Ambabai temple during Navratri
Ambabai temple during Navratri

The Musical Home of the Mirajkar

In Miraj, Maharashtra, the power of music continue to transcend the problems of caste, creed, religion and language

The city of Miraj in southern Maharashtra has a special significance for students and lovers of Hindustani classical music for several reasons. One of these is the presence of master craftsmen and instrument makers in the city, making it one of the most important centres from which tanpuras, sitars, veenas and other instruments are sourced even today. My very first tanpura bought from my meagre earnings as a casual announcer at the Akashvani station in Allahabad when I was still a teenager, and all my subsequent jodis or matched pairs of tanpuras, were made by one or the other branch of the traditional “sitarmaker/satarmaker" families of Miraj. For generations these families have provided musicians and students with the best of hand-crafted instruments. At several major festivals of classical music in the region, including the iconic Sawai Gandharva Festival, started by the legendary Bhimsen Joshi in Pune, the Mirajkars are duly requested for help and are present in full force with tanpuras for each of the participating artistes, ready to tune them and even accompany the artistes on the tanpura if required, in the ultimate show of hospitality.

For the past 60 years, the Ambabai temple in Miraj has hosted a music festival during Navratri, and is also the venue for the performances it hosts. Organized by a formally constituted body named the Shri Ambabai Navratra Sangeet Mahotsava Mandal, Miraj, the festival is an event that is supported by different sections of society—prominent citizens, politicians, legislators, civic bodies and authorities, businessmen and traders, as well as devotees and citizens. Donations for the event, ranging from a few lakhs to a humble one hundred rupees are duly acknowledged in the festival booklet, and prominent contributors and supporters are also felicitated and thanked on stage during the festival, sometimes in interminably lengthy ceremonies. But the task of selecting and inviting artistes has, from its inception, been the responsibility of the Mirajkar family. With their close ties and rapport with musicians, both upcoming and established, there is almost no likelihood of any artiste refusing an invitation extended by the Mirajkars to perform at the festival.

Undoubtedly, no performance of classical music in Miraj takes place without the active help and support of these expert instrument makers, but it is also remarkable that on the occasion of Navratri and Vijay Dashmi, important for their religious significance among the Hindus, and at a temple dedicated to the goddess Ambabai, this family of Muslim instrument makers has, for three generations, been an integral part of the organization of the Navratri music festival. Among the expert instrument makers who are currently associated with the festival are Niyaz Ahmad alias Balasaheb Mirajkar and his family, including Majid Mirajkar and his nephew, young Naeem. As the Shri Ambabai Navratri Mahotsav celebrates its 60th anniversary, Balasaheb too turns 60, and is confident that at least in Miraj, the power of music will continue to transcend the problems of caste, creed, religion and language that often tear to shreds the composite fabric of our nation.

Also Read | Shubha’s previous Lounge columns

Close