The weather was “perfect”, the crowd was “big” and the waterfall was “raging and powerful” at the Robert H.Treman Park, in Ithaca, N.Y., Sept. 22, as scores of tabla players ranging in age from 4 to 65, jammed on their instruments.
One hundred tabla players competed with the noisy waterfall to celebrate the power of the much-loved, globally renowned Indian musical instrument.
It was the Taalim School of Indian Music which has schools in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Connecticut that organized the event, celebrating the 20th anniversary of a similar tabla bash held in 1999 on the rocks of the Jhanjari Waterfall near Ahmedabad, Gujarat.
Entitled “Rhythmic Freefall: The Power of Rhythm in Nature” gthe event involved students from the various Taalim schools run by tabla guru Divyang Vakil. Young and old trouped into Treman State Park from around the greater tri-state area, got their wristbands and gathered themselves to be seated with tablas on the rocks beside the gushing waterfall. Come lunchtime, a local restaurant, New Delhi Diamonds, catered food for participants.
The 100 players were broken into four groups, each with their dedicated teacher, from beginners to higher-level players. Each tabla player took a seat on the rocky terrain with their tablas placed on mats in front of them as the majestic waterfall flowed behind them creating an impressive naturally choreographed scene.
There were 14 girls and women tabalchis participating in what is traditionally a male dominated skill, noted Sejal Kukadia, media outreach for Taalim in an interview with Desi Talk.
Meant to portray unity among different cultures and communities, organizers described it as an ‘epic’ event, ‘a majestic battle’ between the strength of the waterfall and human power.
“Around 600 people had gathered in the park to listen to us,” Kukadia said. “The volunteers were so good at taking control and guiding everyone,” through various stages of the event, Kukadia added.
Beginning with a verbal recitation of tabla rhythms – the teen taal for starters, the hundred voices rang out in a humming sound. Those hums were then played out on the tablas. “The first note they hit was an explosive downbeat that seemed to shake the ground beneath everyone’s feet,” organizers said in a press release. The musicians repeated the format of humming the taal and then playing it, for successively complicated sequences.
“The music became a force of nature unto itself, heavy and hypnotic,” Sue Winkler, who came to see the performance, is quoted saying in the press release.
The event lasted a full day from the arrival of the students and the seating, the performance, the meal, followed by a photography session. Organizers had a video crew as well.
“The most spectacular scene was when all of us walked closer to the waterfall leaving our tablas behind on the rocks and everyone turned around to look at all those tablas lying there,” Kukadia, a tabla player herself, said.
“It was more than we expected – the weather was perfect, the crowd was big … the waterfall was raging and powerful,” she added.
The Taalim School of Indian Music was founded by Vakil in 2002. Before it was formed, Vakil had organized the event near Ahmedabad, which though smaller in scale, was an idea he evidently cherished and wanted to stage on a larger canvas.
Taalim was little-known when it began in the U.S. said Kukadia who is a member of the founding team and faculty of the school, as well as a long-time disciple of Vakil. “This event was not just a celebration of the school, Guruji, and our work, but also a way of celebrating the diversity that exists in the US and how different cultures add beauty to artistic life in this country,” Kukadia is quoted saying in the press release.
The names of some of the volunteers and students of Vakil shows the diversity at the Taalim – apart from Kukadia, volunteers and donors included Michael Lukshis, Jin Won, Ray Belli, Heena Patel, and Kaumil Shah.