The Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan Institute of Indian Culture in London’s West Kensington played host to a sitar maestro on the evening of Sunday February 21.
Punita Gupta’s concert drew a large audience to hear her perform several well-known works, accompanied by some of her students. In the first half, she played ‘Ahir bhairav’, ‘Madhu mad sanang’ and ‘Kirwani’, along with a beautiful Panjabi folk tune.
During the second half of the concert, Punita was accompanied by Pandit Rajkumar Mishra on the tabla as she gave renditions of ‘Madhuwanti’, ‘Raag Pilu’ and, to finish, ‘Vaishnav jana to’, a devotional song that was a favourite of Mahatma Gandhi, and whose central message is that greatness resides in those who can feel the pain and sorrow of others.
Punita, who was born in Uttar Pradesh, northern India, came to Britain in 1971with her husband Shambhu after he was awarded a Commonwealth scholarship to study chemistry at Brunel University.
But her sitar and vocal training began much earlier, when she was just eleven years old, and she became a disciple following a successful audition. She was also fortunate enough to train with the late, great Pandit Ravi Shankar, having met him after he gave a performance at the Royal Albert Hall, and is now a highly respected sitar player who has worked with some of the leading musical talents in the UK.
Since 1974, Punita has been teaching Indian music in British schools. She started in Ealing and worked hard to introduce it into the national curriculum. When it was included as part of the GCSE course, Punita’s students were the first to take the exam in 1985.
Her group of students have performed at such prestigious venues as the Royal Albert Hall and have won awards. Although now retired from full-time teaching in schools, Punita still teaches sitar to a few select students at her home.
Her concerts are famously atmospheric, reflecting her abiding love of music and her instrument. In this latest recital, she paid tribute to Pandit Madhukar Kothare, a tabla player with whom she performed her first ever concert in 1972, and who passed away two years ago.