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Adoration and Abstraction

December 25, 2018

Uday Shankar Nrityotsav organized by the State government's own culture department, has become now a hardy annual over the years in the eastern metropolis. Bringing in a cross section of the State's major dance institutions, this perhaps provides the largest forum for the dance bodies to present their latest compositions and be assured of a large number of viewers at Rabindra Sadan, the largest and the best-equipped auditorium of Kolkata.

It would be salutary to quickly recollect that Uday Shankar and Rukmini Devi Arundale - the two icons of Indian dance from the middle of the twentieth century - were both, most coincidentally, gifts to India from the great Russian ballerina, Anna Pavlova, whom these luminaries had approached, in own way, early in their career for assimilation in the Western genre and who were successfully and definitively sent back to their vibrant sub-continental roots. How both proceeded to give Indian dance "a local habitation and a name" is now part of the recorded history of Indian performing arts scenario.

Anita Mallick and group
Abyayam (the Inexpendable), presented on December 8 by Jodhpur Park Saraswat Sanskrti Kendra, was a fitting overture for inauguration of the festival, invoking the Mother Goddess in all her luxuriant plenitude. The sonorous Sanskrit recital from Sri Sri Chandi and other ancient treatises created an ambience in which eleven female and four male dancers produced their well-orchestrated choreographic oeuvre. Directed by the Bharatanatyam dancer Anita Mallick, the composition was striking in several ways. First, its geometric patterns etched by the group in several permutation and combination on the large stage were quite innovative. Second, the use of a collation of Dola Hasta mudras by several dancers - a la Sattriya style- made a beautiful statement for devotional moods. Third, the main dancer's entry as the Devi on a palanquin - borne on male shoulders - made for a welcome novelty. Finally, the symbolic killing of the fierce demon by the Devi, supported by her companions, was visually quite exciting.

Debaldev Jana

Debaldev Jana, a well-groomed Bharatanatyam dancer, who wore his Physics qualifications running up to the post-doctoral level, quite lightly for his age, came next in a solo presentation Jay Mahesh Jatajut. This item composed in Ragamalika and Talamalika was an ode to Shiva, in the form of interpretative gestures of verses to the lord. Recapitulating Shiva's origin and his superlative qualities, Debaldev was a surprisingly finished dancer with his excellent use of Bharatanatyam adavus and angaharas. The second item had text from Ram Charit Manas, the 16th century classic by Tulsidas with the imitative Sanskrit verse, Sri Ram Chandra kripalu bhaju mana harana bhavabhaya daarunam…. in raga Yaman Kalyan and mishra chapu tala. This was a well-known prayer glorifying Rama and his divine characteristics, which Debaldev demonstrated with characteristic élan. It was a pity that though a gifted dancer, he had time for only two items.

The 40th Mime Festival had its closing ceremony on December 9 at the unique mime teaching-cum-workshop-cum performance venue, Yogesh Mime Academy, produced by Chidakash Kalalay. The three-day festival had come to an end with Samvatsar Katha, with a mime-cum-dance presentation, Vedan (External Sense), produced in the form of an Uparoopaka, an abstracted form of Roopaka of the Natya Shastra. Uparoopaka was developed in the later part of the medieval era and evolved out of the Turkish conquest. This was revealed by the influence of Islamic music and instrumental practices it had borne.

Directed by Piyal Bhattacharya, this particular presentation was an Uparoopaka called Ramakreeda, primarily describing each ritu (season) and its cumulative effect on nature. Drawing mainly on verses from Kalidasa's Ritusamhara, the subtlety of the initial sensations was elucidated through the arrival of each season as the masculine entity wrapped in royal grandeur and nature's delightful desire to succumb to its enigma in feminine charm and grace. In a striking audio-visual pageantry, there was a cavalcade of royally robed males with bare torso, accompanied by their consorts and female companions in languorous postures, attired in colorful couture - swaying their body synchronously with melodious Dhrupad recitations vis-à-vis Kalidasa's poetry.


Grishma (summer) exposed nature's enticement to the human mortals to succumb to its enigma as the ritu of heat and exhaustion which led to reveal an excess of energy and to leave the flora and fauna thirsty and parched. The idea was that proximity with the season would arouse the senses and bring in the cognitive association with indulgence, thus exposing the pulsating life forms to an external sense, Vedan. Coming next, Varsha (monsoon) had the calming effect on nature, as a harbinger of ease and contentment. This ritu gratified nature by its balmy impact, making it bloom to its fullest. Prakash (expression) was, thus, the second stage where nature found ways to unravel its beauty. Hemant (the transitional ritu) revealed nature as lovelorn, looking for the caress of replenishment. There, of course, existed the seed of potency, which was unfolded by Vasant (spring), the last ritu of vigor and vitality. It was as though the whole nature danced to its tune, accompanied by an orchestra that resonated with the whims of the season. This was the culminating stage where the effects of Vedan were displayed to their full potential. The narrative was woven around the ultimate bliss where the dichotomy of Bhrigu and Angira - Universal Male and Universal Female - coalesced; ritu and nature ceased to exist and the spectator sensed the universal oneness.

A very competent ensemble of dancers comprised Sayak, Rudraprasad, Deep, Shuvendu, Chhandak, Pinky, Rinki, Preetama, Shatabdi, Amrita, Moumita and Ruminti. The unusual instrument of Kachchapi Vina was played by Avijit Roy, while Manda Kokila and Vakra Vina were handled by Shuvendu, Sayak and Moumita. Dhrupad was sung superbly by Shiuli Chakrabarti and Sri Khol played very well by Joy Dalal in support.

Excerpts from an interview with the director:

How do you clearly distinguish between Roopaka and Uparoopaka?
Roopaka abides by the Shastraic grammar in a strict fashion and is an unadulterated
practical application of Indian dramaturgy as given in Natya Shastra. There are ten kinds of Roopaka as per Natya Shastra; for example, Natak, Bhan, Prahashan, Dim, Byayog and a few others. Uparoopaka also follows the Shastraic grammar but the structures of these Natyas can be altered and improvised within the prescribed structure in accordance with the Acharya's skill, wisdom and the power of innovation. These Natyas are a result of harmonic relation of dramatized music and dance, orchestra, stylized costumes and socially impactful messages. Uparoopaka was developed in the post Natya Shastra period. A maximum number of 18 kinds of Uparoopaka could be located so far, for example, Bhaanika, Bhaanak, Dombika, Ramakreeda, Hallisaka and others.

This Uparoopaka has been called Ramakreeda; could you please explain its special characteristics?
Ramakreeda draws it chromatic and semantic influence from Ragamala paintings of the late 16th to early 18th century from different regions like Rajasthan, Deccan and Nepal. The texture and expression of these paintings convey the luxury and opulence of that region and upholds the social imagery. The attires and ornaments of our presentation were mainly influenced by such paintings, which specifically transports us to the dramatized reconstruction to the medieval Indian era. The textual references are from Kalidasa's Ritusamhara, Magha's Shishupala Vadha and Jaiminiya Upanishad. This literature was mainly limited to scholarly practices but our reconstruction of Uparoopaka Ramakreeda:Vedan demanded lucidity and a core world view to form the content of this presentation. Since Ramakreeda lacks any doctrinaire guidance from the Natya Shastra, the only guidance of scriptures points towards the improvised thought process of the Natyacharya, based on the experiential excellence and distinctive qualities of dramatic calibre, presented within the structural periphery of Natya Shastra's influence.

How did you select your music?
The music is also an integral part of our reconstruction as musical preferences change with time. Dhrupad songs were structured under specific ragas, which were devised to provide the imagery of ritus. These ragas have bound the dramatic presentation on one single thread. Padas (poetic text) from the literature provides the pictorial description of the seasonal changes that nature paints.

And how about the instruments?
The instruments used here are a combination of ancient and medieval instruments, which sets the tone of the reconstruction. Ragas formed the fabric of this reconstruction as it inspired the visual imagery of our production. The perfect symphony of summer heat in the morning and its breezy evenings are suggested by the use of Vridavani Sarang to illustrate Grishma. Raga Megh and the use of percussions, mainly Shri Khol (drum), represented the elephantine nature of a cloudy monsoon sky of Varsha, inspired by Ritusamhara: Ashani shabda eva mardala …Hemant is the transitional ritu, harbinger of winter, depicted by raga Behag suggestive of the depressive feeling for the estranged lover. Raga Vasant heralds the onset of spring that enchants the nature and intoxicates it with lust and merriment.

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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