The Spring Mood
Photos courtesy: Neelanjan Basu
March 22, 2017
Mother Earth does seem to extend her best foot forward at the advent of spring every year. In land after land, post-winter, spring invites an unmatched floral kaleidoscope from nature. In the harsh northern clime, while Holland sees its expansive gardens swathed in breathtaking colours of flowers, Birmingham in England bursts all over into a colourful extravaganza with many-hued tulips. It is not without some pride (if not actual devotion) that Robert Browning sang: The year's at the spring, And day's at the morn, Morning's at seven, The hillside's dew-pearled, The lark's on the wing, The snail's on the thorn, God's in his heaven, All's right with the world!
In the far away land of the Rising Sun, the country waits with bated breath for its first warm winds at the winter's thaw. And when that happens, all the cherry trees everywhere suddenly sprout blossoms: unbelievably all together and entire communities - from schools and colleges, offices and factories - come out in the wide open to observe holiday and witness the wonderful spectacle. It is Ohanami festival, the aesthetic nation's only unchartered holiday on the calendar. If in Myanmar, it is the water sprinkling festivity, in India, it is sharing gulal and crimson-coloured water, and shouting Holi hai in unison.
Eons ago, Kalidasa composed his unique ode to nature, Ritu Samharam, creating metaphor after exquisite metaphor for seasons. If it was Ashadasya prathama divase megham ashlishta sanum... for the rains, it was a beautiful damsel striking with her left heel the Ashoka tree to let it bloom; and it was for a bashful bride to pluck at the mango grove, allowing it to spread fragrant offshoots. Kalidasa was emphatic: then and only then it would be spring, not otherwise.
A millennium had to elapse before a worthy successor would arrive to pen his tender thoughts on India's all six seasons. In an outpouring of 293 songs on nature as many as 96 were on spring, written by Tagore. Unfailingly in Vasanta Utsav every spring, his dream scion Santiniketan erupts into a flurry of dancers' and singers' processions of colourfully attired youth and the old - meandering through roads and meadows - carrying red abir and singing, Come out, you domestic denizens, it's spring on waters and earth, in the wood's cool corridors...
Vasanta Utsav, presented recently by the dance institution Jahnavi under the able guidance of noted Bharatanatyam dancer Madhubani Chattopadhyay and the music school Dakghar under the baton of the Santiniketan-bred accomplished musician Manoj Murali Nair - in collaboration with Unicorn Dance Academy, Behala Nrityapeeth, Nrithyoday, Nrityangan Kathak Kendra, Payal Chakrabarti Dance Academy, Kalamandir Manipuri Nartanalay and Santiniketan Sangeet Bhavan alumni - was literally a gigantic affair. Almost vying with their Santiniketan counterpart, they mounted, to start with, a saffron clad procession of over 300 strong artistes, threading through the spectators in the vast garden space, accompanied by resonating drummers.
Thereafter, children's section of Dakghar provided choral support to an assortment of junior most group dancers. These were mood dances, conveying the spirit and essence of Tagore's vibrant lyrics: In the nascent joy of Falgun, I weave my cadenza...; O brothers, Falgun has engulfed the forests, branches and offshoots, flowers and fruits, all nooks and corners...; and Aren't they all listless without a semblance of cause... Then sauntered in the middle section of Dakghar to support musically another set of blossoming dancers for the songs: Dribs and drabs flow the fountains of colour...; O the southern breeze, rock us in your cradle...; and Flowers have set ablaze the blue horizon...
Finally entered the senior section of Dakghar with mature dancers to visualize the songs like, O Champak, O Karabi, why suddenly are your branches all astir? Buds have appeared in my woods at the touch of the southern winds, There rocks the Dolanchampak bloom... and Who's the one drubbing the woods in colours and rolling the winds into waves? There were musical interludes by two noted vocalists of Kolkata: Manomay Bhattacharya (It's the tenderest of touch and the slightest of sound that make me weave my dream of Falguni... and In case I don't recognize her, will she know me?) and Shrabani Sen (I've bonded my soul with yours in my melody... and How much is your piety that fills my spirit, O my monarch?).
Apart from a group song-and-dance, Come, one and all, to bestow all you have... calling for a total surrender, the high points of the evening undoubtedly were the two solos of perfect mood dance, both accompanying Manoj Murali's sonorous songs: My sky dazzles in luminescence, I‘d fill it with tuneful music... and The universe is lulled into stillness under melodies of the cosmic lyre..., the second song rendered in a varying tempo. The lissome Debalina Kumar danced in a free style to the first song, in a lithe and supple manner, invoking an all-round effulgence. Jhuma Basak's dance to the second song was more stylised, marked clearly by late Manjushri Chaki-Sircar's composition. Jhuma adopted two distinctive stances to emote in a mood dance etching her Naba Nritya with a characteristic amalgam of classical dance features, folk steps and sundry martial arts.
Spring in Bengal can also have its less welcome component of low pressure cyclones from the nearby Bay, presaging monsoon. As it happened, a sudden storm with torrential rains invaded the sprawling arena and stopped the program midway, with everyone scurrying for cover. Perhaps one should factor in a Nor'wester while celebrating one's spring mood!
Dr. Utpal K Banerjee is a scholar-commentator on performing arts over last four decades. He has authored 23 books on Indian art and culture, and 10 on Tagore studies. He served IGNCA as National Project Director, was a Tagore Research Scholar and is recipient of Padma Shri.
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