Free Concert Brings Devotional Indian Classical Music to K

The Virupannavar Family Merging Rivers Endowed Fund for Hindu Faith and Cultural Studies at Kalamazoo College is sponsoring and organizing a free concert of devotional Indian classical music on Tuesday, October 3, at 7 p.m. in Stetson Chapel.  

The concert’s title, Bhakti Rasamanjari, includes references to devotional worship emphasizing mutual attachment and love of a devotee and a personal god; essence, in particular the characteristic quality of music, literature and drama; and the blossom that flowers on a tree before the fruit, according to Chandrashekhar and Sushila Virupannavar. The couple established the fund to enhance experiences for current and future students while honoring the opportunities K offered two of their children who graduated from K. 

“Like all art forms in Indian culture, Indian classical music and dance art are believed to be a divine art form, originating from the Hindu gods and goddesses,” the Virupannavars said.  

Two Indian classical music performers with sitars
Utsad Rais Balekhan and Utsad Hafiz Balekhan will be among the musicians performing Indian classical music at 7 p.m. Tuesday, October 3, in Stetson Chapel.

The concert features world-famous, seventh-generation Hindustani vocalists and sitarists the Khan Brothers—Utsad Rais Balekhan and Utsad Hafiz Balekhan.  

Hindustani music is associated with north India and primarily uses Hindi, Punjabi, Rajasthani, Urdu and Braj Bhasha languages. The sitar is a plucked, stringed instrument used in Hindustani classical music. A sitar can have from 18 to 21 strings, with six or seven running over curved, raised frets and being played directly, while the remainder resonate with the played strings. 

The Khan Brothers will be accompanied by Atul Kamble on tabla and Shri Gangadhar Shinde on harmonium.  

A tabla is a pair of small hand drums of slightly different shapes and sizes, somewhat similar in shape to bongos. A tabla is the principal percussion instrument in Indian classical music and is essential in the bhakti devotional traditions of Hinduism and Sikhism. 

The harmonium is a stringed instrument that, in Indian music, is a portable, hand-pumped wooden box. 

The Khan Brothers are of the Kirana/Dharwad gharana, which means they are part of a school of music tied to Kirana, a town in Uttar Pradesh, in northern India. The Kirana style emphasizes perfect intonation of notes. The city of Dharwad, where the Khan Brothers have seven generations of family roots, lies in a region particularly associated with the Kirana gharana. 

The Virupannavars said the concert fits the focus of their family fund on Hindu faith and Indian cultural studies. 

“This will be a display of Hindu devotional music, expressing love and devotion to one divinity,” Chandrashekhar said. “Secondly, it will be a beautiful display of Indian musical cultural tradition by eminent performers and esteemed scholars who come from our region in India.” 

Merging Rivers in the fund’s name is borrowed from the 12th century Shiva saint Basava, who spread his messages in simple, short poems called vachanas, which ended with the Lord of the Merging Rivers, amplifying the concept of unity, union and oneness with the eternal. 

The Virupannavar family expressed appreciation for the College’s support of the fund, including support from Sohini Pillai, assistant professor of religion and director of film and media studies, in helping to shape the fund’s focus and bring the concert to campus. 

“Hopefully, this will be a long and beautiful journey,” Sushila said. “Two of our three children attended K, had a great education and became doctors. We are proud of their accomplishments and of our decision to send them here.” 

 The Virupannavars hope the concert inspires K students to learn about and try sitar and tabla. In service of that, the performers will also deliver a demonstration and talk to a music class the day of the concert. 

“Kalamazoo is a renowned location on the world’s music map,” Chandrashekhar said. “Our family is excited to celebrate that great and long Kalamazoo music tradition, by adding a small element of Indian classical music essence, with a very sincere hope that it will grow and blossom.”