As the orange and yellow of the marigold magically transforms the Pracheen Kala Kendra’s facade, the subtle fragrance of the flowers brings back the memories of March, a special month in the cultural calendar of the Kendra. Come spring, and it’s time for the Kendra’s annual dance and music festival, which over the last 41 years has seen leading luminaries of Indian classical music and dance take centrestage in the city.
One of the oldest and regular annual cultural extravaganzas in this part of the country, the Pracheen Kala Kendra Nritya and Sangeet Sammelan (formerly known as All-India Bhaskar Rao Nritya and Sangeet Sammelan) attracts music and art lovers from all over the region. As preparations for the 42nd edition of the festival are underway, Shobha Koser looks back more than four decades at what began as a dream, a labour of love of her husband, renowned dancer ML Koser.
It was way back in 1956 that Pracheen Kala Kendra was born as a result of efforts of a group of artistes and music lovers under the leadership of Koser, to revive and promote Indian classical music, dance and arts. “It’s been a long and eventful journey, filled with music and melody,” says Shobha, an acclaimed Kathak dancer. “When we shifted to Chandigarh from Shimla in the early ’50s, we felt a complete lack of any cultural activity or history here. Both my husband and I were performing artistes, travelling all over the country for our recitals and in the process building bonds with dancers, musicians, theatre people. The richness of our interactions inspired Koser ji to conceive a platform which would be a meeting point for artistic interactions and so the festival was born in 1970,” reminisces Shobha.
A personal initiative and effort, with no government or private support, the sammelan began on a small scale with Koser inviting fellow artiste friends to perform and she recalls how for the first couple of years, they had to stand outside the festival venue gate and ask people to step in for a dance or music recital. “I remember we had Sitara Devi and Pandit Bhimsen Joshi performing at the festival and people would give us a blank look when we would invite them to be a part of this experience,” says Shobha.
With Koser pursuing his dream against all odds, Shobha recalls how in a matter of five years of the starting of the festival, a select audience began looking forward to the sammelan. “We would start getting calls in February, about who would be performing that year,” adds Shobha.
She agrees the festival would not have been possible without the support of the stalwarts of Indian music and dance who practically charged nothing in return. “They would eat with us at home, stay at the UT Guest house, perform for hours at a stretch and have informal interactions with the audience,” she says.
Narayan Rao Vyas, Parveen Sultana, Shambhu Maharaj, Birju Maharaj, Vilayat Khan, Bhimsen Joshi, Pandit Jasraj, Amjad Ali Khan, Hariprasad Chaurasia, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Kaifi Azmi, Ravi, Alok Kumar, Geeta Dutt, Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma, Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, Rajan and Sajan Mishra, Raja Reddy — they’ve all been a part of the festival over the years. “No advertisements, tickets or sponsorships. The sammelan is a result of those who love art, music and dance and believe we need to keep the traditions alive for the future generations,” says Shobha as she passes on the brochure of the 42nd four-day sammelan.
Starting March 15 at the Tagore Theatre, the festival opens with Sanjeev Abhaynkar and Purbayan Chatterjee’s vocal-sitar jugalbandi, followed by Sarod maestro Pandit Tejendra Narayan, a dance recital by Shobha Koser herself. On the third day, GS Rajan will open the evening with Carnatic flute recital. Odissi danseuse Guru Ranjana Gauhar and her troupe will present a dance drama set to Odissi idiom based on Tagore’s Chitrangada. The last day will see a performance by daughter and disciple of Pandit Kumar Gandharva, Vidushi Kalapini Komkali.
The programme will start at 6:30 pm. Entry is free