Yaksha: Isha Foundation’s annual festival of classical music and dance

It was a beautiful spring evening. The sun started to dip behind the mystical Vellinagiri hills, casting a fading glint on the copper plated domes of the lofty Suryakund complex. The venue at Isha Yoga Center – adorned with a backdrop of lamps – was ready for the 12th edition of Yaksha, Isha Foundation’s annual festival of classical music and dance. The festival is a three-day celebration leading up to the glorious night of Mahashivratri, which falls on 11 March this year. In spite of the pandemic situation, the fervor was the same as ever, although the size of the audience was smaller, with due distancing and protocols.

The first day was devoted to a vocal recital in the Hindustani style and artiste was the extremely talented Kaushiki Chakraborty, an exponent of the Patiala Gharana. The vocalist, who has been following Sadhguru on social media for a few years, was delighted to be performing at Yaksha. In her opening remarks on stage, she said to Sadhguru, “Of all the blessings that music has given me, this is one of the greatest – that it brings me to you.”

Her performance – indeed, she called it her ‘seva’ or offering – was steeped in Bhakti. She began with that quintessential evening raga, Yaman. After a slow, meditative alaap, she moved into a quick tarana, ably accompanied by Mahima Upadhyay on the pakhawaj. Herein lies a fascinating story: Mahima Upadhyay hails from the Pt. Vasudev Upadhyay Parampara, a 400-year-old lineage of dhrupad and percussion. She is a 13th generation artist and the first female pakhawaj player in her family. Seeing the two ladies banter in music and rhythm also reminded those present that it was International Women’s Day.

Kaushiki Chakraborty then continued her presentation of Yaman with a few songs in praise of Shiva. The bandish Chandrama lalata par was followed by a mellow tukda Darshan devo Shankar Mahadeva. She wound up Raga Yaman with a robust Adidev he daya nidhe that had the audience swaying as they kept beat. Kaushiki Chakraborty’s singing is characterized by her exquisite voice control, fantastic range of three and a half octaves and rapid, impressive taans. She brings together sweetness and power in a stunning package.

The artiste moved on to the much-loved Kabir bhajan Jheeni Chadariya – in which the poet-saint speaks of the subtle sheet – a metaphor for the body sheath. The audience was then treated to an emotive Ram bhajan, a paean to Krishna and then as a finale, a composition of her Guru Jnan Prakash Ghosh. She sang Tum aajana Bhagwan in Bhairavi, moving her listeners from appreciation to ardor.

Kaushiki Chakraborty also accompanied by Meghodeep Gangopadhyay on tanpura, Ojas Adhiya on table, Tanmay Deochake on Harmonium, Marthammanahalli Satish Kumar Akash on flute, and Suryakant Surve on manjira.

With the coming of Yaksha, the mood has been unmistakably set for Mahashivratri at Isha.

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