Veena’s Voice

Suanshu Khurana

Saraswati Rajagopalan

On Wednesday evening as saraswati veena player Saraswati Rajagopalan strummed the first notes of an alaap in raag Charukeshi — the late afternoon/evening raga — amid the serene setting of Hazrat Inayat Khan Dargah, in the Nizamuddin dargah complex, the significance of it wasn’t lost on those who attended the concert. Rajagopalan’s performance was an ode to the 93rd Urs celebration of Khan and was preceded by rudra veena player Bahauddin Dagar. It was followed by Kirana gharana vocalist Ut Mashkoor Ali Khan.

Inayat Khan, a Hindustani classical vocalist, found the Sufi order in the West in 1914, and was given the title of Tansen by the Nizam of Hyderabad. Every year, on February 5, musicians come together to celebrate him.

“As a Carnatic classical musician I am used to performing in temples. So from that point of view, performing in a dargah is special,” said Rajagopalan, who, in the past too, has paid her musical tributes to Khan. “No one has ever felt a divide here between Hindus, Muslims, and Christians. It’s a place where people get united through music,” she said.

After the meditative alaap and taanam (jod) in Charukeshi, Rajagopalan played a Tyagaraja composition, followed by a joyous thillana in raag Basant Bahar. The backdrop to the music was stark white wall with only a star crescent — the symbol for Islam — as the median.

Rajagopalan, who grew up in Mumbai and is Delhi based, plays the relatively unobtrusive and restrained Tanjore style while playing her Saraswati veena, the tone of which is full yet has a metallic timbre to it. She trained in Mumbai under the tutelage of KS Narayanaswamy and had a strict taskmaster of a mother who made sure that her riyaaz was in place.

She joined All India Radio’s famous band Vadya Vrinda in 1987 and worked with composer Anil Biswas and many others. Vadya Vrinda was Pt Ravi Shankar’s brainchild and as a part of it Rajagopalan was performing a slew of his compositions. She has also been instrumental in a slew of veena festivals after she found the Veena Foundation with Parliamentarian LM Singhvi. She continues to teach the curved notes of the instrument to varied students in India and abroad.