A Great Line-Up for Raag-Mala’s Fall Season


The shehnai is traditional-ly played on ceremonial occasions like weddings and at important religious festivals,” says Nishant Parekh, President of Raag-Mala Toronto. “It is especially fitting that the inaugural concert in the Aga Khan Museum auditorium during Nuit Blanche will include the shehnai, as The Divine Trio takes to the stage that night.”

The Trio, Janab Hassan Haider Khan on shehnai, Vidushi Mita Nag on sitar and Pandit Subhen Chatterjee on tabla, is on a North American tour, and Raag-Mala was fortunate to book them for Nuit Blanche – the annual festival that features free entrance to participating venues in the GTA. This year the night-long event is on September 23.  

Hassan Haider Khan is the grandson of Bharat Ratna Ustad Bismillah Khan, who was instrumental in main streaming the shehnai, and whose name is synonymous with the instrument. In an interview that one can watch on YouTube, Khansaheb mentioned that he would play for a couple of hours at a temple on the Ganges in Banaras (now called Varanasi) every morning at the crack of dawn – he considered it his ibadat (worship) and his daily riyaaz (practice). 

The great Ustad was a deeply religious man who saw no conflict in performing at a temple during puja and being an observant Muslim. Raag sangeet is replete with examples of such syncretism, a beautiful example of which is Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan’s rendition of the bhajan Hari Om Tat Sat which can still move one to tears. Or Bharat Ratna Pandit Bhimsen Joshi singing the bandish Tum Rab Tum Saheb in raag Brindavani Sarang. 

Hassan Haider’s great-grandfather, Ustad Wazir Ali Khan, was the first musician to ever perform shehnai at Buckingham Palace in 1910. Hassan Haider received his training in the Banaras and Senia gharanas from his father the Shehnai Nawaz Ustad Ali Ahmed Hussain Khan, and he also learned from Pandit Arvind Parikh, the sitar maestro from the Imdadkhani gharana. He has performed for prestigious festivals in India such as the Dover Lane Music Conference and has also travelled abroad and performed in Europe and North America

“Both Bismillah Khan and Ali Ahmad Khan have performed on the Raag-Mala stage, and we are delighted to have Hassan Haider with us,” says Nishant Parekh.

Vidushi Mita Nag on sitar.

Mita Nag, likewise, belongs to a long line of musicians. She took taalim from her father, Padma Shri Pandit Manilal Nag, and is the grand- daughter of Sangeetacharya Gokul Nag of the Vishnupur gharana. The Nag family of sitarists have six generations of lineage rooted in the town of Bankura in West Bengal since the days of Ramshankar Bhattacharya, one of the earliest musicians of this gharana. 

Mita’s initiation into sitar playing under her mother at the age of four years was encouraged by her illustrious grandfather, and the seeds of the early years matured under her guru and father. She made her debut performance at the age of 10. She has since performed both solo and duets with her father, all over the world.

The Divine Trio tour is the brainchild of the Tabla Nawaz Pandit Subhen Chatterjee. He belongs to the Lucknow gharana and has studied under the tabla maestro Padma Shree Pandit Swapan Chowdhury. He has also learnt from masters from other gharanas and incorporated the intricacies and beauty of these gharanas into his playing, making for a delightful listening experience.  

Apart from being an excellent soloist, Subhen ji is a much sought-after accompanist, having played with the who’s-who of raag sangeet. He has accompanied artistes like as Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, Vidushi Girija Devi, Ustad Rashid Khan, Ustad Shahid Parvez, Pandit Ulhas Kashalkar, to name a few. 

Tabla Nawaz Pandit Subhen Chatterjee.

Raag-Mala’s October 1 concert features a couple of younger artistes – those entering full stride into mid-career. 

Sougata Roy Chowdhury, who is recognised as one of the most talented sarod players of his generation was a finalist for the Aga Khan Music Award in 2019. He began his training at age ten with sarod master Dyanesh Khan, the son of the Swar Samrat Ustad Ali Akbar Khan. Following the early demise of his guru, Sougata continued his studies with Dyanesh’s brother Ustad Aashish Khan, also a renowned sarod player, and with Pandit Santosh Banerjee, a sitar and surbahar player who is one of the main disciples of Ustad Mohammed Dabir Khan, the last descendent of the Miyan Tansen family.

Sougata has toured extensively, holding workshops and extensively performing in Europe, North Ame-rica, and India. He received a scholarship from the Indian Ministry of Culture in 2000 and won the Pandit Ravi Kichlu Foundation Golden Talent Contest the same year. He has also performed at the Saptak Annual Festival of Music several times and was named one of the best young artistes of the decade during the festival in 2010. 

Sougata will be accompanied by the brilliant young sitarist, Indrajit Roy Chowdhury, a talented young exponent of Rampur Senia gharana in the venerated lineage of Pandit Birendra Kishore Roy Chowdhury and Pandit Subroto Roy Chowdhury. 

Primarily trained in the Veen-Kar style of sitar which draws techniques and idioms of the veena, Indrajit has been able to carve a niche for himself with his eclecticism and versatility, as he strives for a fine balance of traditionalism coupled with innovation. He is renowned for his meditative alaaps and brilliant fast taans.

Based in New York, Indrajit has performed in a range of distinguished venues all over the world, notably: Dover Lane Music Conference, Kolkata; Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Washington; The Lincoln Center, New York; The Hammerstein Theater of New York; Toronto National Convention Center; Berlin Indian Embassy; and Concordia Arts Poznan, Poland. 

“It has been many years since we have had a sitar/sarod jugalbandhi”, says Nishant Parekh. “We are truly excited to be featuring these two exciting artistes on October 1.

• Mohamed Khaki is on the Raag-Mala team.

When & where: Aga Khan Museum Auditorium, 77 Wynford Drive, Toronto. Details and Tickets: www.agakhanmuseum.org. See the Raag-Mala banner below for show timings.