Ashavari celebrates a weekend of music

A glorious spring weekend was the setting for the three-day Ashavari Music Festival in the South Bay, May 25-27, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara and at Gunn Highschool’s Spangenberg Theatre in Palo Alto.

The event, hosted by the nonprofit organization Ashavari Performing Arts, celebrated the life and work of tabla maestro Pandit Swapan Chaudhuri. The festival was originally planned for 2020 in honor of his 75th birthday, but the Covid pandemic halted those plans. Ticket holders held on to their passes in anticipation of the forthcoming celebration.

Pandit Swapan Chaudhuri enjoys a laugh behind the curtain at Spangenberg Theater on May 27. Photo: Sree Sripathy for India Currents/CatchLight Local.

“We were closely monitoring the pandemic situation,” Pradosh Sarkar of Ashavari Performing Arts told India Currents.  “I was in constant touch with Guruji,” he added, referring to Pandit Swapan Chaudhuri.

Zakir Hussain & other musical legends perform

Opening night featured the preview of a documentary on Pandit Swapan Chaudhuri’s life and concluded with a performance by tabla legend Ustad Zakir Hussain, with Ustad Sabir Khan on the sarangi.

“Zakir-ji’s solo was really phenomenal. He hadn’t done a solo like that in a long time he was saying,” festival emcee Labonee Mohanta said.

“I was definitely excited [about the festival], but at the same time I could not even sleep, I was very nervous. It’s never happened in the Bay Area like this,” Pandit Swapan Chaudhuri told India Currents. 

Ashavari musical treats

On Friday audiences were treated to several brilliant performances. Bay Area resident and Hindustani vocalist Shri Mahesh Kale opened the day’s festivities, accompanied by Shri Aditya Kalyanpur on tabla and Shri Anand Karve on harmonium. Pandit Tejendra Narayan Majumdar and son, Shri Indrayuddh Majumdar, both on the sarod, were accompanied by Pandit Tanmoy Bose. Kathak artist Pandit Rajendra Gangani closed out the night, accompanied by his brother Pandit Fateh Singh Gangani on tabla, Hemant Panwar on vocals, and Abhik Mukherjee on sitar.

“I was very inspired,” Mohanta, a kathak dancer herself, said of Gangani’s performance. “One thing that really struck out to me was the tabla player, which was his brother. I think the duo really made the concert stand out. They’re so in tune with each other. That really opened my eyes. It’s so important to be in tune with the musicians you’re dancing with.”

The final day at Spangenberg Theatre showcased Tabla Niketan students performing mid-afternoon, follwed by the Ali Akbar College of Music Tabla Ensemble. Late afternoon saw Shri Niladri Kumar on Sitar and Pandit Swapan Chaudhuri on tabla. In the early evening performance, Shri Alam Khan and Shri Manik Khan on sarod were accompanied by Pandit Tanmoy Bose on tabla. The final performance of the evening was vocalist Vidushi Kaushiki Chakraborty performing to a sold-out crowd. Accompanying her were Pandit Swapan Chaudhuri on tabla, Shri Tanmay Deochake on harmonium, and Ustad Sabir Khan on sarangi.

Beautiful moments in music

Beautiful moments were sprinkled throughout the three days. Ustad Zakir Hussain along with several artists sought blessings from Pandit Swapan Chaudhuri before their performances. Shri Mahesh Kale gently handed his guru’s decades-old tanpura to his student to carry on stage. Vidhushi Kaushiki Chakraborty spoke of Pandit Swapan Chaudhuri house was a second home to her while growing up. Musicians joyously greeted each other at the festival and backstage before and after each performance.

“I was staying with them in the hotel,” Pandit Swapan Chaudhuri said. “They don’t get that in India. That kind of mahal, eating together, talking until 3 in the morning.”

Every night, two of Swapan-ji’s students, William Rossel and Jim Santi Owen, introduced the Maestro Swapan Chaudhuri Digital Tabla Library, a resource for students interested in learning the tabla.

“My main goal was to spread this music, this culture to the younger generation,” said Pandit Swapan Chaudhuri. “I saw so many kids. I was very happy when they came to me and said they wanted to join,” he continued. “As soon as they get involved their culture will be theirs forever.”

Sree Sripathy joined India Currents as a staff photographer and CatchLight Local Fellow as part of CatchLight's California Local Visual Desk program in June 2022. Reach out with story ideas or comments...