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Millennium Post

Environment and classical music

Musicians like Vidwan Ravikiran, Bombay Jayashri have always been inspired by nature and used their stage to spread environmental awareness

A perceptible trend in the world of classical music observed in 2019 was the increasing overt awareness of our environment, manifest in actions of several classical musicians as well as organisations promoting classical music. Musicians have always spoken of being inspired by nature in their creativity; compositions of yore are devoted to manifestations of nature, be it trees, rivers, mountains. In the North Indian tradition, ragas are specific to elements of nature – Malhars for Rain, Basant for Spring being obvious examples. However concern for nature and participating in activities through their music to awaken environmental consciousness has taken new shape in recent times.

Starting in 2019, chitravina maestro Vidwan Ravikiran formed a group to raise awareness about the environment with fellow artists and musicians across the globe, in over 65 countries, called 'Planet Symphony'. In India, the artists include Vidwans Karaikudi Mani and TV Gopalakrishna, Ustad Shahid Parvez, Pandit Ronu Mazumdar, Bickram Ghosh amongst many others. The avowed aim is "art for environment"; in June 2019 their Climatrix Symphony Planet Anthem was released on World Environment Day, involving collaboration of 50 instruments.

In August, the group focused on urban living issues in Chennai in an interaction with experts; in September the 3 day Bangalore International Festival was dedicated to preserving the environment. Ravikiran spoke passionately also about "bringing about an urban transformation starting with Delhi as a starting point."

Another very active body using musicians to spread environmental awareness, Kolkata based Earth Day Network India, has appointed three leading musicians from different streams as Ambassadors. One of the ambassadors and Oscar nominated artiste Bombay Jayashri contacted several leading organisations in Chennai prior to the celebrated 'Marghazi' season which sees over 2000 concerts in the 30-45 day span, asking for their ban of single use plastics during their 10-15 day festivals. Surprisingly, several agreed, committing to replacing plastic water bottles on stage. The implications of this ban can only be estimated as enormous. Several popular Carnatic artists, including Ghatam Karthick, Ranjani Gayatri were active participants in this campaign.

For Jayashri "music is just the voice of nature" every little effort made by everyone will count. She says, "It is so easy to complain about everything that is wrong with where we live. But it is simpler to do something about it. Let's not litter, let's not waste water and food, let's think about the animals that have no shelter." At a recent concert in Delhi she even voiced concern for the flower decorations on stage that are simply gathered up and thrown away after the concert is over; it's this unthinking culture of excessive usage that we need to change, she affirmed. The opening message in the ode to Mother Earth that she composed for Earth Day Network, "Dharti Ma" says starkly "the Earth can outlive us, we need it more than it needs us."

Kaushiki Chakravorty, Earth Day Network's second ambassador concurred "as a musician, how can I not be susceptible to nature's influence, and strive to nurture it. Environmental issues are a huge concern for me, and as a musician, obviously I can convey my feelings best through music.

Grammy awardee Ricky Kej is well known for having focused solely on environment as a subject for his music. Combining powerful visuals with his songs; Ricky has taken his message on protecting nature through his art, to a new level. The impact he has made in the few years of his involvement can be gauged from the fact that he was awarded the "Global Humanitarian Artist" by the United Nations.

On his recent song 'One Family', Ricky says "this song reminds us of living in harmony not only with different humans, but with all life and all elements of nature." His song on saving the beaches for Earth Day Network was his contribution to the awareness campaign started in Mumbai. Earlier this month, Ricky released 'Born from the Land'; another reminder of what we owe Mother Nature. He will verbalise his excitement by performing on January 23, at the Jaipur Literature Festival which will have special sessions focused on the environment. About the same, Ricky said "the concert, which will be a celebration of our planet will be a high energy concert with stunning visuals."

Not just musicians, several organisations, including Mumbai based Pioneer Arts, Kolkata based Paramparik, Delhi Government's Sahitya Kala Parishad, to name a few, spread the message at the concerts they organise. They have stopped presenting perishable flower bouquets to artists and Guests of Honour and instead are presenting indoor plants that help improve air quality.

In the pipeline, Delhi's largest music and dance festival, the Swami Haridas-Tansen Sangeet Nritya Mahotsava held annually in January has undertaken to partner with Earth Day Network to spread awareness on air purity on all 4 days, from January 9 – 12, at Modern School, Barakhamba Road. This eagerly awaited event always sees the big names of North Indian classical music including Ustad Aashish Khan, Pt Hari Prasad Chaurasia, Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, Begum Parveen Sultana, Pt Channulal Mishra, Pt Vishwamohan Bhatt, Ustad Shujaat Khan, and Pt Ulhas Kashalkar.

Organiser Vidushi Uma Sharma said "nurturing the environment is inherent in our culture; even in our pre historical myths, you have the fable of Krishna destroying Kaliya naga as he was spewing poison and polluting the Yamuna river. We as artists are all united in our resolve to highlight environmental concerns; what better platform to get across our message to the youth than through the festival which is today the largest in Delhi."

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