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Bengaluru Bonanza
Nupura's Nitya Nritya Festival and a seminar

- Dr. Sunil Kothari

August 30, 2012

Since this year, Lalitha Srinivasan, Director of Nupura, has changed the time frame of her annual Nitya Nritya Festival and a seminar from month of April to August. The Srinivasans conducted a five day festival from 1983 till 1999 for 16 long years. For various reasons they could not continue this unique national festival of dance in Bangalore. But as Mr. Srinivasan puts it, "Once again like the Phoenix bird rising from its own ashes, the festival has come back to life for the past four years." It is true. In Bengaluru, in those years no other organization and even the Government of Karnataka had not visualized a national festival of dance on such a scale when in 1983, the first Nitya Nritya festival was organized.

Lalitha Srinivasan

It was Kamala Devi Chattopadhyay who had introduced me to the Srinivasans when Lalitha visited Delhi for a performance. I used to then write for the Indian Express as a dance critic. I had joined Central Sangeet Natak Akademi as Asst. Secretary, Dance. I had by then seen Venkatalakshamma, the legendary Mysore School of Bharatanatyam exponent. Lalitha Srinivasan had studied under her. Besides Bharatanatyam, Lalitha was interested in learning and knowing about other classical dance forms. As she spoke about the present festival during the seminar at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, her thirst for knowledge for other dance traditions led her husband Srinivasan to undertake this venture. "Our Nupura School of Dance was established in 1978 in Malleswaram. But besides training young dancers into Mysore School of Bharatanatyam, I was very keen to expose them to other classical dance forms. We received support from well wishers and Bengaluru audiences. And we launched Nitya Nritya Festival inviting leading dancers and gurus to Bengaluru."

Fortunate as the Srinivasans were, the response from dancers and gurus from other states and dance forms was exemplary. Apart from covering the festival and seminar for the Times of India group of publications, I also read papers and gave lec-dems with performing artistes, with slide projection of different locations where dance forms like Odissi and Kuchipudi were being performed. I remember the one I presented on Odissi with Aloka Kanungo with evidences from dance sculptures of Odisha (as now it is known) and various Odissi dance poses inspired from the sculptures of nata mandap of Konark temple, Lingaraja, Raja Rani, Brahmeswar, Kedar Gauri, Ananta Vasudev, with epigraphical evidences and slides of manuscript of Abhinaya Chandrika, the various poses of Bandha Nritya and so on. Those indeed were the halcyon days when one was able to watch, interact, absorb, observe the demonstrations, to name a few, of legendary gurus like Kelucharan Mohapatra, Vedantam Satyanarayana Sarma (Satyam), the Jhaveri Sisters, Yamini Krishnamurti , Sanjukta Panigrahi, Sonal Mansingh, choreographic works of Mrinalini Sarabhai, Kumudini Lakhia, Chandralekha and others.

During the Nitya Nritya Festival and seminars conducted in those years for five days, one feasted one's eyes on performances of leading dancers including dancers from Bengaluru. From Mysore, the renowned scholar Dr, Satyanarayana would conduct the morning sessions with scholarly paper presentations, demonstrations of Mysore School of Bharatanatyam, abhinaya sessions of Venkatalakshamma, abhinaya sessions of Kalanidhi Narayanan from Chennai and others. Dance and music scholar, critic BVK Sastri, Gurus US Krishna Rao and his wife UK Chandrabhaga Devi, Bharatanatyam exponent Leela Ramanathan, Shanta Rao, Vimala Rangachar and her daughter Revathi and cousin Asha, Guru Muthaiah Pillai, son of Meenakshisundaram Pillai, Maya Rao's husband Nataraj, redoubtable critic SN Chandrashekhar and others were the prime participants.

The Bengaluru gurus Keshava Murthy, Narmada, and Kitappa Pillai from Tanjore were very active and the morning sessions and evening performances were rewarding as one learnt a lot. From US Krishna Rao's school, young dancers including Prathibha Prahlad and others were up and coming dancers. Manna Srinivasan was also part of these seminars and festivals and used to join us from Delhi/Chennai. I often stayed with Prof. US Krishna Rao and Vimala Rangachar. Lalitha Srinivasan is a neighbour of Vimala Rangachar. BVK Sastri, Nataraj and I used to spend a lot of time together. Maya Rao was then at Delhi. Nataraj would regale us with several amusing anecdotes of dancers and dance world. He had a great sense of humour and often it was "no holds barred conversation minus any malice."

Nitya Nritya festival also bought us closer to Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan branch of Bengaluru. HN Suresh, the present director of Bhavan, was a young, energetic and a constant companion to Srinivasans and was part of Nupura dance school from its inception. The scholar Dr. Ranganath was associated with Bhavan. In Mumbai, I was along with Ajit Sheth, Jt. Secretary of the cultural wing of Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan till I moved to Kolkata. Therefore our close association strengthened our relations in field of cultural activities in dance and music.

Nitya Nritya festival was of a national character. It brought artistes from Mumbai, Kolkata, Bhubaneswar, Kuchipudi village, Chennai and created a platform to showcase dance forms like Odissi, Manipuri, Kuchipudi, Kathak, and Gurus like Kelucharan Mohapatra, Bipin Singh, Vedantam Satyam, Kalanidhi Narayanan, who mesmerized the audiences with their humility and exposition of distinct dance forms.

One morning in April 2008, I received a call from Suresh from Bhavan in Bengaluru, asking me to keep myself free on 29th April for the festival and also prepare a lecture for World Dance Day. I was delighted to learn that Srinivasans were once again starting the Nitya Nritya festival. So from 2008 onwards, Bengaluru once again became my second home.

This year, the Srinivasans were keen to invite Sattriya dancers as they had so far not scheduled them and also Thang-Ta martial artistes from Imphal, Manipur. The venue was JS Auditorium at Jaya Nagar for inauguration on the morning of August 18. Chief Guest was Dr. K Sidappa, Director, JSS Foundation for Science and Society and also former Vice Chancellor of Karnataka University. President Dr. VK Aatre presided over the function which was followed by a lec-dem of Sattriya dances by Anita Sharma and her troupe form Guwahati. Trained by Sattriya Guru Jatin Goswami, Anita had started studying Odissi under Gorima Hazarika. Most of the Sattriya dancers have besides Sattriya, studied Odissi, Bharatanatyam or Kathak dance forms also. But with the recognition of Sattriya dances in 2000 as the eighth classical dance form, it has received unprecedented support from leading dancers of Guwahati and other parts of Assam. It was in 1958, during All India Dance Seminar at Vigyan Bhavan in Delhi, organized by Sangeet Natak Akademi that Dr. Maheswar Neog had brought the traditional celibate monks to present the dance form from Kamalabari Sattra of Majuli Island on River Brahmaputra. It had all the characteristics of a classical dance form but was rarely seen outside Assam. Though it was recognized for SNA Award as a traditional dance form, it took several years to get the recognition as a classical dance form, whereas Odissi and Kuchipudi received and became very popular.

Anita Sharma runs an academy Abhinay at Guwahati offering training both in Sattriya and Odissi, though the emphasis has now shifted to Sattriya. A sizeable number of her disciples are performing professionally. Anita has received accolades for her performances within India and abroad. I had brought a film Mists of Majuli Island to show the location of Majuli Island on River Brahmaputra, but due to some glitch, the colours were distorted and the screening was poor.

Anita Sharma

Anita Sharma and her troupe

Anita introduced the subject and went on directly to demonstrate the ground exercises known as Mati Akhara, which prepares the dancer for movements and basic stance and gradual development. A series of Mati Akharas form a group of dance units and like adavus in Bharatanatyam and arasas in Odissi, the nritta vocabulary is developed. The dance numbers like Chali, including Rajghariya Chali performed before royalty, displayed the nritta aspect. Gitor nach is another nritta number, but of late the song which accompanies it is rendered with abhinaya.

The solo form is a part of the dance dramas known as Ankiya Nat and Bhaona, and is derived for presentation as a solo number. Vachikabhinaya is a part of dance drama. Anita and her daughter Aarhi Kaushik demonstrated a brief sequence of Jhumura, dance dramas written by Sankardev's disciple Madhav Dev. It was from Pimpri Guchuwa. Similar to Krishnakarnamritam, a gopi questions Krishna for putting his hand in the pot full of curd. He says, "I am picking up ants" and later on says, "I am looking for a calf which is lost." The gopi is won over by his antics. Another sequence was from Parijat Harana, in which Satyabhama is displeased with Krishna for having given Parijat flower to Rukmini. The vachikabhinaya was interestingly rendered in Brajbuli, a language that's a mix of Mythili and Assamese.

Sattriya music has a peculiar feature of tala, time cycle structure. In a song of four stanzas, each line of a song has different tala. Quite complicated. Sattriya also has classical ragas and talas and were explained by Bhaskar Jyoti Ojha, a traditional musician from Barpeta Sattra. Prasanna Kumar rendered Borgeet melodiously highlighting the regional flavor of Assamese musical tradition. The demonstration concluded in a fast tempo kharman tala.

It was followed by a Bharatanatyam recital by Yamini Muthanna. She is a disciple of Mysore based Bharatanatyam dancer Vasundhara Doraswamy and is equally adept like her guru in Yoga. She presented Navagraha, a thematic choreographic work enacting the mythological stories connected with the nine planets Surya, Chandra, Mangala, Buddha, Brihaspati, Shukra, Shani, Rahu and Ketu. She has excellent command and control over her body and took various yogic postures with great ease. They looked appropriate in many sequences and looked awe inspiring. Each graha depiction was preceded by commentary. The presentation thus appeared rather long and would benefit if introduction is given in the beginning, as most of the anecdotes connected with the planets are known. Music if controlled and less loud would help the production in its impact. Yamini Muthanna did her guru proud and impressed audience with her art.

Yamini Muthanna

Urmila Satyanarayanan

In the evening, the star performer was Chennai based Bharatanatyam exponent Urmila Satyanarayanan, trained by KJ Sarasa and Dandayuthapani Pillai. A svelte figure, expressive visage, mastery over tala, laya and idiom, Urmila has carved a special niche for herself. Her movements are sparkling, arresting and have complete resolutions. Nothing is sloppy or lackluster. She chose Devi stuti in Ragamalika dwelling upon Devi's iconographic anecdotal, narrative aspects succinctly with an aura enveloping her frame. As a princess born out of fire yajna, Meenakshi to Pandya King, she was brought up as a princess, well versed in archery and like a warrior. When she met Lord Shiva, she was attracted to him, her third breast fell and she turned in to a charming princess and wedded Lord Sundareswara. This episode was well enacted suggestively and with proper dramatic effect.

For two padams for abhinaya, she selected a composition in Shanmukhapriya in which a samanya nayika, a courtesan, tells her maid she will not entertain anyone even if he were Lord Shiva, Kartikeya or someone else unless she gets her 6,000 golden coins. But when she opens the door and sees the divine person, her heart melts, she is overwhelmed and takes him into her bed chamber with great awe. The different emotions were well registered by her. In the other composition in rag Behag, she dealt with a mugdha nayika enjoying her lover's teasing her, but scared of his advances as she is not well versed in game of love play. Urmila enacted the role with such consummate artistry that one literally saw a young mugdha nayika in her depiction, such was her engaging artistry. She left an indelible impression with an enjoyable performance. Her musicians led by Swamimalai Suresh gave her excellent support and elevated the standard of the recital.

Sattriya dances were presented by Anita Sharma and troupe consisting of a repertoire which included Krishna Vandana with Sutradhari Nach, Chali Nach with Ramdani, Gitor Nach and Mela Nach, a borgeet by Madhav Dev for abhinaya and an excerpt of Uma Rudra Sanbad from the 4th chapter of Bhagawat written by Sankardev. Anita presented well organized programme for one hour beginning with Krishna Vandana and Sutradhari Nach eulogising the virtues of Lord Krishna and as a part of beginning of the performance, Sutradhari Nach which introduced the presentation in an abbreviated manner suitable for contemporary urban modern stage.

In Chali Nach with its constituent parts of Ramdani, Gitor Nach and Mela Nach, nritta was performed with her daughter Arrhi Kaushik, Srutimala Medhi, Priyamvada Bharati which gave glimpses of complex nritta patterns of Sattriya dances. Dressed in attractive Assamese costumes the group's coordinated movements were full of ulah, the typical up and down bobbing movements, a salient feature of Sattriya dances. "Utha meri Lal", a song by Madhav Dev was chosen by Anita for a solo presentation for abhinaya dwelling upon the vatsalya emotion of mother Yashoda harkening her child Krishna to wake up and join the cowherd boys who were waiting for him to go and graze cows. The love for child Krishna was depicted with appropriate emotions registering on face and through angikabhinaya. The poetry of Madhav Dev's borgeet as it is known was in Brajbuli describing the early morning and creating a mood becoming the song, describing rising morning sun and nature and how other cowherd boys were ready, how mother had prepared morning breakfast for Krishna to take with him and so on.

But the piece de resistance was Uma Rudra Sambad, which was dramatically staged by Anita as Uma who in spite of Lord Shiva's advice not to go uninvited, visits her father's place where other Gods were invited but not her Lord. Her father and others did not receive her properly and ignored her. Sati jumped into the fire and Lord Shiva came in anger lifting the body of Uma. The backup chorus like group of dancers formed at times the other Gods and at times watching helplessly Sati's immolation. Then delivering from Bhagawat the message to the audience the group concluded the story. The elements of drama were well chosen, in impersonating roles of Uma and Shiva, Anita succeeded in presenting different emotions in a mature manner.

It was performed to recorded music as it was not possible to bring all musicians barring two. However the impact was aesthetic and Sattriya dances in its few aspects of solo, group dance and extract from dance drama form from Bhagawat were well chosen. It became poignant in terms of peace loving North Eastern communities leaving Bengaluru on account of rumours when hundreds of Assamese people also left for Guwahati. Else, they would have come to see Sattriya dances as the artists had come all the way from Guwahati.

Hari and Chethna

Next day on 19th August, the morning session took place at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. The seminar on Art Journalism with participants Leela Venkataraman, VAK Ranga Rao, Usha RK and I as moderator touched upon dance criticism and various facets of it. At present, the media does not give space for reviews. VAK Ranga Rao referred to dance criticism as was prevalent in the past, Usha RK suggested that more young people should be trained. On 29th July she had organized a one day seminar which was a runaway success and brought various speakers and dancers together to discuss the present state. She has also instituted two scholarships for young journalists for training. Leela Venkataraman drew attention to present day crisis and larger picture than dance criticism - the plight of young dancers, few opportunities of performances, difficulties in getting musicians and extreme monetary hardships. The media barons' apathy to art needs to be tackled. Unless they give importance to art coverage and related issues, the crisis would continue. I was told young Bharatanatyam dancer Aishwariya Nityananda, disciple of Radha Sridhar, gave an impressive performance. I missed it.

In the evening, the venue was Ravindra Kalakshetra. Kathak duo Hari and Chethna trained by Bharathi Vithal, who had studied under Maya Rao, have taken guidance during workshops with Kumudini Lakhia and Geetanjali Lal. They have graduated from Maya Rao's Natya Institute of Kathak and Choreography. The husband and wife team have engaging stage presence and have been steadily making their mark on the dance scene in Bangalore, participating in international events with Usha Venkateshwaran in Maximum India festival at Washington.

Performing to recorded music, attired in eye catching costumes, they gave glimpses of traditional Kathak, dancing thematically to Malhar, rainy season, interweaving nritta numbers, thaat, tode tukde, parans, tatkar. Reminding me of Kumudini's Yugal number, in which a male and female dance, one in centre, the other circling around, they danced in perfect sync and looked impressive. They also presented dance to 'Hazaron Khwahishien' Urdu ghazal centred theme with change of costumes and different texture. Since they have an attractive stage presence and dance in a seamless manner, they create a favourable impression. What they need is further training which shall help them refine the rough edges of their Kathak, giving it polish and perfection. They have potential and are bound to go places. It would help if the recorded music sound is checked in advance to avoid high decibel. Lighting was well designed.

Tat Tvam Asi

Tat Tvam Asi

Tat Tvam Asi, (that through art) a feature from Gita Govinda, choreographed by Lalitha Srinivasan with students of Nupura school, centred round celebration of the quest to attain the highest states in which individual self dissolves inseparably in the Supreme, a delineation of Radha, and her quest for Krishna, the reunion of the Jeevatma with the Paramatma, the journey of the individual soul to fulfillment, truth and eternal happiness. The choreographer's note further states about reality, the quintessence of truth, the individual self, the embodied soul and quest for supreme happiness. Lalitha Srinivasan has attempted through ashtapadis of Gita Govinda, to give shape to abstract concepts. She has interwoven Bhartruhari's Shringarashataka shloka to speak of Radha's passionate love for Krishna. The role of sakhi is to bring Radha and Krishna together. Ashtapadis like "Sanchara dadhara sudha madhura dhwani" depict Radha in a state of envy seeing Krishna dallying with other gopis, when sakhi tells her not to be away from Krishna.

She says to Radha to shed jealousy and open the gates of her heart. The Lord is showing you a divine path, where there is no room for petty and negative emotions, but there is just pure love. From Bhagavatapurana verses were taken to depict how Radha is lost in thought of Krishna, but her pride and ego does not allow her to reconcile with Krishna. Sakhi explains to her to overcome ego which finally would help her to unite with Krishna. After a long arduous journey, Radha finally realizes and unites with Krishna. With 'Kuru Yadu nandana' ashtapadi rendered by Radha dancing in front and Krishna at the back, the choreographer has attempted to show both have been united. The commentary from Narada Bhakti Sutra deals with Guna Mahatmya which states the complete identification with super self. Bliss and pure intelligence merge with Krishna. Fellow travellers in the attainment of Supreme Bliss call him Krishna, love, peace, fulfillment of life's mission or the realization of soul's desire. According to Narada Bhakti Sutra, the merging of soul with Paramatma is the ultimate bliss.

The dance drama is divided in various sections with the commentary. Gita Govinda appears as a peg round which this philosophy is woven. The dancers displayed the customary training of Nupura. Manasa as Radha looked charming and beautiful with element of innocence. The dancer who played the role of Krishna danced with agility. They both made a good pair. The music was melodious and the team work was praiseworthy. Lighting by Sai Venkatesh was appropriate for the sequences.

On 20th August, the morning session was at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. Renowned musicologist and Vedic scholar Dr. Pappu Venugopal Rao gave an illustrated talk on Jaydeva in literature, music, dance and films. Erudite, easy to grasp, full of detailed information and all persuasive, the talk with excerpts of clippings from vintage films kept audience glued to their seats. Such discourse on Jayadeva is most welcome and the morning session began on a high scholarly and entertaining note. The scholar Shatavadhani Dr. R Ganesh was the chief guest who praised the speaker for his excellent presentation.

With excerpts of various contemporary works, Mayuri Upadhya of contemporary dance company Nritarutya, gave clear idea of their approach to contemporary dance. Using technology, videography, spoken word, various dance vocabularies and referring to changing times, attitudes, Mayuri charted the trajectory of her choreographic works and her company's work in an impressive manner. Her sweep was wide and examples of Western choreographers Pilobolus company, Sidi Larbi, Cirque du Soleil were interestingly projected. Their own experiment, inspired from Roysten's 'Manganiar Magic' with set of 36 boxes with dancers in each box, light design, music etc for a wedding was excellent. Her talk threw fresh light on contemporary dance as a continuum and not opposite binary. It was heartening to see Nitya Nritya offering platform for contemporary dance movement.

Preethi Sunderraj, a disciple of Padmini Ravi, gave a scintillating Bharatanatyam performance. Her varnam in role of Valli, the tribal maiden in love with Lord Murugan, was a tour de force. She wove in nritta the imageries of a tribal girl, depicting flora and fauna, birds and animals of the forest and danced with verve. The expressions in abhinaya section also looked appropriate for a tribal girl. There was no doubt that Preethi had worked hard and attempted an individual treatment for the varnam. Padmini Ravi conducted the nattuvangam. Preethi's dance was energetic and engaging. However, certain repose would help her to leave a balanced impression on audiences. In the padam, the vatsalya bhava was well depicted with lokadharmi abhinaya. In the final number of dance of Shiva choreographed by Padmini Ravi, she executed various karanas in an effortless manner.

Chitra Chandrasekhar Dasarathy

In the evening, Chitra Chandrasekhar Dasarathy presented a brief Bharatanatyam recital. P Praveen Kumar conducted the nattuvangam. In the Nattakuranji Varnam, Chitra emphasized lot of karuna rasa, begging of the Lord his compassion. The treatment would have looked balanced if the nayika was assertive for her own devotion. Also in some passages of nritta, Chitra did not look comfortable on account of speed. In the padam "Thaye Yashoda" after narrating Krishna's pranks, she took the padam to a higher level telling Yashoda that her son also opened his mouth and showed Brahmanda. It ended on an interesting note.

The finale was Thang Ta, martial arts of Manipur by Huyen Lallong Thang Ta Cultural Association of Sangeet Natak Akademi awardee Gour Kishore Sharma. His son G Bireshwar Sharma led the troupe of three female and three male martial dancers. Technical terms apart like Ta-Khousaba, duel, spear dance and other names, the presentation was breathtaking. Sparks flew when the swords struck in combat, and the audience sat on the edge of their seats. Duel fighting with sword and shield, fighting between man with spear and swordsman, two swordsmen with double swords, a man lying on the floor placing cucumber on his chest, another man blindfolded, moving in all directions and cutting the cucumber (quite scary), fighting with spade and dagger, triple fight of one versus two men, an amazing three stick dance, in which a male handles three sticks without any falling on floor performing with acrobatic skill. Gour Kishore Sharma's daughter and the two female artistes performed with aplomb. The audience gave them a standing ovation.

During the festival, unfortunately on account of rumours, people from North East were leaving Bengaluru and special trains were provided to meet the rush. It was unfortunate and the visiting artistes from Assam and Manipur were also apprehensive to visit Bengaluru. Their visit was without any mishap. However, they would have loved resident North East community to watch their dance.

Lalitha Srinivasan received Shantala award, the highest government recognition from Karnataka for her long career and contribution to dance. She was felicitated at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan and at Ravindra Kalakshetra by a large number of her disciples and well wishers. In the foyer of Ravindra Kalakshetra, an audio visual presentation was also arranged giving highlights of Nupura and her career. It is a well deserved award for dedicating her life to the cause of dance.

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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