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Magic of Khajuraho and classical Indian dances: Part 2
Photos: Vijay Rohatgi

March 5, 2018

Magic of Khajuraho and classical Indian dances: Part 1

5th Day, Feb 24:
The morning's Kala Varta had from Shimla Prof. Him Chatterjee, Prof and Head of Dept of Visual Arts, Himachal University. He spoke on inter-relationship between various arts, what Vishnudharmottara Purana has emphasized. He screened few paintings of his father also and brought out common elements which govern the arts. He also said that he loves to paint keeping music on while painting and it helps his creative process.

The evening performances had two Kathak artists. Richa Jain from New Delhi lived up to her reputation. With training in Lucknow and Jaipur gharana and also knowledge of Janaki Prasad gharana, aka Benaras gharana, she presented choice nritta pieces, parans, tode, tukde, bols and explained the subtleties of the three gharanas. She sang and demonstrated the element of Katha vachan, Katha kahe so Kathak kahave. Taking the story of Narasimha avatar she sang, danced various characters of Prahlada, Hiranaykashipu, Holika and told the story of how Lord Narasimha killed the demon Hiranyakashipu. The element of gat and palta were used artistically.

Kadambari Shivaya

Kadambari Shivaya from Mumbai is a multitalented dancer. She has produced, directed and edited films. She has acted in Malayalam film Swapanam. She has an attractive stage presence and a mobile visage. She presented three numbers in Odissi. She chose Braj ku chor, in which Yashoda tries to put child Krishna to sleep telling him that if he does not, then demon Bakasura, Dhenukasura will take him away. Krishna's pranks were performed with vatsalya bhava. Kadambari has stage worthy personality and expresses bhavas with conviction. Yahi Madhava Yahi Keshava dwelt upon mood of khandita nayika. She faithfully followed the abhinaya as studied from Kelubabu. Radha's anguish was registered well. However, Kadambari has to guard against over dramatization. The abhinaya needs restraint. Karuna to Kumar asan, Malayali poem deals with compassion by Upagupta, disciple of Lord Buddha who receives Vasavadatta, the courtesan's letter as she falls in love with him. When she is left alone after she poisons her client in favour of a lover and is punished by pubic, cutting her arms and chopping off her nose, Upagupta arrives and she receives moksha. The story was explained well. But in its exposition also there was exaggerated abhinaya. Over dramatic expression leaves feeling of discomfort.

The highlight of the evening was the presentation by Bangalore based Kuchipudi exponent Dr. Veena Murthy Vijay with her troupe consisting of three female dancers and two male dancers who generated quite an excitement with their scintillating Kuchipudi with traditional numbers in a fast tempo. Sandhya Tandava was performed with quick steps and the sequences followed one after another sketching images in quick succession. The dance of Shiva which removes six weaknesses, and destroys darkness by annihilating Andhakasura was powerful. The gods Brahma and Vishnu play various instruments when Lord Shiva performs. The dancers displayed these aspects suggestively. Using various levels of the stage and steps as well as separate enclosure from where Veena described like a Sutradhara the events unfolding the story was a clever ploy.The artists used the stage with imagination. The incorporation of various karanas was imaginatively performed and traced the roots of Kuchipudi to the Natyashastra. The Ramayana sabdam encompassing the key epiodes of Ramayana from Putrakameshti yagna to Rama's vivah with Sita, Ravana's inability to lift Shiva's bow, Rama's vanavasa, Maricha taking form of golden deer, Lakshmana drawing three lines asking Sita not to cross them, Ravana's kidnapping Sita, duel with Jatayu, Hanuman's meeting with Rama, killing of Bali, setu bandhanam, the final battle between Rama and Ravana, Vibhishana's coronation, Rama, Lakshamana and Sita returning to Ayodhya and final Pattabhishekam were enacted with speed and dynamism. The story is well known and the audience responded with rounds of applause at dramatic sequences like duel with Jatayu and Ravana.

Dr. Veena Murthy Vijay's group

Kuchipudi performance is never complete without Tarangam. Veena made two male dancers and three female dancers perform it together. The dancers also performed Kumbha nritya, dancing on clay pot, and also placing small pot on head and balancing on the brims of brass plates. It brought down the house for the well coordinated execution by dancers. The finale with Simhanandini tala, drawing of a lion on canvas on floor by Veena created curiosity, when the canvas was raised from floor and shown to public. The choreography was imaginative. This is one of the rare numbers of Kuchipudi. There are now few exponents who present this rare item. Veena's institute Sri Raja Rajeshwari Kalaniketan in Bangalore has been training several students in Kuchipudi. The dancers Vijay Shanbag, Vaishnavi Ravikumar, Abhilash Udupa, Gauri Murthi and Bhavana Anand performed energetically keeping the tempo and creating quite a stir.
The finale Kathak by Ayushi Dixit was noteworthy for her sound traning. Based in Indore, her taiyyari is sound. Disciple of Ragini and Hemant Makkhar, she has had training from tabla wizard Pandit Suresh Talwalkar, gat bhav from Dr. Suchitra Harmalkar; Ayushi shows good promise. Her padhant and execution of parans etc were noteworthy. However her inclusion in such a prestigious festival looked incongruous.

6th Day, Feb 25:
The morning session became memorable for main speaker Suman Singh, a painter and a columnist writing on art in Rashtriya Sahara, for his discourse on Aesthetic Appreciation -Saundraya Bodh and inter-relationship between various arts. Poet Ashok Chakradhar kept all in thrall with his comments and recitation of poem Taj Mahal. The details of history, reality, the amazing confluence of literary imaginative approach kept audience wanting to hear more. Geeta Chandran spoke about the space and site specific special performances. When in Khajuraho, the architecture inspires one. The proscenium stage and open space inspires different emotions and one can create special dance numbers. At my request, she sang Shankaracharya's composition Maitrim bhajata in her soulful voice which almost cast a spell on the audience. Chinmay requested audience to keep silence for two minutes to relish the moment and magic before leaving the hall.

In the beginning in order to promote Kathak dancers from Madhya Pradesh, from Raipur, Palak Tiwari trained by Guru Tarun Kumar of Raighar gharana was presented. She opened her recital with Panchakshara stuti with Om Namah Shivaya describing the various embellishments of Lord Shiva. She later displayed her taiyyari in nritta. She rendered padhant, but because of dancing she could barely breathe and recite. Her guru could have recited the padhant in order to give her relief and collect her breath. She performed Raipur gharana guru Ramlal's compositions as passed on to her by her guru. Paran Jodi amad, salami ka tukda, how dancers saluted the patrons, Chakradhar compositions, tode, tukde all were in order. The kavits were oriented towards Krishna. Raja Chakradhar's compositions were interesting as they brought some novelty to the usual repertoire. With an antim paran, she concluded her recital. Though it is a welcome attempt to bring local dancers of Madhya Pradesh and of Raigrah tradition, the stature of Kathak dancers is not of the level suitable for Khajuraho festival. The organizers will have to give a serious thought to this aspect, as inclusion of such dancers in mistaken notion of promoting Madhya Pradesh dancers will bring down the reputation of Khajuraho Dance Festival.

From Delhi, daughter of poet Ashok Chakradhar, Sneha Chakradhar presented her polished Bharatanatyam performance with live orchestra. Trained for more than 20 years under Geeta Chandran, she is a regular performer in Natya Vriksha productions. She has obtained PhD in Dance and is a regular performer with considerable experience. The opening verses in praise of Lord Shiva, Tirumoolar mantram, saw Sneha worshiping the all pervading god. Descending from the upper level and covering the stage she conveyed the essence of the mantra. The dovetailing of Natanam Adinar in raga Vasanta offered choreographer Geeta Chandran chance to explore the various attributes of Lord Shiva. Interspersed with jathis that enhanced the brilliance of movements, Sneha did full justice to the nritta aspect as well as to abhinaya. Dancing in the golden Hall of Chidambaram temple, bringing out the glory of dance of Nataraja, Sneha was in her element. The dance shook eight directions and even Shesha naga who balances the earth found it difficult to maintain balance. The Ananda Tandava of Lord Shiva astounds his devotees. The entire performance was a joyous rendition. Set to Mand raga, Meerabai's popular bhajan Mane chakar rakhoji, struck rapport with the audience. Geeta Chandran's choreography of how devotee would serve the lord was crafted in detail, and created the garden that devotee would carefully look after, all rendered pleasantly. The stanza adhi raat ko darshan dijo, even in the midnight devotee sings with joy the god would give her darshan and that too on the bank of Jamuna. The response from the audience was heartening.

Tillana in Lalgudi G Jayaraman's Rageshri with its musical intricacies and tala, the silences between phrases, was the highlight of the performance. The various patterns and the lovely diagonal stretched arms and architectonic beauty of the form were a delight to watch. The periya adavus covering the stage explored the space beautifully. The teamwork of musicians led by Geeta Chandran on nattuvangam was of their customary finesse with K. Venkateswaran on vocal, Manohar Balatchandirane on mridangam and Ravinder Rajput on flute.

The other two recitals by Bhopal based Dr. Vijaya Sharma, disciple of Kartikram, was in keeping with her standard and faithful to Raigarh gharana. Kavita Thakur and her troupe presented Kathak with usual fare.

7th day, Feb 26:
In the morning session of Kala Varta, well known columnist, author Ravindra Tripathi spoke on inter-relationship between arts. He quoted the great poet W.H. Auden, and his opinion of comments made on poor people by Tolstoy, Dostoevsky and Van Gogh. He preferred response of painter Van Gogh who lived with poor people. Ravindra Tripathi also mentioned that nritya and sangeet are inter-related. Without music, dance cannot take place. He spoke about how great western literary writers have written on painters, that painters and literary people have more interaction. He also quoted Samsher Singh's poem on painting and established inter-relationship between various arts. Chinmay concluded Kala Varta session for the festival by expressing hope that in future artists and organizers of such events will express worries for diminishing audiences for arts.

Sonal Mansingh

Sonal Mansingh presented her repertory of Kamakhya Kalapith of CICD in Sri Devi Mahatmya incorporating navarasa to the recitiaon of her own Sanskrit composition, extolling the nine rasas with various episodes relating to each rasa and Devi. The marriage of Shiva and Parvati, Devi's killing Mahishasura (raudra), Bhutaganas' acrobatic antics making Parvati laugh (hasya), the animals frightening Parvati in her solitude (bhayam), Parvati when alone creating from her own body, angaraga child (adbhutam), goddess protecting her devotees (karuna) and so on with tableux like presentation briefly with her own commentary prior to each rasa and event.

The Kathak that followed by Khushboo Panchal from Ujjain was full of bravura, with Kaliprasad on tabla playing Banaras gharana bols and Khushboo performing animatedly. There seemed too much of jumping when performing parans. The quietitude was lacking.

The highlight of the evening was group Odissi by Delhi based Kavita Mohanty. She presented the story of emperor Ashoka and how he left various shilalekhas, the edicts on stone, after he adopted principles of Buddhism seeing the futility of war. Well conceived and performed by that ace Mayurbhanj Chhau dancer Rakesh Saibabu as Emperor Ashoka, it engaged attention of the audience and the message of peace. Referring to Dhauli where shanti stupa is historically established and the Dharmachakra parivartan, with 24 spokes, each symbolically representing non-violence, tolerance, justice, and values was presented artistically. The emblem of four lions adopted by independent Republic Government of India brought the production to contemporary times. All dancers performed with involvement.

Kavita Mohanty and group

The finale was by Maryada K Nigam (Maya), disciple of Dr. Monika Srivastav of Mansingh University and Guru Prodipto of Kala Ashram. She regaled audience with Hori and other routine Kathak items.

The 44th edition of Khajuraho Dance Festival ended with a disappointing note with selection of 14 Kathak dancers of questionable quality. I was told that even a 14 year old Kathak dancer (who was not a child prodigy either) was presented on this prestigious platform bringing down the level of such an international dance festival which has been built up on great reputation. It was tiring to see so many Kathak dancers, such an overdose. The selection by members of jury was erratic and heavily Kathak oriented. A country that boasts of eight classical dance forms did not find representation of Mohiniattam, Sattriya, Kathakali. The imbalance created by too many Kathak dancers caused dissatisfaction among the community of dancers. Unless jury members of national repute are appointed, the selection of dancers will go haywire and bring down the reputation of this great dance festival. Urgent corrective steps must be taken by authorities on a war footing. Else the reputation of the festival will lose its prestige.

Dr. Sunil Kothari is a dance historian, scholar, author and critic, Padma Shri awardee and fellow, Sangeet Natak Akademi. Dance Critics' Association, New York, has honoured him with Lifetime Achievement award.

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