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Parampara Academy of Performing Arts, Ahmedabad
2nd annual celebrations: seminar and performances

- Dr. Sunil Kothari
Photos courtesy: Bijal Haria

March 6, 2012

Bijal Haria is a young Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi exponent, having received training in the classical dance forms from Smita Shastri at her Nartana School of Classical Dances. Later on, Bijal studied under Dr. Sandhya Purecha at Bharata College of Fine Arts and Culture, Mumbai, affiliated to Kavi Kula Guru Kalidas University, Nagpur. She received MFA in Dance from Bharata College of Fine Arts and Culture and has registered for Ph. D in dance working on Nrityaratnakosha Sanskrit text under the guidance of Dr. Sandhya Purecha.

Besides her studies, she has been teaching young dancers at Shashikunj Art and Culture Academy for the past four years. Establishing her own Parampara Academy of Performing Arts, Bijal aims at guiding her students to learn both theory and practice. She believes that knowledge of theory is equally important to master the classical dance forms, in order to grasp the basic aesthetics of our arts.

Bijal has been giving regular performances of Kuchipudi. Her repertoire consists of Krishna Shabdam, Gita Govinda ashtapadis and Kavutvams, special dance numbers from the tradition of late Guru CR Acharyalu, who had settled in Ahmedabad at Mrinalini Sarabhai's Darpana Academy of Performing Arts. She has been receiving guidance in Sanskrit literature from Dr. AM Upadhyay, former Professor and Head, Dept of Sanskrit, Bhavan's College of Arts and Science, Mumbai, who has settled in Ahmedabad and assists young dancers in their further studies in Sanskrit texts.

Parampara Academy of Performing Arts was inaugurated on 18th July 2010 in the presence of distinguished dancers including Kuchipudi exponent Raja Reddy (New Delhi), Dr. Sandhya Purecha (Mumbai), and local gurus Kumudini Lakhia, Smita Shastri, Dr. Uma Anantani and others. The modest beginnings have led Bijal to venture into inviting scholars and artistes from outstation to expose her students to different forms of dance and academic discourse.

Seminar on Dance and Aesthetics

On 18th February, she organized a morning session of seminar on Dance and Aesthetics with Dr. AM Upadhyay as a moderator. The participants were Kumudini Lakhia, Manipuri exponent Poushali Chatterjee, a disciple of Guru Bipin Singh from Kolkata, Dr. Suresh Desai, an art critic from Ahmedabad, and I. A large number of students and local dancers attended the seminar, which dealt with shastric principles and practice.

Dr. Upadhyay expounded upon Bharata's Natyashastra and basic terms explaining wider meanings of terms like Lasya and Tandava, the 4th chapter Tandava Lakshanam of Natyashastra, the 108 karanas, 32 angaharas, nine rasas and ashta nayikas, and their relevance for study of dance.

Kumudini Lakhia spoke of her personal experiences, inquiries, study of traditional Kathak from great masters like Shambhu Maharaj and Sunder Prasad-ji. Having mastered the technique, she explored the possibilities of extending horizons of dance and its vocabulary. The space and time elements in dance, abstraction in dance, less reliance on sahitya and one to one interpretation of each word and hasta (mudra) and possibilities of conveying meaning through abstraction. Responding to Rasa Theory as expounded in Natyashastra, she laid emphasis on art of suggestion. She complimented Bijal for organizing such a seminar with a large number of young students eager to learn about both shastra and prayoga.

In my lecture I explained why knowledge of Sanskrit is important. I firmly believe that our traditional classical dance forms deal a lot with Sanskrit literature. Unless one understands the text which is recited by the vocalist, the interpretation by the dancer of the Sanskrit text is not grasped by the audience. For instance, all classical dance forms begin with a prayer in Sanskrit. A dancer performs using hastas, angikabhinaya, mukhajabhinaya and conveys through body language and expressions the meaning of the prayer presented. If she describes the beauty of the Goddess comparing her face with that of a lotus, she springs in space through alapadma hasta (lotus), and brings another hasta with alapadma hasta juxtaposing lotus and face, thereby deconstructing the simile, upama of the text. This process is fascinating.

Rasa theory is derived from our cooking. We call concomitants like salt and sugar as vyanjana. From there comes the term vynjana - suggestion. The salt and sugar are dissolved when we taste the item but we relish and understand there is salt and there is sugar in what we are eating. Similarly, the suggestion works in poetry and dance. Dance is therefore called 'drishya kavya,' visual poetry.

Why do we enjoy sanchari bhavas, bhavas which go along with sthayi bhava? They embellish sthayi bhava which we enjoy. When a young dancer starts performing with such understanding, her presentation makes an impression on the audience. The best way is to start a series of dance appreciation courses, which would prepare an enlightened audience.

Poushali Chatterjee spoke of sixty four divisions of shringara as found in Gaudiya Vaishanivsm. In text like Ujjwalanilamani of Rupa Goswami, these are mentioned and find expression in Manipuri dances. Her students demonstrated some aspects. One more example Poushali gave was of how space is explored in Kanduka khel (game of ball) played by Krishna and his friends. When the ball is thrown, the eyes of the dancer follow the space and the movement of the ball.

Guru Bipin Singh has further embellished with sanchari bhavas, ashtapadi "Yahi Madhava, Yahi Keshava" - go away Krishna, do not tell lies. In one stanza there is a description of Krishna's eyes besmeared with kajal, black of eyes of gopi whom he had kissed. The telltale marks were noticed by Radha. She tells Krishna to have a look, and with hasta showing mirror Poushali further embellished the sarcasm drawing attention of Krishna to his dark deeds, as he himself has dark skin, 'Tanotitanorumpam.' Another Brajabuli, Maithili pada of Vidyapati referred to various marks of Radha which Madana mistakes as marks of Shiva, and begs him not to torture her, as her garland is not Ganga flowing from Jata (hair), nor her bindi on forehead third eye of Lord Shiva. She requests him, "Kahe dhata tanu Madana hamara?" Why do you, Madana, agonize my body? Poushali also drew attention to various gaits used in natasankirtana and in competition between gopis singing in tara spataka - upper octave, 'Kunjaragamani' with grace of a walk of an elephant, the simile used in Sanskrit for graceful walk of a nayika. Her exposition helped young dancers to appreciate the nuances of Manipuri dances which are not so often seen in Ahmedabad.

Dr. Suresh Desai said that as an observer for past thirty years he has enjoyed performances of classical dances, music, theatre and since he was a professor teaching English literature, he enjoys literature a lot. Dance combines all these elements of music, literature, painting and movement. He also posed a problem: From Kalidasa's Kumarasambhavam kavya, there is a sequence about Parvati when Lord Shiva holds her hand. Kalidasa writes about the situation in which Parvati is placed. She could not move here or there - just stood transfixed on the spot - and in Sanskrit it is described as 'na yayau na tastau' (neither here nor there); it is one of the finest moments in love when a lover holds the hand of a nayika. Can it be depicted with that sort of subtlety?

It was an interesting poser. Therefore, I felt that Dr Suresh Desai was reiterating my viewpoint for appreciation of classical dances, and need for knowledge of Sanskrit. Our classical dances have two distinct aspects: Nritta, pure dance and the other Nritya, expressional dance. In Nritya, we use not only songs from Sanskrit language, but also of other languages like Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Hindi etc. Nowadays, the dancers explain before performing abhinaya numbers the gist of the songs they use of different languages, so there is an entry point into appreciation of dance.

Thanking the participants, Dr. Upadhyay concluded by saying that such seminars will go a long way in making classical dances more popular and people will have easy access to its subtleties.

Evening performances
In the evening were organized dance performances at Prakash High School Auditorium. Senior Kuchipudi exponent Raja Reddy from New Delhi had come specially to witness the proceedings. Dr. Monica Shah presented classical Hindustani vocal recital. It was followed by invocatory number in Bharatanatyam with Alarippu by Bijal's students, which gave an idea of the training the young dancers receive at the Academy. They danced in harmony and performed in a group.

From Kolkata, Manipuri dances including martial arts of Manipur viz., Thang- Ta (sword and spear) and Pung Cholom were presented by Nandanik Manipuri Dance Academy, an institution established by Poushali Chatterjee. Poushali Chatterjee presented Basant Raas choreographed by Guru Bipin Singh. Bedecked in the gorgeous colourful mirrored skirts, gossamer veils and typical Manipuri ornaments, Poushali and her dancers filled the stage and the air with a spirit of spring festival. Krishna, performed by a young female dancer dressed in special crown of Lord Krishna, yellow silk pitambar and black velvet jacket, danced Krishna Nartan with tandava aspect, whereas the Gopis moved slowly swaying gently in attractive costumes. The song "Nachat Shyam gopini sange" - Krishna dances with Gopis - evoked memories of watching Manipuri dances choreographed by Guru Bipin Singh, which I had witnessed for so many years. I had also watched these performances in Mumbai by the Jhaveri Sisters. Guruji's choreography followed the Pindibandhas, the group formations mentioned in the Natyashastra.

The Latabandha, formations of creepers, the Shrinkhala, the chain, the Gulma and the Bhedyaka were seen when Gopis linked their arms placing them on shoulders of other Gopis, coming together in the centre and spreading out the descriptions of Gulma and Bhedyaka, centripetal and centrifugal, moving out were seen. The visuals indeed are amazing in Manipuri Raaslilas. Formerly the Brajabuli and Bengali songs were a part of Manipuri Raaslilas. Guruji used them with finesse and were sung by Poushali's mother Atashi Chatterjee in a melodious voice. Poushali is lucky to have support from her mother's singing. Having received training from childhood in Guru Bipin Singh's style, Poushali with further training under Darshana Jhaveri and Guru Bipin Singh's wife Kalavati Devi, has imbibed the style with deep understanding and succeeds in presenting it in a succinct manner.

Manipuri by Poushali Chatterjee's troupe

Drum dance

The duet Kanduk khel, the ball game, was performed with split second precision and one could see the ball flying away in the river Jamuna. Krishna jumps into the water and serpent Kaliya and his wives appear. Poushali as Kaliya moved gracefully and the fight between Krishna and Kaliya was enacted successfully with the visual of Krishna dancing on the hood of serpent Kaliya. Poushali has structured the choreography with imagination and appropriate aharya, costumes of wives of Kaliya and serpent Kaliya.

In solo rendering of Kandarpapratiakshepa, Radha rebuking Kamadeva for mistaking her as Lord Shiva, Poushali registered expressions appropriately, describing her ornaments, with those of Lord Shiva's and persuading Kamadeva not to punish her. It is one of the finest lyrics by Vidyapati and there is also a Sanskrit version of it. Guru Bipin Singh has crafted it with great care like a jeweller. Both in terms of its poetic content and angikabhinaya, it indeed is a gem of a number.

The artistes who performed the martial arts using swords kept audiences sitting on the edge of their seats. The concentration while attacking and defending when opponent strikes the sword with force, keeps one aghast. Similarly, fight with spear and sword, the movements born out of practice of many years amaze audiences watching the skills of martial artists. When the swords strike, the fire sparks are seen.

Pung is the soul of Manipuri dances. The drum dances of Manipur are well known. The dancer dances while performing, executing complicated talas and taking somersaults in the air, landing pat on the sam, the concluding beat, on the floor. Often, when two pung players performed together, their headgears, white pugrees, fell at the same time in perfect sync. Placing the large drum on the floor in the centre and taking circles beating with two sticks, a dancer performs with such dexterity and acrobatic feats that one simply marvels at the flawless execution.

Guru Bipin Singh trained the female dancers to learn and play on Pung (Manipuri drum) while sitting on the floor. One male performer in the centre and two female performers played pung, placing them in a manner that three of them can play on different sides of the drums. These feats are a result of several years of practice. No wonder the audience cheered them by giving rounds of applause.

Bijal Haria

Mayur Kavutvam

In the finale, Bijal performed Mayur Kavutvam. "Valli Nayaka" goes the refrain. Lord Subrahmanya is husband of Valli, therefore the song starts with this invocation. On the floor is spread blue powder on which is kept a large canvass. To the singing and recitation of the complicated tala, the dancer steps on the canvass, moving in circles and on all sides. Then she steps out of the canvass, which is held by two stage hands and audiences watch an outline of a peacock. Bijal was assisted by her brother-in-law who arranged the projection on a screen when Bijal danced on the canvass. Thereby, the audience could watch how the movements follow the song.

These are rare numbers. Similar numbers of drawing Mahalakshmi, Ganapati and Simhanandini (lion) are also performed. Late guru CR Acharyalu's daughter Rangamani based in Hyderabad, possesses the expertise of these numbers as a legacy of her father.

'The eight darlings of Indian aesthetics' in English by Dr. AM Upadhyay was released on this occasion. It is a publication of Academy of Performing Arts, which gives dancers an idea of the ashta nayikas (eight heroines) as described in Natyashastra and other texts. Dr. Upadhyay has done a commendable job and deserves congratulations.

One compliments Bijal Haria for providing a role model to other dancers of younger generation, continuing with her doctoral studies and performances. With her dedication and full support from her family, Bijal is poised to embark upon her career successfully.

The performers with Guru Raja Reddy, Guru Kumudini Lakhia, Dr. Sunil Kothari, SD Desai, Dr. AM Upadhyay

Dr. Sunil Kothari
Dr. Sunil Kothari is a dance historian, scholar, author and a renowned dance critic. He is Vice President of World Dance Alliance Asia Pacific India chapter, based in New Delhi. He is honored by the President of India with Padma Shri, Sangeet Natak Akademi award and Senior Critic Award from Dance Critics Association, NYC. He is a regular contributor to, the roving critic for monthly magazine Sruti and is a contributing editor of Nartanam for the past 11 years.

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