History of Harivallabh Sangeet Sammelan

Harivallabh - A Tradition - A Legend

The vibrant voices of the vocalists, The soul stirring strains of Sitar, Santoor and Sarangi, The thundering sounds of Tabla and Pakhawaj, The cascading notes of Flute & Shehnai, The magic of Mohan Veena, The enchanting notes of Veena & Violin and The harmonious notes of Harmonium all have touched the souls of enlightened audiences at Shree Baba Harivallabh Sangeet Sammelan, year after year.

Started in 1875, Shree Baba Harivallabh Sangeet Sammelan has celebrated the magnificent tradition of Hindustani Classical Music for the last 143 years.

Drawing inspiration from Saint-musician - Baba Harivallabh, who started this Sangeet Sammelan in the memory of his Guru Swami Tulja Giri Ji, the Sangeet Sammelan has provided a platform where distinguished musicians could perform and give the best of their art and where anyone interested - initiated and uninitiated alike, could listen to them, free.


The Founder

Baba Harivallabh, the founder of this glorious tradition of Sangeet Sammelan was born in the later part of 18th Century in village Bajwara, in District Hoshiarpur (Punjab). Bajwara is a small historical village, named after Baiju Bawra, the great singer of India. The young Harivallabh spent his early childhood in this village, but unfortunately he lost his parents at an early age. His maternal grandfather, Pandit Jwand Lal Jyoti brought him to Jullundur.His maternal grandfather used to visit Devi Talab and listen to Swami Tuljagiri singing Bhajans in Dhrupad style. He would often take the young Harivallabh along with him to Devi Talab where the young Harivallabh would meet Swami Tuljagiri and listen to his Bhajans with undivided attention. These meetings left a deep impact on the mind of this sensitive and precocious child. Instead of playing with other children of his age he would sit for hours on the steps of Devi Talab singing Bhajans. Pandit Duni Chand was engaged to give formal lessons in music to the young Harivallabh.

Baba Tuljagiri, a great saint, a sanskrit scholar, a great exponent of Dhrupad style of classical music and the 'mahant' of Baba Hemgiri's 'Gaddi' used to live in a temple at Devi Talab. One day he found Harivallabh sitting on the steps of Devi Talab in deep meditation with his eyes closed. Baba Tuljagiri kept standing there watching Harivallabh. As Harivallabh opened his eyes, he found Baba Tuljagiri standing before him. This was the moment when the enlightened "Guru" found a devoted "Shishya" ready for total surrender.

The young Harivallbah decided to renounce the world for the pleasures of serving his guru. Swami Tuljagiri initiated his disciple Harivabllabh into the learning of the Holy Scriptures, Sanskrit and Music.

 Harivallabh possessed a remarkably melodious voice and soon touched great heights in classical music. He used to sing bhajans in Dhrupad style. Baba Harivallabh's favourite bhajans were, "Hae Tuhi aad Aant" and "Ta Mehrba Barse" sung in Raag Handol and Raag Malhar respectively. He created a stream of Bhakti Ras with his sweet and melodious Bhajans. People from all corners of the City would flock on the steps of Devi Talab to listen to these Bhajans of Baba Harivallabh. Such was the pull of these Bhajans that even the furies of nature could not keep the people away. The scorching heat of summer, lashing showers of rainy season or the biting cold of winter could not stop people from coming to the Devi Talab to listen to these Bhajans. It is said that during the rainy season when the surrounding areas were submerged in water, people would often swim across to reach Devi Talab to sit at the feet of Baba Tuljagiri and Baba Harivallabh.

Recognising the extra ordinary qualities in his disciple, Baba Tuljagiri named Baba Harivallabh as his successor to the 'Gaddi'. Baba Tuljagiri left this mortal world in 1874 and Harivallabh thus became Baba Harivallabh.

In the year 1875, on the first death anniversary of his great Guru Baba Tuljagiri, Baba Harivallabh thought the best way to pay his homage would be through music. Baba Harivallabh decided to hold a memorial ceremony where Sadhus and Saints were invited to sing devotional compositions at the Samadhi of his guru. The ceremony started with Hawan Yagya at the Samadhi followed by Langar for Sadhus, Saints, faqirs, devotees, poor & needy. Sadhus and Saints sang Bhajans in the traditional Dhrupad style through out day and night sitting around bonfire in the biting cold weather of December. The congregation lasted for two days.

Such like congregations became a regular yearly feature year after year. Sadhus came in large numbers to pay their homage to Baba Tuljagiri. Although the fame of this Sangeet Mela had spread far and wide yet only Sadhus and Saints were invited to sing at these congregations.
Baba Harivallabh attained his Samadhi in 1885.

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The Builder

After Baba Harivallabh attained his Samadhi in 1885, Pandit Tolo Ram, a devoted disciple of Baba Harivallabh succeeded to the sacred "Gaddi". Pandit Tolo Ram belonged to a well-to-do family of Jullundur. He was a simple and austere Brahmin who led a life of purity and devotion. He had dedicated his entire life in the worship of God and in the service of his Guru. He remembered by heart the Dohas and Chaupies of Tulsi's - Ramayana. He built a "Samadhi" of Baba Harivallabh to perpetuate his memory. He preserved the Tamboora and the "Kharaon" of his Guru.

Pandit Tolo Ram

Pandit Tolo Ram kept the tradition alive by holding Sangeet Sammelan every year in the memory of his Guru's Guru. The annual gathering came to be named after Harivallabh himself rather than his Guru.

Pandit Tolo Ram made some innovations. Along with Sadhus and Saints, he started inviting the singers from the region. At that time those who attended the Sammelan were Pt. Dwarka Dass, Mohammed Hussain of village Hariana, Mian Amed Khan of Phillaur, Shri Puran Chand of Hadiabad (Phagwara), Mian Udo Khan of Rampur and many others.


As the gathering at the Samadhi kept on growing year after year, the fame of Jullundur as a seat of great classical music in north India grew far and wide.

Pandit Vishnu Digamber

A miracle happened in the year 1908. It was the visit of Pandit Vishnu Digamber. As he was going to Jwalamukhi with his disciples, he halted at Jullundur for a night. He heard that a Sangeet Sammelan was in progress at Devi Talab. He could not restrain himself from attending such a Sammelan. Soon he was also sitting among the listeners. He made a request to Pandit Tolo Ram to give him some time to sing. Pandit ji thought that the handsome looking youngman was perhaps unaware of the great classical standards of the Sammelan. However, hesitatingly he allowed him to sing at the end of the sitting. Pandit Vishnu Digamber recited his composition in Raag Jaunpuri the words of which were, "Tum Kon Rijhvan Jayo".

 The voice of Pandit Vishnu Digamber was like a thunder though it had in it the melody and sweetness of the Heavens. It at once captured the hearts of all the listeners. Nobody ever seems to have listened to such a Raag and Aalap. Listeners were simply amazed at this feat. They were so enthralled by the performance of Pandit Vishnu Digamber that they took him round the City in a procession on an elephant.

Pt. Vishnu Digamber's visit added new dimensions to the Sangeet Sammelan. Its popularity touched all corners of the country. So much so, that the musicians would consider it their proud privilege to participate in this Sammelen. It was a great honour and a testimony of merit for a musician to present his art from the stage of the Harivallabh Sangeet Sammelan.
Even the great musician Pandit Omkar Nath Thakur who scaled new heights of glory in the field of Indian classical music had to produce the Harivallabh's Testimonials of merit before being allowed to, give his performance before the Maharaja of Kapurthala. It will not be an exaggeration to say that the stamp of perfection was marked upon a musician only when he had participated in this Sammelan.

After Pandit Vishnu Digamberís visit, Pandit Tolo Ram a gave serious thought to inviting musicians from all over the country and for this purpose he undertook a journey throughout India and invited renowned singers. Participation of stalwarts like Sarvshri Bhaskar Rao, Ram Krishan Shankar, Pandit Bala Guru, Pandit Omkar Nath Thakur, Shri Mohammed Khan Sarangia, Bade Gulam Ali Khan, Imdad Khan, Pandit Ravi Shankar, Ustad Vilayat Hussain Khan added new grandeur to the Sammelan.

Until 1922 the entire organisation of the Sammelen was concentrated in the hands of Pandit Tolo Ram. However Pandit Ram Rakha Ram, Pandit Dogar Mal and Shri Arjan Dass who were his close associates helped Pandit Tolo Ram in making the arrangements since with the ever increasing popularity of the Sammelan, it was becoming more & more difficult for Pandit Tolo Ram to make the arrangements single-handedly. Thus, the necessity of a regular committee to look after the arrangements was felt. There was no dearth of enthusiasts who came forward willingly & voluntarily to co-operate with Pandit Tolo Ram.

Pandit Jagan Nath Parti, a teacher by profession, an ardent lover of music and a devotee of Pandit Tolo Ram was appointed the first secretary of Baba Harivallabh Sangeet Mahasabha. Rai Bahadur Devi Chand became the first President of the Mahasabha. Shri J.N. Parti remained secretary from 1922 to 1964. The fact that he remained secretary of the Mahasabha for a long period of 42 years, speaks volumes about his dedicated and sincere services to the cause of the Sangeet Sammelan. Pandit Tolo Ram remained the main spirit behind the Sangeet Sammelan which was the great mission of his life. It was the vision and foresightedness of Pandit Tolo Ram that carried the Harivallabh Sangeet Sammelan to the zenith of glory. The Sangeet Sammelan grew absolutely into a secular, non-sectarian institution and singers irrespective of caste, colour, creed and nationality have been participating in it year after year. Pandit Tolo Ram turned this tradition into a unique institution during his life-time. The Sangeet Sammelan caught the attention of newspapers long ago. In 1913, The Tribune published a brief notice of the great Harivallabh Sangeet Sammelan of Jullundur under the headline: "A Symposium of Musicians". After mentioning "for the information of those not already aware" that this conference meets once in the year and is the only one of its kind in India, " it went on to say: 'An additional attraction this year will be the presence of Pandit Ram Krishan Bajaj (an illustrious singer styled Tansen of his age) of Goa, who has accepted an invitation to come and take part. In view of the cold weather, it is requested that visitors will kindly bring their beddings with them, and arrangements will be made to look to their comforts otherwise. "

Till the last breath, Pandit Tolo Ram tirelessly worked with devotion and dedication. He endowed the Sammelan with sobriety and sanctity. As every piece of music has its end, the long and glorious life of Pandit Tolo Ram came to an end in the year 1938.

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The Torch-Bearers

Pandit Dwarka Dass

After Pandit Tolo Ram breathed his last in 1938, Pandit Dwarka Dass, a great devotee and disciple of Pandit Tolo Ram succeeded to the sacred "Gaddi". Although Pandit Dwarka Dass carried on the tradition till he breathed his last in 1952, yet after about six years after the death of Pandit Tolo Ram he nominated Seth Hukam Chand and Sh. Ashwini Kumar as Trustees of Baba Harivallabh Sangeet Mahasabha Trust to look after properties of the trust situated in Devi Talab. After the sad demise of Seth Hukam Chand in 1954, Sh. Ashwini Kumar I.P., Former Director General, B.S.F. is the sole Trustee of this Trust.

Shri Ashwani Kumar, a great lover of Indian classical music, nurtured the Mahasabha and raised its stature to being recognised as the best Sangeet Sammelan in the world. Modern outlook, while keeping the old traditions intact, is what brought forth the transformations in the Sangeet Sammelan. One such transformation was to invite great female artists to the sammelan; as all along ladies were neither allowed to perform on the Harivallabh stage nor were they allowed to sit amongst the audience.

Shri Ashwani Kumar

Meticulous management of the event, best artists, well organised functions, unprecedented number of music lovers from all over India attending the sangeet sammelan, live coverage by All India Radio, wide coverage by the print and electronic media were some of the highlights of sangeet sammelan during the time Shri Ashwani Kumar was actively involved in the organisation of the sammelan. Shri Ashwani Kumar's contribution to India is not only limited to being a brave and fearless Police Officer or being a sincere promoter of sports but he has made a great contribution in preserving Indian classical music and culture.

Keeping in mind, the historic importance of Devi Talab which is one of the 52 "Sidh Peeth" of Devi, Shri Ashwani Kumar accceded to the request of citizens of Jalandhar to build a temple in Devi Talab.

Shri Ashwani Kumar continues to provide patronage, inspiration and guidance, to the current team as the Chairman, Trustee and as an ardent devotee of this sacred seat of music.

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