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Sneha Yatra- The Woodstock of '70s India

A famous hippie quote reads, 'If you remember Woodstock, you haven't been to Woodstock.' Even if you haven't been to Woodstock, a lot of them still know what it is. The glorious festival of love, music, sex, and peace. Although I am not qualified or credible enough to explain the emotions of attending Woodstock (obviously having never attended it), I somewhat understand the feeling. The '60s was a completely different time for the entire world. Various cultural changes seemed to change the dynamics of the way everyone saw life. 60's music was a catalyst to the change. Jimi Hendrix, Richie Havens, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and many more great musicians changed the face of music. Woodstock is considered to be a celebration of that change.

Thankfully, the winds brought the smell of change to India. Already quite westernized within the elite class, cultural changes were already starting to emerge in the country. Many music beat-rock-acid groups were already present and performing.

Come 1971, India was introduced to the Sneha Yatra Youth Festival. A 3 day festival 80 kilometres outside Mumbai in a village called Malavli. Attracting close to 5000 people when it happened, it was purely a local festival. Many music groups from places like Calcutta, Mumbai, Pune played in the festival along with some impromptu acts budding up now and then.

There were the beat-rock-acid groups: Country Funk Revival, Atomic Forest, Twilight Zone, and Brief Encounter. More people, Savages (all from Bombay), Windfall, Inventions of Mothers (Frank Zappa cover band?), Odyssey (from Pune), Human Bondage from Delhi, Mara from Bangalore, and High Noon, way up from Calcutta.

Along with the bands, the festival's main attraction was the Indian Classical Music segment. Mohammad Rashid Khan and Mohammad Sayeed Khan sang lyrics of Tansen. The lyrics were difficult to understand, but they were wonderful melodies. Panna Mehta played ragas on the guitar, Kumari Mangala (a student of Vilayat Khan) played the sitar, and there was Shri Shekhar (sarod) and Ashok Bellare (santoor) with Uday Raikar accompanying on the tabla.

A lot of the people who went to the festival have written testimonies about their experiences. And almost all of them mention being influenced by the MUSIC to just get up and dance in a way they normally never would have. Let's hope it was JUST the music. Although, it was not that uncommon for people to indulge themselves in psychedelic narcotics during Sneha Yatra. Such was the culture during the seventies. People from all walks of life attended the festival. Straight, squares, intellectuals, pseudos, filmmakers, writers, advertising people, engineers, school dropouts, music bugs, and radicals. Foreigners were present in a larger dose than usual – for once, it was them adding colour and spice to a purely local happening.

The most surprising part of this entire festival was that most of the bands that performed in Sneha Yatra were never to be seen again. A lot of them never recorded any music because of financial issues or purely because everyone just left to go on with their lives after the 3 days of the festival were over. Rarely will you find recordings of Indian bands from Sneha Yatra ? Nonetheless, they were the reason for the growth of indie music in India.

Sneha Yatra was the genesis of the Music Festival boom in India. It was after hearing about this festival that a lot of people in India became affiliated with Western Music. And this started a storm that is yet to settle down. This was also a time when many iconic bands toured India and played niche, often low-key, shows. The Police’s historic concert at Mumbai’s Rang Bhawan in 1980; an impromptu jam between Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page and Robert Plant and local musicians at the popular Mumbai nightclub Slip Disc in 1972. Post the popularity of Sneha Yatra, many more festivals like Independence Rock came into the picture and India became a hub for some of the biggest concerts on the continent.

Crowds at Independence Rock at Mumbai’s Rang Bhavan

Not a lot of information about the festival is available on the internet. But the memories and experiences of the people who attended it are more than enough to understand what it was all about. We cannot go back in time to experience this wonderful festival, but we can sure hope for someone to bring it back.


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