The practice of music in the ancient Indian subcontinent originated from a diverse lineage deeply rooted in spiritual and ethnic traditions. The ancient forms of music were passed down from one generation to the next and have been upheld by scores of important musicians throughout history – musicians who were patronised by kings, feudal lords, and spiritual leaders, forming the backbone of classical music of the Indian sub-continent.
Contemporary practices of classical music, however, were established in Afghanistan, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, and well-ordained traditions formed the basis for the evolution of modern classical forms in the region. Documentation of music using notations is a fairly new practice in the region. Yet, many aspects of the ancient traditions remained unaffected by the phenomenon. Music from the region remained free-flowing and improvised rather than becoming scripted, similar to its western counterpart – a culture surviving the test of time. The remnants of the era are still traceable in today’s guru–shishya, parampara, practices. Ustad Alauddin Khan, Sangeetacharya Tarapada Chakrabarty, Pandit Ravi Shankar, Ustad Ayat Ali Khan, Pandit Radhika Mohan Maitra, Ustad Vilayet Khan and many others had roots in East Bengal (presently Bangladesh); and later played a role similar to that of the ancient legendary maestros before them, upholding the practices of classical music of the Indian sub-continent.
However, as we approach the era of cultural globalisation, the appreciation of this practice is lost on younger generations.
The Bengal Classical Music Festival, an initiative of Bengal Foundation’s Music Programme, is the world’s largest classical music festival in terms of the number of performers on a single stage, audience capacity and duration. The Foundation introduced the Classical Music Festival back in 2012. It all began with an idea. Abul Khair, the Chair of Bengal Foundation, wondered whether something as complex as classical music could reach the hearts of the average audience through the right presentation. He envisioned an event where classical music would be presented in a large-scale festive ambience open for all, dispelling its elitist image.
The Festival was launched with the conviction that an annual classical music event would revive the Bengali heritage and enrich popular taste in music. Exposure to the unfathomable depth of classical music is a humbling, yet enriching experience. Immersion into its acute sensibility awakens our spirit, fostering humane values and compassion. The Foundation’s experience from the last six years has led the Foundation to believe that popular taste in classical music has been rising; the audience has not only stood out in numbers, but their capacity to appreciate and concentrate in the subtleties of classical music has also broadened.
The festival, over the years, has featured a number of iconic musicians including Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia, Pandit Jasraj, Pandit Shivkumar Sharma, Ustad Zakir Hussain, Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, the Late Kishori Amonkar, the Late Girija Devi, Pt Birju Maharaj and Ustad Rashid Khan; and for the first time in Bangladesh, Bengal Classical Music Festival 2017 featured a performance by an orchestra from Kazakhstan, collaborating with Dr. L Subramaniam on stage.