The father-son duo Pandit Vikash Maharaj and his son Prabash Maharaj belong to the famous ‘Maharaj’ clan of Benaras and are the 14th and 15th generation of musicians from this ancient city. They are the torch bearers of the oldest living musical family going back 500 years. Migrant Heritage Charitable Trust Inc (MigHT-i) hosted the talented artistes in New Zealand.

Panditji started off his musical journey as a Tabla player under the tutelage of his father the late Pandit Nanku Maharaj, aptly known as ‘Bengal Tiger’. However, it was Panditji’s mother who diverted the attention of young Vikash to sarod who excelled in this instrument under the guidance of his Guru, the late Shri Rajesh Chandra Moetra of the Maihar Senia gharana.

The blessing of both gharanas can be seen in Panditji’s compositions. Accompanying him was his equally talented son, a young musical prodigy who started playing tabla at the young age of two. Prabhash, won his first gold medal by the age of twelve at the Centre of Cultural Resources and Training, followed this up by winning six more such medals. The duo are a part of the ‘Holiwater Project’ and were in New Zealand on the eve of New Year to perform in Tauranga.

The tour of New Zealand aptly titled “Sangam” , with MigHT-I, started off with a performance in Auckland, where the audiences were left spellbound with the rendition of raag Malhaar. The gentle plucking of the strings of Sarod created an ambience of peace and tranquillity in the auditorium. This was a precursor for the second half to come.

It was a surprise item presented by Panditji and Tom Bailey. Along with Pinker they played some exquisite fusion numbers based on classical Indian music themes. This was a wonderful item and for the first time, fusion sounded so soothing and calming to the ears. The audience were left with a soul cleansing effect at the end of the show and many wanted it to go on forever!

Pandijti and Vikashji then hosted some workshops in the Radhakrishna Mandir, Mt Eden where the students were taught the finer nuances of some of the ragas and the way some ragas are treated in the Benaras Gharana Style. The workshop at Papatoetoe was co-hosted by Manjit Singh where his students of the Patiala gharana were exchanging notes with Vikash, who highlighted the salient features of both the Gharanas as well as the key differences. Panditji meanwhile rendered some wonderful coaching on singing and ragas.

The finale of the Sangam tour was at Wellington. This event was co-hosted by New Zealand Indian Fine Arts Society, Wellington. A knowledgeable crowd in Wellington were treated for some wonderful ragas as well as semi-classical forms like Thumri, Kajri by Panditji. Despite the long weekend holidays and the heavy rains which accompanied the show, the audiences felt enthralled at the music and were eager for more such shows.

MigHT-I has been striving since its inception to bring some classical Indian Music, Art and Heritage to New Zealand. Sangam has been a part of that journey. Whilst the shows have been well attended, it will take some time before they can match with the crowds that come to the “Bollywood” musical shows. However, Varsha Belwalkar – Secretary of MigHT-I is confident that very soon they will be able to attract a large section of New Zealand audiences towards this classical form of music.

A special mention must be made of Bharat Jamnadas, Satish Sharma, Meena Patke, Suresh Bhana and Bhagavan who have worked tirelessly and continue to support the cause of MigHT-I and retain the flavour of Indian classical music. Watch this space for the next event by MIGHT-I.