu Shankar Mahali belonging to a tribe in Jharkhand. He calls it Tuhila. Chhannulal Singh of Orissa also plays it and refers to it by a different name. I sent my student Sayak Mitra to learn its playing technique from them.”

Sayak led the ensemble. Apart from his melodious singing, he also played different kinds of veena. He shared that Lalu Shankar Mahali tunes the tuhila to natural sounds while Chhannulal plays each swar with gamaks.

Sayak Mitra

Sayak Mitra

At the show, Sayak also introduced Shubhendu, who played Mattakokila veena, a beautiful 21-string Indian harp. The foundational jaati-s (specific combination of notes) were played on this. Though not found in India now, it is the national instrument of Myanmar. “Piyal da took Shubhendu to U Win Maung, an expert in the instrument and who trained both of them,” said Sayak.

He continued, “We began to sing the Sapta-Kapalgeeti, the seven divine hymns based on a specific note to the accompaniment of Ekatantri, Mattakokila and Kacchapi veenas, flute and percussion instruments such as Dardur, Pakhawaj, cymbals of different sizes and temple bells.”

According to the Puranas, one day the seven Kapalas of Shiva’s Kapala-mala began singing the Shiva-stuti in seven swaras. These hymns were practiced by the Kaapaaliks for their saadhana until the 15th century C.E., offering a glimpse into the spiritual practices of Uddiyan Pradesh, presumably a part of present-day Kazakistan.

To shorten the length of the presentation, Piyal selected Kapaalgeetis specifically based on Sa, Ma, Pa, Dha and Ni swaras, each based on Maagadhi Geetis to enhance its depth and complexities. After these hymns came Asarita Vardhaman Geeti, a structural and musically dramatic tool that can be applied to the presentation of Purvaranga of any natya adhering to Bharata’s principles. Then there was Panika Giti introducing the concept of Dhruva within the structure of the lyrics of the songs.

According to Piyal, Jaidev’s Dashavatar from Gita Govind stands as a testament to the artistic brilliance of this era. “Finally, this journey culminates in the evolution of music, where the Surbahar and Surshringar inject ranjakata or colorfulness in our music. Through intricate compositions like the gat (combination of swars and rhythm), bandish (lyrics based on a specific raga that allows innovation within a fixed structure) and taarparan (inventive string instrumentalists matching the bol-banis of percussion instruments), the improvisational brilliance of Indian classical music reached new heights.”

The members of Chidakash Kalalay, founded by Piyal, tried their best to display this with short vocal and instrumental pieces in raag Chadrakauns, rendered by Sheuli Chakraborty (dhrupad), Abhijit Ray (Kacchapi Veena) Sayak Mitra (vocals and Rudra Veena). Raag Vasant played by Souravbrata Chakraborty (Surbahar) followed with all its grandeur.

This engaging showed how the invaders’ music tradition blended seamlessly with Indian artistic ethos to shape Hindustani classical music. 


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