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23rd Parampara Festival of Dance and Music
Photos courtesy: Natya Tarangini

September 10, 2019

On 30th August, all roads led to Kamani Auditorium for the inauguration of the 23rd Parampara Dance and Music Festival organized by Raja and Radha Reddy's Natya Tarangini institute. Organized for the past 22 years, it features top dance gurus and musicians showcasing their disciples in terms of Parampara, in terms of how tradition is passed on from generation to generation, to present great gurus like Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra in Odissi and Pandit Birju Maharaj in Kathak and their recent new disciples in respective dance forms.

I had not attended the Parampara Festival for past four years as I was touring. Raja, Radha and Kaushalya Reddy have over the years earned lot of goodwill with a large following in the capital. They have trained for past 40 years, hundreds of students in their institution. Therefore when I saw the turnout of the audience I was further impressed at the disciplined way they were seated and there was pin drop silence. Normally, my experience is of a noisy crowd when the admission is free. The arrangements for inviting the audience Kaushalya informed me, was that they have a good data base and they collect the passes online and attend in large number. That was heartening.

After the usual lighting of the lamp and Raja's own announcement about Bharat Bharati, the latest choreography dwelling upon the eternal values that are found in our sacred texts and in Bharatamuni's Natyashastra, the group choreography opened up with traditional Rangapuja as is seen in Kuchipudi, the young dancers sprinkling the water to sanctify the stage. Then entered a bevy of apsara like young maidens holding plates in their hands and started decorating the place, performing to shlokas and created an atmosphere of devotion. Raja and Radha dressed in normal clothes appeared on stage, explained through dance the evolution of Natyashastra, how from four Vedas it was created as fifth Veda.

Yamini and Bhavana Reddy

Natya Tarangini dancers
The dancers in a centripetal position created an image and one saw Brahma with four Vedas, and the emergence of Natyashastra. Raja and Radha told how Lord Shiva in ardhanarishwara form performed tandava and lasya. Yamini and her sister Bhavana enacted the shloka in an engaging manner, Yamini displaying tandava, vigorous movements and Bhavana demonstrated lasya, delicate movements. The other dancers turned into an assembly watching this divine dance. Followed religious discourse with back projection of Om for Hindu, Urdu calligraphy for Muslim, Cross for Christian and two dancers pairing to singing of Wahe Guru for Sikh. It was exquisitely choreographed, and the music for each religion sung beautifully, for Muslim evoking azaan, for Christian the prayer from Bible, for Hindu religion the shloka and for Sikh, Guru Granth Sahib's Wahe Guru. The message that all religions are one was conveyed in a touching manner. The audience responded with loud clapping. What a timely message in the present day troubled times!

Lavanya, the female singer from Hyderabad and the young male vocalist evoked the echoes of the prayers of Muslim and Wahe Guru succinctly. The shloka 'Saha navavatu .. Saha viryam karavavahai' resounded in the auditorium. Raja's choreography was outstanding in conceptualization and its dance execution, with all the flavours of Kuchipudi. Nattuvangam by Kaushalya Reddy as usual lent the dramatic and subtle touches. Rajat Prasanna on flute, G.Raghavendra on violin lent adequate support. The young dancers displayed excellent technique. Lighting by Sandip Dutta was evocative.

As is the practice for Parampara Festival, each day dance program was followed by a music recital. On the first evening, it was Shuba Mudgal's Hindustani vocal recital. She was in great form and regaled the audience with her sonorous singing, presenting Maru Bihag, Megha raga, a dadra, and a thumri. The thumri with bandish of 'Jhula jhule Nandalal sange Radha' had exquisite simile of the rain that fell was like the sword of Kamadeva, and Radha requesting Krishna if he would play flute, she would sing Kajari. Shuba Mudgal with tabla accompaniment by her husband Dr. Aneesh Pradhan won great appreciation from the music aficionados.

Shuba Mudgal

Sujata Mohapatra
Day two
The program opened with Sujata Mohapatra's Odissi. Disciple and daughter-in-law of Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra, Sujata once again reiterated that following her Guru's choreographic works, she shines. Her Mangalacharan with stuti 'Shantakaram Bhujagashayanam' had all the serenity and evocative devotion, bhakti followed by trikhandi pranam. She executed Pallavi in Hamsanandi raga with supreme confidence. The phrasing, the rhythm, the line, the gesture, stillness and complex coordination of her movements were captivating. But her presentation of Ramayana choreographed by Kelubabu based on Upendra Bhanja's songs was marvelous.

It is said that so far as there are mountains on this earth and rivers will flow, the story of Ramayana will continue to enchant people. Sujata's enactment was spellbinding. I had few months ago seen her present it in Charlotte in USA. And I was once again watching it with equal interest. What is it that Sujata succeeds in evoking this feeling of wonder? Her dance opens different windows on what dance can convey. In Panchavati plucking flowers she requests Lord Rama to place it on her hair, watches with him elephants swaying and peacock dancing. Enters a golden deer that bewitches her and she tries to capture it, but it eludes her. Requesting Rama to beget the deer, Rama entrusting Sita to Lakshmana, proceeds to capture the deer, but it also eludes him. The deer is none else but Maricha in disguise who cried "Lakshmana, Lakshmana," at which Sita gets frightened and begs Lakshmana to rush to help Rama. Lakshmana assured her that in the three worlds none can harm Lord Rama, but a worried Sita taunts Lakshmana that he seems to have other designs. Unable to hear such words from Sita, Lakshmana draws a line, one that anyone trying to enter will meet with fire, the other with serpents and would not be able to cross the third; he begs of Sita not to cross the lines, but Ravana arrives in disguise as a mendicant and insists that she cross the lines and give him alms. Unwillingly with heavy heart Sita crosses and Ravana lifts the very earth on which she is standing and kidnaps her in a chariot. Sita drops her ornaments on earth from the sky, and sees Jatayu bird who confronts Ravana and challenges him. Ravana cuts off his wing, Jatayu falls to the ground, still trying to fight but is defeated and wounded. In search of the missing Sita, Rama and Lakshmana see the wounded Jatayu, who reveals that Ravana has taken her to Lanka. Jatayu being Rama's great devotee, Rama pours sacred water on him and blesses him, whereby his soul soars to heaven, singing Rama's name. Rama is seen holding his bow stretched in Southern direction to follow Ravana. The lights slowly fade and Lord Rama's figure dissolves.

So gripping was the depiction that the audience gave Sujata a standing ovation. Sujata portrayed each character with consummate artistry. The spell was not broken. Having seen Sujata's presentation of the same theme, I still wonder what makes me enjoy with equal joy as I had experienced in Charlotte. I recall what New York Times dance critic Alastair Macaulay had observed during her performance in New York, before she came to Charlotte: 'Sujata combines ultimate objectivity and clarity with an architectural and expressive control of every nuance. Just as you are ravished by the perfect line and virtual detachment of one moment, the muscles in her face shift subtly and you are drawn differently into the deep absorption of her performance ...' May she continue to give such aesthetic delight to her ever growing admirers.

From Trichur, two Carnatic vocalists known as Trichur Brothers followed Sujata Mohapatra's performance. I could not attend it, but I was told by the connoisseurs that they were brilliant.

Day three

Sanjukta Sinha

Kadamb dancers
From Ahmedabad came Kumudini Lakhia's dancers of Kadamb Academy of Dance and Music. What can one say about this indefatigable, most creative choreographer, who at 90, continues to surprise us with her amazing Kathak choreographies. Led by her senior disciple Sanjukta Sinha, Kumudini had sent her troupe to present one solo by Sanjukta, an excerpt from her latest production Meraki, and group dance titled Aakar. Kumudini has been inviting few male dancers who perform under her guidance with impeccable brilliance. Their chakkars are breathtaking, footwork flawless and coordination superb.

Sanjukta has created her own style of Kathak which is powerful, aggressive yet enjoyable, commanding attention as if the stage belongs to her. She enters with majestic stance, unleashes footwork with concentration and ends on sam with perfect pose, raising her two arms in consonance with the rhythm. Her abhinaya was minimal looking for Shyama, Krishna. But there was tremendous anguish and pain that one saw in her leaps across the stage or strong footwork.

In contrast entered five to six maidens dressed in orange coloured lovely costumes. They looked like maidens frolicking in a garden, dancing joyously, bending like the creepers, putting their palms together, at times clapping and taking chakkars filling up the stage. The lighting throughout the three presentations played an important role, As if it was another character in the group. The way the dancers moved gracefully, investing each movement with visual beauty left an indelible impression. They formed groups of three, sometimes one alone on one side, and other three or four forming another group, and what one saw was the kaleidoscopic movements. You turn the kaleidoscope a little and you see different patterns. We see Sanjukta crossing this group of maidens and there enter with defiance a group of five male dancers walking like warriors and reciting as if answering what one says and then replies and like ripple it moves Dha Taka Thunga, Dhaghe Dheghe Dha, the aamad of Kathak divided into five dancers and they all move with a brave stance. Sheer pleasure to see the male dancers well dressed in beige colour and different shades of kurtas electrifying the stage with their vigorous chakkars, at times few sitting on the floor and getting up one by one and covering the entire stage in a circle.

The young maidens join them, they form partners and dance gracefully as a yugal, then move in a circle and form groups. Sanjukta intervenes, moves across them inviting young maidens to join. The dancing takes a collective joyous mood. Then they walk a normal walk and one by one led by Sanjukta disappear in the wing. The audience starts screaming and clapping. This is the new trend to display appreciation. The young in the crowd scream when the male dancers take vigourous chakkars, stamp their feet in a fast tatkar, footwork, arrive on a sam and surprise one and all. Kathak in hands of Kumudini has taken a contemporary form, retaining the intricate original traditional legacy. Doubtless the dancers from Kadamb 'wowed' the audience.

Jayateerth Mevundi

The three day festival concluded with Hindustani vocal recital by the young and in great demand, from Dharwad, Jayateerth Mevundi. An efficient singer with melodious voice he is the doyen of Kirana Gharana. He was discovered by Pandit Arjunsa Nakod and chiseled by Shripati Paadegar, a disciple of no less a giant, Pandit Bhimsen Joshi. Jayateerth regaled the audience with Miyan ki Malhar raga and Shadaj Gandhar with his own bandish and a Surdas bhajan. He is a star among the young musicians.

The three day Parampara Festival ended on the musical note. Raja, Radha and Kaushalya Reddy deserve congratulations for offering such sumptuous fare for three evenings. Mention must be made of Sadhna Srivastava, the inimitable one and only compere who introduced the artists with her customary finesse and flair.

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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