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Natanagar Dance Festival paid homage to Guru Shambhu Maharaj

July 28, 2019

It is always a pleasure to see Madhavi Mudgal's Odissi recital for her seasoned approach and excellent selection. Selecting a shloka from Sangita Ratnakara in praise of Shiva set to music by Jitendra Abhisheki, she dwelt on variations of bols, mnemonics to suggest Shiva's Tandava with his favourite damaru. Takit takit takit resounded in a variety of ways suggesting dance of Shiva. The beauty of Lord Shiva, his three eyes and colour of his face, 'Mukhavilas', brought out the poetry in use of the suggestive hastas.

This year's SNA awardee for Hindustani music Madhup Mudgal, Madhavi's brother, composed pallavi in raga Jhinjhoti. Madhavi brought elements of 'alas kanyas' alive in their languorous poses, as seen on the walls of temples in Odisha, with sensuous movements. There were subtle but curvaceous movements strung with tribhanga postures.

Krishan Mohan, the son of legendary Shambhu Maharaj, had arranged the event under aegis of Abhyas to promote excellence in dance, promotion of talent among young and a variety of objects related to dance, on the occasion of Guru Purnima paying tribute to his father. Recalling having seen the great Shambhu Maharaj who used to visit Gandharva Vidyalaya to meet her father Vinaychandra, known as Bhaiji, Shambhu Maharaj watching a barely 5 or 6 year old Madhavi studying Kathak under the great maestro Narayan Prasad of Jaipur gharana, used to say seeing Madhavi's talent, "I want to give her Gold Medal. She is such a gifted dancer." Madhavi said every time he watched her he would repeat that. Though the gold medal never came, Maharaj's blessings are with her more than the material gold medal. Remembering him on this occasion she also recalled how she had seen the great Ghazal singer Begum Akhtar at Vigyan Bhavan singing in dadra 'Koyaliya mat kar pukar, lage karajava katar' the ever green ghazal, when she had received SNA Award. Like osmosis, Madhavi had internalized it, and to pay tribute to Guru Shambhu Maharaj, she had choreographed it in Odissi.

It created nostalgia, the gentle way Madhavi as a nayika begged of the cuckoo bird not to sing since it reminds her of her beloved who is not with her and causes pain of separation. She writes a letter and gives to cuckoo to give it to her beloved. 'Go to Piya desh, where my beloved is and give him my sandesh, message', begs the nayika. She spreads grain on the floor where cuckoo bird on return, sits to pick up the grain. Still the bird is singing which the nayika is unable to bear. She says: 'My eyes get filled with tears and there is pain in my heart, stop singing, dear bird'. She embraces her and lets her go. Madhavi's entire being was replete with pain of separation further aggravated by the exquisite ghazal rendering. The appeal of this particular presentation evoked instant applause from the receptive audience.

Madhavi concluded her recital by enacting 'Yahi Madhava, Yahi Keshava' ashtapadi from Gita Govinda, choreographed by Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra set to music by Bhubaneswar Mishra. One of the gems of Kelubabu's choreographies, Madhavi depicted agony of Radha at Krishna's lies when she spots telltale marks on Krishna's body having spent night with other gopi. The restrained anger of Radha was dignified and portrayed with feeling. The set of musicians gave her adequate support.

Madhavi Mudgal
Photo: Inni Singh

Daniel Freddy and Rahul Pawar
Photo: Sangeeta Das Banerjee

Daniel Freddy and Rahul Pawar, disciples of Vaswati Mishra, regaled the audience to the traditional Kathak fare in teen taal, after the opening prayer in praise of Lord Shiva, 'Nagendra Haraya', which gave them scope for enacting Shiva's beatific and terrific forms. Holding trishul, pinak bow and arrow, his form as 'digambara', clad with directions, and his other images, they in a duet bowed to the Lord, 'Om Namah Shivaya.' This panchakshara stuti invariably creates the devotional mood.

In traditional exposition, both dancers gracefully performed thaat, and unleashed later on their energetic execution of aamad with Dha taka thunga and parans to the excellent accompaniment with vocal by Jay Jadich, tabla by Siddharth Chakraborty, flute by Rajat Prasanna, and sarangi by Ahsan Ali. Padhant by Ipshita (Krishan Mohan and Vaswati Mishra's daughter) was faultless.

Rama Vaidyanathan
Photo: Inni Singh

Rama Vaidyanathan chose to present an elaborate Telugu varnam by Poochi Srinivasa Iyengar in praise of Srinivasa set to Vasanta raga and jhampa tala of ten beats. The sakhi confidante of the nayika, who is in love with Lord Srinivasa, is sent by the nayika with a message to the Lord to hurry up and go unto her. The simple outline of the story found a felicitous expression, gradually unfolding the state of the nayika in separation. Alternating with abhinaya and exquisite nritta performed with elan, to the sollus set by late Karaikudi Sivakumar, nattuvangam by Rishika and soulful singing by Sudha Raghuraman, flute by Raghuraman and mridangam by Sumodh, Rama was in fine fettle. Her leaps were like a gazelle, landing softly concluding with teermanams in perfect sync.

Pleading the plight of the nayika, she described how deep her sorrow, her body aflame with fever is and concentrating upon the beloved Lord Srinivasa; the sakhi drew the picture of the helpless friend of hers. Addressing the lord as Tamarasaksha, lotus eyed one, sakhi said that the nayika was finding in each lotus only the lord's face. The elaboration for 'Tamarasaksha- lotus eyed' was poetic: Opening of lotus buds, nayika seeing in it the visage of the beloved lord, and the delicate touch of lotus, reminding nayika of the embrace of the lord. The sakhi describes further how she thinks the lord is handsome as Kamadeva. The depiction of Kamadeva with his flowery arrows was another poetic highlight. Not shooting arrows like a warrior, but holding flowery arrows in a gentle manner, aiming in various directions in an engaging playfulness, delicate, thrown from a side, over, surrounding her, Rama portrayed Kamadeva in delicate hues.

Before chittaswaras, the passage describing the anguish of the nayika lying on floor, unable to eat, or even drink water, unable to bear the sounds of birds or the touch of rays of moon, was depicted by Rama with exquisite soft music, Sudha singing almost in a whisper. Such touches stood out in investing imaginative images to Rama's choreography. The energetic nritta was scintillating in contrast with the sensitive abhinaya. The teermanams were varied and the ornamentation was delectable. When she begged of the lord to have a heart and go unto her friend, the sakhi's pleadings had at last succeeded. On that note Rama completed her varnam winning thunderous applause.

Minu Garu, Jaya Pathak, Heena Wasen and Parinita Khanna
Photo: Sangeeta Das Banerjee

The finale was the evergreen group dance Darbari choreographed in 1960 with music by Shambhu Maharaj which was recomposed by Birju Maharaj. It was choreographed by Krishan Mohan and performed by his four young disciples Minu Garu, Jaya Pathak, Heena Wasen and Parinita Khanna. It had an old world charm. Dovetailing salient features of Lucknow gharana Kathak, the four maidens swirled gracefully highlighting the nazaakat, delicacy and khoobsurati, the beauty of Lucknow gharana. The foot work, the grouping, incorporating gat nikas with their delicate movements, placing the palm on the cheek in rukhsar ki gat, sensuous and dancing forward, almost recreated the durbar, the court, where the four dancers were performing casting a spell on the onlookers. Kudos to Krishan Mohan for evoking such nostalgia and giving us glimpses into the exquisite choreographic work of yore!

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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