A town famous for its history, monuments and ancient temple is an ideal place to bond with cultures, especially over music and dance. Sirpur Dance & Music Festival is the perfect platform. Chhattisgarh tourism has been hosting this cultural event for 3 years now, not just to pay homage to Sirpur’s rich historical past as a pilgrimage for Hindus, Buddhists and Jains but also to create global cultural amity and brotherhood. The Sirpur National Dance and Music Festival 2015 was celebrated from 16-18 January and I definitely couldn’t stop myself from being mesmerized by the moments that this festival brought along. The music still hovers in my mind and melodies take me back to the glorious past.

The three-day cultural event witnessed celebrated artistes of both national and global fame such as Kathak exponent Pandit Birju Maharaj, percussionist Pete Lockett, santoor maestro Rahul Sharma, renowned saxophonist George Brooks, along with singers such as Anuradha Paudwal and Shounak Abhisheki performing at the festival venue. The platform also gave tribal artistes the opportunity to showcase their talent.

Beautiful stage with monuments , Sirpur Festival Chhattisgarh

Beautiful stage with monuments at Sirpur Festival

This venue in Mahasamud district, which is thoughtfully chosen by Chhattisgarh Tourism board, is famous for its deeply carved Laxman temple, an architectural masterpiece dating back to the 7th century. Chinese pilgrim and famous Buddhist scholar Hiuen Tsang had visited Sirpur in 639 AD. In case you do not know, the government resort in Sirpur is named after Hiuen Tsang. Sirpur, known as Sripura in the ancient age, is situated on the bank of river Mahanadi and it is considered to be a treasure trove for historians and archaeologists alike.

Tribal Dance Form, Sirpur Festival Chhattisgarh

Tribal dance form, Sirpur Festival, Chhattisgarh

The first day of the event was inaugurated by the Vietnamese Ambassador to India, Ton Sinh Thanh and the Ambassador of Laos Peoples Democratic Republic (PDR), Southam Sakonhninhom. Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Dr. Raman Singh was the chief guest while Ajay Chandrakar, Tourism and Culture Minister for the State, presided over the event.

Tribal Dance, Sirpur festival, Chhattisgarh

Tribal dance at Sirpur Festival, Chhattisgarh

After the inaugural speech and few sneak peeks into the evening’s itinerary, what followed was a unique amalgamation of tribal dance and fusion music in collaboration with international artists and local folk musicians. The showstopper was certainly “Taal Chhattisgarh” where 50 tribal percussionists got to play with Pete Lockett, Giridhar Udupa (Ghatam), Swaminathan (Kanjira), Anubrata Chatterjee (Tabla) and Umar Faruq (Bhapang). This was definitely a scintillating performance. The jugalbandi (duet) by various musicians featured innovative and spontaneous melodies which made me wonder as to how deep their knowledge of music runs.

After watching this classic example of musical bonhomie, I was convinced that music has no language and it can create brotherhood beyond boundaries. Not that the audience wanted the night to end, but the first day reached its end with a poignant performance by Yasmin Singh and her group of Kathak dancers. The first part of the performance invoked Lord Shiva, a fitting tribute to the heritage and rich culture that Sirpur can only be proud of.

Rahul Sharma  , Sirpur festival, Chhattisgarh

Rahul Sharma at Sirpur Dance & Music Festival, Chhattisgarh

Taiko  player Leonard Eto  Sirpur Festival -Chattisgarh

Taiko player Leonard Eto Sirpur at Sirpur Festival, Chhattisgarh

Anuradha Paudwal , Sirpur Festival Chhattisgarh

Anuradha Paudwal at  Sirpur Festival, Chhattisgarh

The next day evening was even more special as I rejoiced listening to the soft melodies by Santoor player Rahul Sharma collaborating with the Manganiyars from Rajasthan in a performance named ‘Milap.’ For me, it was the star performance of the evening.

With percussions forming a dominant theme at the Sirpur National Dance and Music Festival in 2015, eminent Taiko (Japanese drum) player Leonard Eto and Group took the audience on a journey through the Orient. The performance embodied the sounds of the Far East, with a significant presence of Western compositions, thus creating a rare blend of music. The heavy beat of drums and the unique rhythms was a real tour de force.

Just as I thought that the evening had come to an end, Anuradha Paudwal took to the stage and presented an eclectic mix of devotional and Bollywood songs. The day ended with M.Santosh Mishra – MD of Chhattisgarh Tourism expressing his gratitude to the visitors by mentioning that The Sirpur National Dance and Music Festival is getting bigger with every passing year and it strives to become one of the most iconic events for not just Chhattisgarh, but whole of India. He exuded confidence when he said that the event is going to draw tourists from across the world.

Ustaad Shujaat Khan , Vidwan Vikku Vinayakram (ghatam) Sirpur Festival, Chhattisgarh

Ustaad Shujaat Khan (left) and Vidwan Vikku Vinayakram

Since the best things are reserved for the last, the performance of the Kathak maestro Pandit Birju Maharaj was lined up on the final day of the three-day event. But the performance just before that, which awed me,was a rich collaboration of Indian and Western artistes, Ustaad Shujaat Khan (sitar), Vidwan Vikku Vinayakram (ghatam) and George Brooks (saxophone) as they came together to create a rare blend of fusion.

Had it not been for an instrument called ghatam, it was impossible for me to imagine how an instrument carved out of clay can become such a powerful tool for generating music. Each time Vidwan Vikku Vinayakram tapped the base pot, I would come to the edge of my seat. Some of the numbers even had fragments of Sufi music. ‘Aayengey Sajna’, a soulful rendition on love received a huge round of applause. Eminent Guitarist, Prasanna amplified the Western influence in the fusion. Vidwan Vikku Vinayakram’s flawless command over the Ghatam raised the tempo, as the pulsating beats set the mood for the evening.

Dancers Sirpur festival, Chhattisgarh

Dancer at Sirpur Festival, Chhattisgarh

Kathak Dance Performance, Sirpur festival, Chhattisgarh

Kathak dance performance at Sirpur Festival, Chhattisgarh

Pandit Birju Maharaj , Sirpur Festival -Chattisgarh

Pandit Birju Maharaj, Sirpur Festival, Chhattisgarh

The next performance was what could be termed as the most anticipated one of the Sirpur Festival – Pandit Birju Maharaj’s kathak. I was a kathak dancer and it was the dream of watching him dance live on stage that I had been nurturing for long. A powerful exponent of thumri, dadra and ghazal, his first act was an invocation of Lord Krishna, followed by a scene from the Ramayana. His articulation of the concept of Holi, the festival of colours garnered a rapturous round of applause from the audience. “We all have a beat within us. Our daily lives, our language, our daily activities have a ‘Taal’ that is true to its essence. My job as a Kathak dancer is to give expression to this ‘Taal’”, he said.

The maestro’s first performance was on ‘Teen Taal’ that is at the heart of most Kathak compositions. This was followed by the jugalbandi between the tabla and the ghungroo. The most amusing act was that of ‘the elephant’ that depicted how elephants walk and behave. The performance concluded with Pandit Birju Maharaj’s jugalbandi between the ghungroo and his troupe’s corresponding Kathak moves. The chill of night disappeared as his electric performance sparked up the audience’s spirits.