Every year, hundreds of music lovers throng concert halls in Mumbai and Pune for a spiritually uplifting experience. Various events are held to mark Ashadi Ekadashi, and Marathi Abhangs are sung to worship the deity Vithal or Pandurang. There are those too who make a pilgrimage to the temple in Pandharpur to offer prayers. This year, things will be different.
With many people stuck at home in the aftermath of Covid-19, the only option is to have online concerts to continue a tradition. In keeping with that, a few events have been announced on Ashadi Ekadashi, which falls on July 1.
The popular concert Bolava Vitthal, which has traveled 31 cities since its launch in 2005, will have a 90-minute online show at 8.30 p.m. featuring older performances by vocalists Jayateerth Mevundi and the Ranjani-Gayatri duo. Tickets of Rs 200 plus GST are available on BookMyShow.
Earlier in the day, at 8:30 AM, Pune-based Swarazankar is organising Bhaktirang, an online event featuring violinist Atulkumar Upadhye and vocalists Anand Bhate, Raghunandan Panshikar, Shounak Abhisheki and Rahul Deshpande.
Access is through membership of www.swarazankarhub.com. These shows will be after the one by vocalists Manjusha Patil and Sanjeev Abhayankar, which streamed on Sunday, June 28.
According to Shashi Vyas, founder, and director of Pancham Nishad which organises Bolava Vitthal, the event has been an annual pilgrimage for many Abhang lovers since its inception.
“Our objective is to bring joy to the lives of various people in India and abroad during this unprecedented pandemic,” he says.
There have been other methods to mark Ashadi Ekadashi. Composer and producer Advait Sawant, in association with vocalist Mandar Deshpande and lyricist Vilas Nikam, has released the Marathi song ‘Pandharichi Waari’.
Says Sawant, “It is about the journey from Alandi to Pandharpur, where ‘warkaris’ walk so that they can reach in time on Ashadi Ekadashi.”
Clearly, Ashadi Ekadashi is something the believers look forward to. Thanks to these concerts, Abhangs have reached different audiences in India.
Explains Vyas, “Our priority cities have always been Mumbai, Pune, Nashik, Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Chennai. But till last year, we had taken the show to so many other cities across India.”
Abhangs have essentially been written for Lord Vitthal by poet-saints like Tukaram, Dnaneshwar, Namdeo, and Eknath. Earlier, they were sung at private gatherings, religious congregations, or by classical musicians at the end of concerts.
Pandit Bhimsen Joshi often presented the Abhangs ‘Teerth Vitthal’ and ‘Majhe Maher Pandhari’, or the Kannada bhajan ‘Bhagyada Lakshmi Baaramma’ at his shows. Kishori Amonkar was known for ‘Avagha Rang Ek Zhala’ and ‘Bolava Vitthal’. Others to render Abhangs included Bal Gandharva, Lata Mangeshkar, Vasantrao Deshpande, Sudhir Phadke, Jitendra Abhisheki, and Suresh Wadkar.
Mangeshkar’s 1973 album Abhang Tukayache, based on Sant Tukaram’s work and composed by Shrinivas Khale, is a collector’s item.
With Abhang-specific concerts increasing in the past 15 years (other organisers being Saptasur and Happy Lucky Entertainment), many singers showcased their abilities in the genre. They included Mevundi, Bhate, Devaki Pandit, Ranjani-Gayatri, Rahul Deshpande, Shounak Abhisheki, Manjusha Patil, Mahesh Kale, Mandar Apte, Amruta Kale, and Sayalee Talwalkar. Carnatic exponent Aruna Sairam has also sung Abhangs at some shows, whereas Shankar Mahadevan has presented a composition based on the journey to Pandharpur.
For those new to the genre, it isn’t necessary to know Marathi to follow the songs. There is a certain energy that drives the tunes, and vibrant rhythms and use of conch shells add to the experience. Compositions usually begin in a medium tempo and pick up to reach a frenetic crescendo. The singers have to be ‘taiyyar’ (proficient in technicalities). The whole effect is spiritual, and the feeling one gets is similar to that of Sufi music.
However, this trend has become seasonal, as all concerts are focused around the time of Ashadi Ekadashi in the monsoon season. Once things normalise, it would be great to see shows at other times of the year too.