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Ushering in Seasons

May 19, 2017

The rich culture of our subcontinent finds its own way to colour the regional New Year celebrations - under either lunar or solar calendar - with ample music and dance, resonating with the whispering winds rushing through the new crops. While Ugadi in the vast tract of Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Karnataka is the time to get new clothes and getting satiated with good food, Gudi Padwa is, for Maharashtrians and Konkanis, an occasion to tie gudi (a piece of bright yellow cloth) to the tip of a long bamboo and a copper pot inverted on it along with a sugar garland. Baishakhi is the biggest harvest gala across North India, especially in Punjab and Haryana, celebrated with Bhangra and Gidha dance - as the day of forming the Sikh Khalsa - with festivities at the birth place of the Khalsa, at the Golden Temple and at Talwandi Sabo.

On the first of Tamil month Chithirai, people wish each other Puthandu Vazthukal (Happy New Year) and Chithirai Thiruvizha is celebrated in the Meenakshi Temple of Madurai, with the main food of Mangai Pachadi comprising raw mangoes, jaggery and neem flowers. The Assamese New Year comes dancing colourfully with Rangali Bihu as its most important harvest festival with fun, faith and abundant belief in Nature's goodness. While Bestu Varas marks the beginning of the harvest season in Gujarat and is observed with great enthusiasm as its New Year on the day after Diwali along with religious rituals and folk dance traditions, Marwaris of Rajasthan celebrate Diwali to begin New Year, considered most auspicious to begin new ventures. Vishu in Kerala resembles New Year festivals observed elsewhere, with its important tradition being Vishukkani, the first holy object viewed in the morning.

Losoong is the most popular festival of Sikkim, celebrated to mark the end of harvesting season and known as Sonam Losar (the farmer's New Year) with Chham dance as the major attraction. Navreh, the lunar New Year in Kashmir, is celebrated with great enthusiasm and sanctity as in other parts of India. The Islamic year Hijri starts on the first day of Muharram - varying as per the lunar calendar - with the New Year celebrated with long standing customs and traditions for the incoming spring. Cheti Chand, the Sindhi New Year, is most auspicious to the community as they celebrate the festival to honour the sacred birth of Jhulelal.




Rituranga, presented recently by Kalamandalam in Kolkata, was a bouquet of Tagore songs and accompanying classical dances, strung together to pay an ode to Bengal's Naba Varsha (New Year) as much as to Tagore himself whose birth in the first month of the year was such a happy coincidence. Showcased earlier in Singapore and Australia, Rituranga invoked Tagore's own visualization of the six seasons - a la Kalidasa's depiction of seasons in Ritusamharam - with the two legendary bards separated by over two millennia! The one difference that marked them, though, was that while Kalidasa sang mostly paeans of praise for Nature's poise and elegance, Tagore's tone varied remarkably from the celebratory to the sombre.

As the presentation amply brought out, while Tagore could be ecstatic in welcoming Nature's exuberance and boisterous bounty, he could equally sing of the monsoon's minstrel who, strumming his lonely drone, would trudge the path of solitude. Nature, indeed, concealed such contradictions as the narrator cited Tagore: Summer convulses in heat, rains hold promise of retreat; Autumn unfurls its white sky, Hemant lets the paddy-scent fly; Winter lets pale leaves to fall, Spring lets blossoms to enthrall; It's entry or get-away, it's fading or holding sway...

The Bharatanatyam duo began by heralding summer: Hail, O Baishakh, sweep away the irresolute with your meditative exhalation... While the narrator despaired at the fierce Time playing out its silent, violent game, Bharatanatyam and Kathak dancers etched a threesome: The flaming arrows pierce the perched heart in thirst...The tone mellowed and the narrator hailed the dark water-laden cloud's shadows falling across the woods. The Bharatanatyam dancer executed a solo varnam around the divine mendicant, meditating in the dark recesses of the ink-blue firmament. While the narrative urged the boatswain to set sail in the tearful winds among the downpours, the Bharatanatyam duo pranced around: Embracing stormy breezes, the heart does sway in fathomless joy... Following the itinerant Baul's lonely refrain, there came a vivacious adulation, in raga Desh, of the dark deity of ceaseless rains, combining Bharatanatyam, Kathak and Mohiniattam.

At the end of the day's chores, when the world-weary poet yearned to return to silence and peace, the ubiquitous Bharatanatyam duo welcomed the beguiling divinity manifest in the autumn glow. The Hemant goddess tiptoed in with eyes veiled and holding the evening lamp in hand, while the entire Bharatanatyam team ushered in the nocturnal stars in Nature's own orchestration of the cosmic mystery. There was anticipation in the air of spring's full moon splendour and the Bharatanatyam solo dancer sought to dispel the illusion of the formless form of the beguiling Nature. The narrator lamented the end of the blossoming season with sorrow heaped on the empty forests, while the Bharatanatyam group struck the contrary mood, with the wintry winds setting a-shiver the branches of leafless trees.




With spring astir at the doorsteps, the narrative wondered at its wavering welcome: would the momentary hesitancy persuade it to turn away? The dancers too, visualized the poet's predicament in taking a call: The soul is at a standstill with your ineffable charm, O the lord of soul, at spring's advent..., with a solemn Mohiniattam solo, contrasting against the Bharatanatyam symphony of skipping and leaping: Do colour us all with your very own hues before you bid us farewell... The grand finale also was a play of opposites: the solo Bharatanatyam interpreting, in raga Basant: The lotus bud opens today, and sways to and fro..., pitted against a win-all ditty: Let spring weave my garland of victory... with seven Bharatanatyam dancers, pirouetting around in utter abandon. The narrator had in the meanwhile transited from the torrential inundation from the hills and dales brought forth by the aromatic southern breeze, on to the concealed trickle of the unseen fountain choking in the parched bed of decaying blooms.

The dance-drama's strength lay in its manifold depiction of ups and downs in the poet's temperament: in consonance with Nature's pain and pathos at one end and sheer joie de vivre at the other end. The corps de ballet comprised an excellent ensemble of trained dancers who, however, looked skilled as solo artistes, but had seemingly little communion with each other in their pas de deux and pas de troix. This needs to be vigorously looked into.



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.


Comments

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It was a very detailed interesting article on our production Rituranga by Dr. Utpal K. Banerjee. There always have been many rave reviews whenever we have staged this production in India and abroad. I personally am very happy to see the observations made by our respected critic and promise to work on the deficiencies in the production. I would like to add that even though I will not agree 100% to his comments, I would surely look into bettering the production as it is always the audience in the theatre enjoying the production - who are the final judges.
Thanks to Narthaki and Dr. Utpal K. Banerjee
- Somnath G. Kutty (May 22, 2017)

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The point in the review was that inter-person coordination and orchestration is very necessary for group choreography if only for aesthetic reasons. For Tagore's songs and poetry, one may add, such communications are even vital for creating ‘mood dance’ that he always emphasized. This critic holds on to this view.
- Utpal K Banerjee (May 23, 2017)










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