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Throwback Thursday: The Melodies of Ali Akbar Khan

Celebrating the sarod player and composer, epitome of Hindustani music, Ali Akbar Khan on his 100th birth anniversary.

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Ali Akbar Khan

Today is the 100th birth anniversary of Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, one of the most renowned musicians of Hindustani music. His name is virtually synonymous with the instrument sarod. Along with being a sarod player, he was also a raga composer and a recording artist. Ali’s background was that of a musical one, coming from Mian Tansen, who was a musical genius in the court of Akbar. Tansen is hailed as a saint who sparked new life to the classical instrumental music of India. Ali’s father, Allauddin Khan, was a disciple of Wazir Khan, who was a descendent of Mian Tansen. Allauddin Khan is also celebrated as one of the prominent North Indian musicians. 

Early Life

Ali Akbar Khan was born on 14th April,1922, in Bengal (now Bangladesh). At the age of 3, his father, Allauddin Khan, began his training. Under his father’s tutelage, he first learnt vocal music. Thereafter, his uncle, Fakir Aftabuddin, trained him in drums (percussion instruments). Ali’s exposure to music was wide, and after much training, he settled on the instrument of Sarod. Sarod is a 25 string instrument of the lute family. It is a Hindustani music instrument. 

He gave his first public performance at the age of 13 in Allahabad and made his first recording in his early 20s. Afterwards, he was made the court musician of the Maharaja of Jodhpur. His service, however, was suspended at the death of the Maharaja. His early excellency in music and his esteemed position as the court musician granted him the title of ‘Ustaad’, meaning, ‘master musician’. 

International Recognition

Ali Akbar Khan received the request of Yehudi Menuhin, and travelled to the USA in 1955. He performed at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. He also performed at Alistair Cooke’s Omnibus show, which became the first television performance of Indian music. In the same year, he made the American recording of Indian music. Ali Akbar Khan, therefore, brought Hindustani music to the spotlight in the United States. He became an internationally recognised composer, producer, and recording artist. In the early 1960s, he settled in the United States and continued the teachings of his father’s music. He founded the Ali Akbar College of Music in California. The raw talent of the western students was the prime motive for the establishment of this college. Through this college, Ali Akbar Khan had taught American students the raw north Indian music. He used to teach in Switzerland as well.

Accolades and Achievements

Ali Akbar Khan has composed music for many films, like Satyajit Ray’s, ‘Devi’, and Bernardo Bertolucci’s, ‘Little Buddha’. Apart from this, Khan was accorded India’s second highest civilian honour, the Padma Vibhushan, in 1989. He has been nominated five times for the Grammy awards. Khan was also a recipient of the MacArthur Fellowship and the National Endowment for the Arts’ National Heritage Fellowship.

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Editor's Pick

The Legacy Unforgotten And Unbeatable: Dr. Sheikh Chinna Moulana

Today on TBT, we celebrate Sheikh Chinna Moulana. From Andhra School to exploring Tamil Nadu Bani School, an en route to ultimate passion.

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Sheikh Chinna Moulana

The unique sound and method of playing wind instruments are a great thing to watch. One such instrument, that is popularly played at temples, is Nadaswaram (Nada meaning pleasing sound and swaram means musical note). Music has no boundaries and it turns out to be universal with the arrival of great artists. One of the greatest Nadaswaram artists is Dr. Sheikh Chinna Moulana, popularly called ‘Chinna’.

Besides working as Hon. Professor at the Raja’s Government Music College of Thiruvaiyaru, Dr. Chinna toured France, Germany Sri Lanka, the Soviet Union, and UAE to give several mesmerizing performances. He was awarded Nadhaswara Acharya from Vasser College in New York. In 1977, this legend was awarded India’s fourth-highest civilian award and on 1st January 1999 the Madras Music Academy’s Sangeetha Kalanidhi.

The Backstory

Dr. Sheikh Chinna Moulana was born on 12th May 1924 to Sheikh Kasim Sahib and Beebi Jan. The legacy of the Moulana family playing Nadhaswaram and performing at several Hindu temples in Andhra Pradesh influenced him too. With the grandfather Sheikh Abdulla Sahib, uncle Sheik Madar Sahib and his father Sheikh Kasim Sahib. Since then, he began learning from different tutors. Even though hailed from the Andhra School of Carnatic music, Sheikh was largely attracted to T.N Rajarathnam Pillai’s (Tamil Nadu) Nadhaswaram music heard through gramophone records. Dr Chinna joined Sheikh Adam Sahib of Chilakaluripeta School of Music. Later he got to learn Thanjavur Bani School in Tamil Nadu from the Vidhwan brothers named Ranjan and Duraikannu Pillai. Thereafter, Sheikh gave the first performance at Salem in Tamil Nadu in 1904. Gradually, he became famous among people and they adorably called him ‘Chinna’. As he moved to Srirangam in 1964, Sheikh Sahib got acquainted with violinist Ramanathapuram Ganesha Pillai. Since Sheikh was a Muslim and played a Hindu musical instrument, there was resistance from some local musicians. But Sheikh’s dedication and devotion to music as his only religion brought even the resenters closer to him. Dr. Sheikh founded Sarada Nagaswara Sangeeta Ashram in Srirangam where he spent his beautiful morning and evenings, learning or teaching the Vadyam.Later he became the Asthana Vidhwan of both Tirupati and Srirangam Devasthanams. Sheikh had felt that he was immensely protected by Lord Ranganathanswamy and considered Lord Rama as his favourite God.

Chinna preferred mastering the craft to the literature of the art. Accidentally developed a new fingering technique to play the Nadhaswaram and his grandson Kasim is now continuing it with great respect and pride. Finally, Sheikh passed away on 13th April 1999.

The Posterity

Along with Sheikh’s other grandson Shuban Babu, Kasim is a special Nadhaswaram artist of the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams. Upholding their grandfather’s philosophy of music as the only religion and perfection as their passion, they are now the mark of the legacy of the Maulana family. Another duo from the Moulana family, Sheikh Mahaboob Subhani and his wife Kaleeshabi Mahaboob are also popular in the field. They have already set the victory by receiving Padma Shri by the Central Government in 2020.

Never can one forget the ecstasy that Sheikh Chinna showered onto his listeners with his divine talent. The legend stays in the hearts of many. Kasim has also put his effort digitalizing Moulana’s recitals. As social media platforms provide chances for us to listen to his magic, Chinna espouses eternity.

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Editor's Pick

A Very Special Devotee Of The Malayalam Language: P. Bhaskaran

P. Bhaskaran, an authentic poet a visionary film director, a smart actor and the one who created the legacy of uniqueness in Malayalam films.

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P Bhaskaran
An authentic poet; a visionary film director and producer; and also a smart actor.

The year 1954 gave out a break to the whole Malayalam Cinema industry when the film Neelakuyil (The Blue Cuckoo) received President’s Silver medal for the best feature film in Malayalam. The film was directed by the first Malayalam twin directors Ramu Karyatt and P.Bhaskaran, who wrote the songs for the movie. The movie, which was based on the famous writer Uroob’s story by the same name, was an epitome of a refreshing storyline and screenplay, efficient direction, and realistic acting.

The Malayalam film industry copied songs from other languages till then. P. Bhaskaran started a revolution through his realistic and simple lyrics that allured the ordinary people of Kerala into film songs. The legacy behind the Malayalam song cannot be written without a detailed column on P. Bhaskaran. Yousuf Ali Kecheri, another songwriter, once said that if Thunjath Ramanujanezhuthachan is the Father of the Malayalam language, then P. Bhaskaran is the Father of Malayalam songs.

To his destiny

Pullaattupadathu Bhaskaran alias Kuttamboor P. Bhaskaran was born on 21st April 1921, as the son of Nandiyelath Padmanabhan Bhaskaran and Ammalu Amma, at Kodungalloor in Thrissur district of Kerala. P.Bhaskaran got his poem published in the School Magazine when he was in the Fourth Form and his prose got published in Mathrubhoomi Childrens’ Weekly. He joined the freedom struggle by participating in Quit India Movement. His father’s passion for literature and music, progressive perspective, and political participation in the then freedom struggle in India was his motivation. He had to undergo arrests and imprisonment during this movement. Meanwhile, he was attracted to the ideologies of the Communist Party. “Uyarum Njan..” was written to commemorate the Punnapra-Vayalar revolt in Kerala that had produced the bloodshed of hundreds of common people. Later ‘Vayalar garjikkunu’ was written by him in the same context. He had written songs for All India Radio (AIR) and later got a job at AIR, Kozhikode as a scriptwriter. His Communist outreaches took him to work with Communist newspapers like Kerala-based ‘Deshabhimani’ and Tamil Nadu-based Jayakerala’.

The then Madras, now Tamil Nadu, gave him an opening in Malayalam songwriting through ‘Apoorvasagodarargal’(Unique Brothers)(1949) where many South Indian languages were included in a song. Even though he had been writing many poems, his lyrics were taken for a complete film song in the movie Chandrika (1950).

Credits: YouTube (DD Malayalam)

Acquaintances he received through such songwriting collaborations paved the way to learn film direction which in 1954 became a turning point in the whole Malayalam movie industry through Neelakkuyil. The song “Kayalarikath Valayerinjappol…” gave the Keralites a cinematic form of the adorable Mappilapatt (Muslim folklore). During this time, P. Bhaskaran published his exquisite poetry Orkkuka vallapozhum (Remember at times).

Later, he started making independent films initially based on Uroob’s scripts like Rarichan Enna Pauran (1956), Nairu pidicha pulivalu (1958), and many more. The former failed but the latter was a box office hit and got remade into other languages. And in total P. Bhaskaran directed 47 films in which he has received many national and state awards for the songs he had written for those films. P. Bhaskaran encouraged prominent Malayalam authors to write scripts to make good movies. Also, he expanded his works through production being a shareholder in ‘Kerala Pictures’.

Credits: YouTube (asianetnews)

A true Keralite

Admiring the beauty of the landscape and geography of Kerala, P. Bhaskaran has written Mamalakalkkapurath marathakapattuduth Malayalam ennoru nadund (about the state of Kerala at the side of the Western Ghats) and also, Shyama sundara kera kedhara bhoomi… He has been awarded J.C Daniel Award for his contributions to the Malayalam film industry, besides the Odakuzhal award and Vallathol awards.

Besides being artistic, the veteran writer has served as the Secretary of Kerala Sangeetha Nataka Academy in 1957 and later became its Chairman. He had also worked as the Editor of Deepika – a weekly of Deshabhimani. He became the first Chairman of the Kerala Film Development Corporation after its establishment. He had also served as the founder Chairman of Asianet.

John Paul- the veteran screenwriter,  has once recollected how Bhaskaran Sir wrote a 4 line poem “Karayunnu puzha chirikkunnu…” on a piece of Cigarette paper, in a lorry, that later became the theme song not just in a movie Murappennu (1965) but also, a reflection of the pain of separation from dearest ones. He was an eminent writer who has given soul to songs and peace to Keralites’ lives through them.

His last days

Author Ravi Menon recalls Bhaskaran Sir’s last days. He couldn’t recollect anything even his singer S. Janaki but sang songs with her on that day. She was so surprised at this memory of every word of the song. But as they ended singing, he asked, “who wrote these beautiful songs..?”

He was struggling with Alzheimer’s, and when he passed away on 25 February 2007, he had written more than 3000 songs,  and also acted in several films. His lyrics are so soothing that it caresses our heads like a mother’s love. Even when P. Bhaskaran himself walks down the lane of oblivion, he still lives through the eternity that he had showered on to his songs.

Credits: YouTube (Mohan R)
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Vistas of Bharat : Indian Culture

Vistas of Bharat: A Salvation Through The Odissi Dance

From the realm of spirituality and antiquity, Odissi dance form connectsthe abstract and the material and synchronises the divine and humane.

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Odissi

Sculpted in the archaeologically important religious sites related to Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism of Odisha, Odissi, finds its roots in the ancient Hindu text of Natya Shastra. Archeological survey dates its origin in around 2nd century B.C. owing to the sculptures analogous to it in the caves of Udayagiri and Khandagiri near Bhubaneswar. It is a dance-drama genre that narrates a mythical story with a spiritual message, parable or philosophical verses from ancient Hindu texts and pertinently originated as a temple dance. It was originally performed by female dancers called Maharis when they were appointed in the royal courts, a troupe of boys called Gotipuas took their place in the temples. The destruction of temples during the Mughal era, thus, resulted in the decline of the art form. 17th century did witness some deration owing to comparatively lenient rulers, however, the anti-dance movement during colonial rule saw its further degradation. Post-colonial revival in the nationalistic fervour is mainly accredited to Odiya poet Kavichandra Kalicharan Pattanayak and the dance form owes its name to him as well. Perfecting the synchronisation of hand gestures, footwork, facial expressions and most importantly, the torso movement, an emotive and sensuous performance of Odissi is formed.

The body movements revolve around two main positions, called Chowk (masculine gesture) and Tribhanga (feminine gesture). The repertoire opens with Manglacharan, offering to mother earth followed by Pushpanjali (flower offering), invocation, Nritta (pure rhythmic dance; Batu), Nritya (enactment using codified gestures of dance), Natyam (play performance which is usually a group performance) and ends with Moksha (characterised by quick movements to symbolise salvation of soul). An Odissi music plays accompanied with instruments like Mardala, harmonium, flute, sitar, violin and cymbals in the background.

The dancer is dressed in a silk saree which is pleated and is adorned with prints of traditional regional designs. Ornamented with traditional silver jewellery and hairdo, representing a temple spire, a performer, is beautified for a beautiful show.

With the themes of love, verses with euphemistic metaphors of sexual union and embellished with Shringara rasa in Odissi, performance is a blatant celebration of human fallibility. It is an audacious celebration of intimacy. In the modern era, focused at breaking archaic structures blinded by philistinism, Odissi proves to be a dance form breaking stereotypes and reflecting on the treasure trove of lessons embedded in culture.

Sharmila Mukherjee

Sharmila Mukherjee is an Odissi dancer, choreographer and the founder and artistic director of Sanjali Centre for Odissi Dance in Banglore. The centre was established in 2004. After completing her studies, and graduation, Sharmila Mukherjee followed her passion for Odissi. Sharmila Mukherjee had shown extreme talent and reverence for the art form at a very early age. When she was 16, she performed the main role of Chandalika in Tagore’s dance drama “Chandalika”. Her grace, poise and stage presence caught the eyes of the critics.

Credits: YouTube (Sharmila Mukerjee)

Laavanya Ghosh

Laavanya Ghosh is a prolific dancer from Kolkata, who moved to Bhubaneswar to fulfil her aspirations for Odissi. Laavanya Ghosh’s mother wished for her to pursue classical dances, and today she is a beautiful performer, who has crossed many of the barriers which society threw at her. Through Odissi, Laavanya Ghosh has incorporated the three Ds in her life: Dedication, Determination, and Discipline. She worships Odissi, and stands as a great artist to look up to!

Credits: YouTube (Laavanya Ghosh)

Sujata Mohapatra

Sujata Mohapatra is an Odissi dancer and teacher. She was born in 1968, and in 1987 travelled to Odisha to continue her training in Odissi. Sujata Mohapatra started dancing Odissi classical with Sahu’s dance troupe in programs across Odisha. She continued to evolve her dance form, and is known as one of the foremost soloist Odissi dancers of her generation. She has also done research work in the arts of Odissi. Sujata Mohapatra is also the principal of  ‘Srjan’ (Odissi Nrityabasa), a prime Odissi Dance Institution founded by MGuru Kelucharan Mohapatra. She has a number of accolades to her name like Central Sangeet Natak Akademi Award, 2017, Nritya Choodamani from Krishna Gana Sabha, etc. 

Credits: YouTube (Habitat World)

Mahina Khanum 

Mahina Khanum is an Odissi dancer and teacher based in Paris, France. IFor the past 10 years Mahina has been working towards bringing Odissi under the global spotlight. In 2020, during the pandemic, Mahina Khanum through Odissi dance, promoted Covid-19 safety protocols. She is also artistic director of @Lezartsmedia which is currently working for the promotion of Indian culture.

Credits: YouTube (Mahina Khanum)
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Editor's Pick

Throwback Thursday: Emblem of Carnatic Music, Muthuswami Dikshitar

Following the spiritual and devotional life of Muthuswami Dikshitar, one of the trinities of Carnatic Music, on his birth 246th anniversary.

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Muthuswami Dikshitar

Today, the 24th of March is the birth anniversary of Muthuswami Dikshitar. He is known and celebrated as one of the trinity of Carnatic Music, which consisted of Saint Tyagaraja, Shyama Shastri and Muthuswami Dikshitar himself. Muthuswami Dikshitar was the youngest of the trinity, born in 1776. 

Early Life

Muthuswami Dikshitar was born in Tiruvaruar, modern-day Tamil Nadu. From an early age, Muthuswami was exposed to the Vedic and Sanskrit learning owing to the efforts of his father. He was also trained in Lakshkya (aesthetics) and Lakshana (grammar) of music. He was married at a young age, and had two wives. Since his adolescence, he travelled extensively around the Northern subcontinent, and visited many religious shrines. In his travels, his Guru Yogi Chidambaranatha guided him a lot. With his two wives and Guru, he stayed at Varanasi for 7 years. It was during his stay in Varanasi where he came across Hindustani music. His guru offered a unique Veena, after which he passed away. After the death of Guru Yogi Chidambaranatha, Muthuswami moved to Kasi. He stayed at Kasi for 8 years, and worshipped at the “Jeeva Samadhi”. The holy city offered a divine musical atmosphere, and it was in Kasi that he got introduced to Dhrupad technique. In Tiruttani, Muthuswami Dikshitar, composed his first riti (composition) ‘Srinathadi Guruguho Jayathi’ in the raga (a type of melodic mode) ‘Mayamalava Gaula’. Legend also says that while travelling in Tiruttani, he came across an old man who put sweet in his mouth, and then Dikshitar immediately composed this song. People call it a divine calling/blessing. 

Later Life and Contributions

After his first composition, Muthuswami Dikshitar continued travelling south. The temples became his abode, where he sang devotional songs. Along the way, he also composed krithis on the deities. He has composed around 450-500 compositions and the most famous among them being his ‘Kamalamba Navavarna Kritis’, which is of 11 compositions. Most of these compositions are performed till day. 

Muthuswami Dikshitar is famously known as one of the trinities of Carnatic music, and he has deserved this title because of his immense heartfelt contribution to the music. His spiritual knowledge contributed a lot to the field of music. Along with being a singer and a composer, he was also adept at Veena. He transformed many of the Hindustani ragas into Carnatic Ragas. Moreover, Ragas was not his only speciality. He was also a master at producing talas. Conventionally, the main stanza of the songs were followed by two stanzas. However, Muthuswami Dikshitar became the pioneer in composing Samashti Charanam Krithis in which the main stanza or pallavi is followed by only one stanza, unlike the conventional two. 

Through his songs, he preached about devotion, and how music is the ultimate key to achieve spirituality and the attainment of God. 

On October 21, 1835, Dikshitar died. It is said that he had performed his daily prayers, and was teaching his students, when suddenly he raised his hand to shout, “Shive Pahi” (mother take me in the refuge), and took his last breath.

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Vistas of Bharat : Indian Culture

Vistas of Bharat: Revisiting the Classical Dance Form ‘Sattriya’

Introducing one of the oldest classical dance forms of India, ‘Sattriya’, that has the ability to captivate the audience with its grace.

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Sattriya

With the origins rooting back to 15th century, ‘Sattriya Nritya’ is one of the most graceful classical dance forms practiced in the eastern parts of Assam. Sattriya is the depiction of stories through expressive dance movements. In other words, it is a dance-drama performing arts that originated from the Vaishnavism monasteries, or Sattra, of Assam.

Mahapurush Srimanta Sankardev, a great saint-scholar of the 15th century is considered the father of Sattriya. He adapted the mythological tales of Lord Krishna in a dance performance. The dance form revolutionized and started being performed by both males, or paurashik bhangi style, and females, or matri bhangi, belonging to the sattras as well as the ordinary citizens. It was until 2000 that the Sangeet Natak Akademi of India recognized Sattriya as a classical dance.
Today we bring to you some great artists who have kept alive the legacy of the classical dance form. The artists continue to preach and perform the mythological legends of Lord Krishna incorporated in the slow movements of hands, body, feet and facial expressions.

Jatin Goswami

A Padma Shri awardee, a guru, a master of the art and an exuberant performer are few of the many titles Shri Jatin Goswami wears on his sleeve. An institution in himself, Shri Goswami ji was born in a small village of Assam on August 2nd,1933. He is considered one of the most influential figures in the Sattriya dance community. He played a very vital role in getting Sattriya the recognition and title of a classical dance within the Sangeet Natak Akademi. His performances, that are the finest in the league, have gathered applause and praise not only within the nation but from abroad as well. Shri Goswami ji holds various wards, among which, Sangeet Natak Akademi Award, Nrityaachaarya Award are a few to name.

Credits: YouTube (Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts)

Bristi Rekha Mahanta

Born and brought up in Guwahati, 1991, Bristi is a young and emerging Sattriya performer. Bristi started learning Sattriya at a young age, with her father as her first guru and completed Bachelors in Sattriya alongside high school. She was further guided by Sri Naren Chandra Barua, Padma Shri Awardee Shri Jatin Goswami and late Dr Jagganath Mahanta. As a budding artist, she has received ‘Young Artist Scholarship’ from Ministry of Culture, Government of India, is a graded artist of Doordarshan Kendra, Guwahati and also heads the ‘Chandamukha Sattriya Academy’, an institution that trains in Sattriya and was founded by her late father.

Credits: YouTube( Bristi Rekha Mahanta)

Ranjumoni Saikia

Another gem in the class of sattriya dancers is Ranjumoni Saikia, the daughter of great guru and visionary Shri Rasheshwar Saikia Borbayan, who himself contributed vastly in the proliferation of the dance form. After his death, his daughter took the job upon herself with her sister and continues to carry forward the legacy of her father. Practicing since the age of five, she now teaches Ojhapali in Sangeet Sattra along with her sister, Rinjumoni Saikia. With her very first performance itself, she also promoted women empowerment by going on stage with women artistes only. And not only has her contribution been limited to the stage, she has also authored a book, ‘Matiakhara Pathyakram’ that gives the readers a deeper insight to the dance form.

Credits: YouTube (Sangeet Sattra Guwahati)

Anannya Mahanta

Hailing from the Moira-Mora Sattra of Sivsagar district and born and brought up in Guwahati, Anannya was introduced to Sattriya at the age of five. Her learning started under Guru Govinda Saikia and later continued her training at Rangayan, an Academy of Dance, Theatre and Music. She completed her training in Sattriya under the guidance of Guru Adhyapak Dr Bhabananda Borbayan and Smt. Sharodi Saikia, attaining her Visharad degree in Sattriya. As an artist and a great on-stage performer, she has attained Junior as well as Senior Scholarship in Sattriya under Misnistry of Culture, Government of India and holds the tagline of ‘a graded Artiste’ under Doordarshan Kendra, Guwahati.

Credits: YouTube (Anannya Mahanta)
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High on Dance: Some Enthralling Dance Choreographies

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“The Untold” Words In A Love Story Of Two Best Friends

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Dil Diyan Gallan in Euphonious Voice of Akash Baghla

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Acoustic Version of Tere Mere Song by Dhvani Bhanushali

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