The Ravi and Shashi Bellare Arts Foundation’s Festival of Tabla has evolved into a premier and prestigious showcase of classical Indian music in Los Angeles, especially percussion.

There’s a good reason for it: The venerable tabla and pakhawaj maestro, composer and teacher, the late Pandit Taranath Rao, his multi-talented student and nephew, the late Pandit Ravi Bellare, and Taranathji’s brother, the late Pandit Harihar Rao, all lived here and popularized tabla playing, and especially the rare art of tabla solo recitals.

The Tabla: More Than An Accompanying Instrument

Pandit Omkar Gulvady on the tabla

The Festival of Tabla 2022 was held at  the Sanatan Dharma Cultural Center in Norwalk, California, on July 30 and 31.

Although the tabla was the focus of the festival, it is mainly an accompanying instrument for Indian music and dance. For this reason, vocal and instrumental music and dance were showcased, though the tabla was featured as an important accompanying instrument.

The commencement of the program started with a brilliant tabla solo by 9-year-old Shyam Dore, grandson and disciple of Narayan Kadekodi. Narayan played a lehra on the harmonium.

This was followed by two excellent tabla solos: the first by Shivam Pathak of the Bay Area (student of Sanjay Deshpande), accompanied on the sitar by Ted Morano, playing a delightful lehra. The second was by Sagar Shah (student of Rupesh Kotecha), accompanied by his brother Akash Shah, a student of Mala Ganguly, who provided a lehra on the harmonium.

Brilliant Women’s Ensemble

A brilliant LAIMA women’s ensemble, featuring students of Rajib Karmakar (sitar), Neel Agrawal (tabla) and Neelamjit Dhillon (flute), was next. The artistes were Lavina Shahani, Siona Bhasme and Rachana Pillai on the tabla; Meena Patil, Priya Majethia, Sahar Khundmiri, and Yadira Pascault Orozco on the sitar; Aakriti Maske on the bansuri.

Excellent Tabla solos by Pranav Ghatraju (student of Ustad Shabbir Nisar) and Shivam Sudame (student of Aditya Kalyanpur) followed. Ted Morano on sitar for Shivam, and Pratyush Goberdhan (student of Pankaj Mishra) on the violin for Pranav, provided melodious lehras.

Hindustani Vocal

The next item was a very beautiful vocal Hindustani piece by Saili Oak (disciple of Ashwini Bhide) of the Bay Area, accompanied on tabla by the world famous Pandit Omkar Gulvady (a disciple of Pandit Taranathji) and Pandit Pankaj Mishra on sarangi. To listen to an excellent vocalist accompanied by expert tabla exponent and an expert sarangi player was an unbelievable real treat!

The Pakhawaj: Star In It’s Own Right

The pakhawaj trio.

After tea break, there was a rare pakhawaj trio by Leonice Shinneman, Gregg Johnson and Peter Fagiola. Accompanying them on slide guitar was Dave Cipriani (student of Ustad Aashish Khan). It was supposed to be a quartet, but the fourth player, Jeff Feldman, was sick and could not attend. All pakhawaj players were students of Pandit Taranathji or Pandit Ravi Bellare.

The pakhawaj is the parent of the tabla, and is used exclusively as an accompanying instrument for the ancient dhrupad form of music, or as a solo instrument. It is a rare instrument, but we were so lucky to hear not one, but three pakhawajs in unison and blending well with each other, and the melodious lehra on the slide guitar.

Lovely Santoor Recital

Ahilan Hatti on the santoor.

Soon after the pakhawaj trio, Ahilan Hatti (student of Pandit Tarun Bhattacharya, Paul Livingstone and Rupesh Kotecha) presented us with a lovely recital on the santoor, well accompanied on the tabla by Pranav Ghatraju.

Female Mridangam Players Are Rare

Shubha Chandramauli on the mridangam.

Following them was Carnatic singer and mridangam player Shubha Chandramauli, who gave a fabulous recital of vocal music and mridangam solo, much to the delight of everybody. Female mridangam players can be counted on the fingers of two hands, and Shubha ranks as one of the most talented and accomplished artistes in both vocal music and mridangam playing.

Varenya Sastry doing a tabla solo.

Leading into the Grand Finale of Day One was the penultimate recital: the tabla solo of Varenya Sastry of Atlanta, Geogia, who at the age of 8 years, displayed qualities, expertise and knowledge of seasoned adult tabalchis. Varenya is a disciple of Anjaneya Sastry, his father. He has also learnt from Ustad Zakir Hussain and Pandit Yogesh Samsi. Pratyush Goberdhan provided the lehra accompaniment on violin. Varenya held everybody spellbound and became the instant junior celebrity of the Festival.

The Grand Finale was the much awaited and anticipated tabla solo by tabla maestro Pandit Omkar Gulvady, accompanied on the sarangi by Pandit Pankaj Mishra. The listeners were in the seventh heaven, witnessing a fabulous performance by one of the world’s greatest tabalchis, presenting a full-length solo featuring kayadas, parans, gats, tihais and chakradhars. Accompanying him was the rare sarangi for lehra.

The following morning, Sneha Menon, a sixth grader and student of Yamuna Kadekodi, presented a recital of Hindustani classical music. Sneha was accompanied on the tabla by Shyam Dore. Aayush Savdekar of Singapore, followed her with a brilliant tabla solo, with Pratyush Goberdhan providing the lehra on violin.

Makheer Singh on the taus.

Well known, popular and super talented local vocalist, Prasad Upasani (disciple of Pandit S.C.R. Bhat and Pandit K.G. Ginde) followed him with an excellent vocal concert, accompanied on the tabla by Pandit Omkar Gulvady and on sarangi by Pankaj Mishra. Who could ask for more, than a good vocalist accompanied by a world class tabalchi and sarangiya?

After lunch, there was a superb tabla solo by Debashish Choudhuri, who was accompanied by Pankaj Mishra, who provided a lovely lehra on the sarangi.

Prahlad Chudasama (student of Pandit Ravi Bellare, Aloke Dasgupta and Shashank Bakshi) was the next performer, and he presented a heartwarming sitar concert. Prahlad was accompanied on tabla by his gurubhai Chandra Bhushan Rao (disciple of Pandit Ravi Bellare).

The father-and-son combination of Hemant Ekbote (disciple of Pandit Shyamrao Ekbote and Pandit Sudhir Kumar Saxena) and Dani Ekbote thrilled us with a tabla duet performance, with Pratyush Goberdhan providing the lehra accompaniment on violin. Both Ekbotes are well-known performers and teachers of tabla.

Of the two unusual performances at the festival, one was the recital by Makheer Singh on the taus, a parent of the dilruba, which is played with a bow. It has a rich sound, and Makheer presented raag Nasiri (which is very similar to raag Bhimpalasi). Makheer is a local resident, and a disciple of Raaginder Singh Momi and Harlove Singh. We were extremely fortunate to witness this rare instrument being played with such expertise and passion in our own backyard! Ravi Deo (disciple of Late Pandit Ramesh Kumar) was the accompanying tabalchi, and assisted him very well.

Jin Won on the tabla.

The second last item was an expert tabla solo by the Korean-American Jin Won (disciple of Pandit Divyang Vakil and Shubha Desai) of New York, who is a Kathak dancer and an excellent tabla player. Ted Morano provided her with a lilting lehra on the sitar.

Of course, the Grand Finale of Sunday was the much anticipated and eagerly awaited solo on the jori, by Sudarshan Chana of UK.

Sudarshan Chana on the jori.

Sudarshan ji is a student of Sukhvinder Singh Namdhari. The jori is a set of drums resembling a large tabla set, but sounds like the pakhawaj. It has a very rich and deep sound, suitable for meditation. Like the taus, it is played by Sikh musicians in the Gurudwaras.

The Festival of Tabla was started in 2017 by Rupesh Kotecha, a disciple of Pandit Taranath Rao, Pandit Ravi Bellare, Pandit Shashi Bellare and others.

There was an art exhibition of beautiful paintings and art forms based on traditional Indian themes by Smt. Mala Ganguli (also an accomplished singer) and Chandrika Kotecha.

Vivek Ullal is a North Indian Classical Flautist, who learnt bansuri playing and music from Late Pandit Devendra Murdeshwar, Late Pandit V. G. Karnad, Late Pandit Ravi Bellare and Late Vidushi Lakshmi...