Dhrupad in the Jungles: AnantVan Utsav

By Vidya Pradhan and Ram Badrinathan

Imagine under a clear moonlit night, in the midst of a dense jungle, the silence that pervades the darkness is nudged with an alaap in raag Chandrakauns. As the shrutis (notes) ascend the higher octaves, the jungle opens up to the strains of the tanpura and to the musical expression of Dhrupad. The music is rendered Baithak style with only candle light and unplugged: one of the rare moments in modern India where the sangeetkar (musician), vatavaran (environment) and the shrota (discerning listener) are connected deeply.

There are no barriers such as time limits, poor audio equipment and other contemporary concert baggage. The artiste is free to share his music as long as his spirit and body allows him.

The Anant Van Utsav is an event jointly organized by Soulitudes and Dhruv Singh, the owner of the jungle retreat, set in a small farm at the edge of the Bandhavgarh tiger reserve. The contemplative and peaceful setting seems ideal for this musical genre,  and Soulitudes organizes  notable Dhrupad artists to enchant listeners in this beautiful, rustic and intimate setting.

Soulitudes, the brainchild of Ram Badrinathan and his wife Shobhana, is an eclectic travel company that aims to share India with its visitors in a manner that is warm and personal. Its endeavor is to create a journey that rises above the transient nature of today’s travel, thus generating a deeper connection with India and its people. As Ram puts it, “The spaces we select are equally special – never hotels but aesthetic intimate retreats.”

Anant Van is particularly conducive to the experience. The owner of the retreat, Dhruv Singh, shares a sensibility which integrates business, aesthetics, sustainability, passion for flora/fauna and for the local people in addition to loving the urban life. Anant Van is a wildlife camp with a difference: a small farm at the edge of Bandhavgarh where the owners have begun a reforestation program, to sustain the delicate ecological balance of ther park. Local communities in Bandhavgarh are brought into the life of the wildlife reserve, since the indigenous people’s participation is essential to the forest’s survival and success. The plan is to regenerate 21 acres of overgrazed and barren farmland close to the tiger reserve, in close partnership with the villagers who live there.

 In November 2007, in their retreat with noted Dhrupad vocalist Uday Bhawalkar at Anant Van, the participants also saw the jungles of Bandhavgarh in fresh new light. Says Ram, “One firm conclusion we have is that the experience of travel is best enjoyed when one spends time with a knowledgeable expert in any field. The ability to fuel your curiosity, open your eyes in wonder, share anecdotes and stories are aspects of the journey which remain long after the journey though the physical experiences have long gone by. There is only so much you can see in a jungle going in the jeeps. But once you get the context, stories, anecdotes, understand the laws of the jungle and space, the experience is special.”

In addition to the music, the participants go on early morning and late afternoon jungle safaris at the Bandhavgarh National Park. The tiger is obviously the main attraction, but once the tiger sighting obsession is over, one can really enjoy other species which abound the park. The park topography is beautifully accentuated by a plateau on which stands the ruins of the Bandhavgarh Fort. A thousand year old temple with a continuing unbroken lineage of pujaris stands magnificently next to a massive water tank. At the foothills is large statue of Vishnu in sayanam (horizontal) pose. The visit to the fort is a must from where one gets a broad perspective of the jungle and the surrounding areas. It was also a venue for a small concert in front of the deity.

The Anant van events are typically 3 nights/4days. Getting to Bandhavgarh takes time, thus one needs to add 2 more days. Ideally 6-7 days is the time one would need to take off to be a part of this. The charges are around $500 per person for the 3 days which includes all transfers meals, jeep safaris, stay and the experience. Booking for a Dhrupad experience through Soulitides is cheaper because the regular price of Anant Van is $ 600 per person per day including transfers.

To learn more about upcoming events organized by Soulitudes or more about this unique travel company, contact by phone or email Ram (ram@soulitudes.net +91-9892692809) or Shobhana (shobhana@soulitudes.net +91-9820889808).

Soulitudes’ hope is bring together some of India’s finest creative minds in different fields ranging from visual arts, cinema, Indian classical music, folk music, photography, conscious travel, heritage conservation, Indology, spirituality, ecology and wildlife, theatre, literature, politics and social entrepreneurship. The travel platform has brought together the likes of Shyam Benegal (noted film director), Dr Ashok Ranade (an eminent ethnomusicologist), Uday Bhawalkar and Wasiffudin Dagar (noted Dhrupad vocalists), Gaurav Mazumdar (Sitar) and Prahlad Singh Tipaniya (noted Kabir Panthi) in experiential retreats in venues ranging from the deep jungles to the Himalayas. The company is working with Shyam Benegal on a film series on the life of great Indian performing artistes (e.g. Pandit Mallikarjun Mansur, Bala Saraswati). Soulitudes wants, in a tiny way be part of a cultural renaissance to make the finest of India’s cultural treasures accessible across the nook and corners of the world.

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