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Centenary celebrations of Kathak guru Mohanrao Kallianpurkar (1913-2013)
- Dr. Sunil Kothari
Photos courtesy: Naad Roop

August 26, 2013

Kathak dancer Shama Bhate, director of Nad Roop institution, Pune, in collaboration with Maharashtra Cultural Centre held on 12th and 13th August, three sessions per day on the life and times of the celebrated Kathak guru and exponent Mohanrao Kallianpurkar at Jyotsna Bhole Sabhagriha from 9.30am till 9pm, with speakers reminiscing about Mohanrao's career and contribution.

Mohanrao Kallianpurkar

On 12th August, the speakers were Dr. Bharat Kallianpurkar (son of Mohanrao), Ashok Vajpeyi (Hindi poet, thinker, former chairman of Lalit Kala Akademi and currently director of Raza Foundation, New Delhi), Dr. Puru Dadhich (former Professor and Kathak exponent, Bhatkhande University, Lucknow), Dr. Chetna Jyotish Byohar (Director, Kathak Kendra, New Delhi), renowned tabla player Suresh Talwalkar, Padma Sharma (senior most disciple of Mohanrao from Mumbai).

Dr. Amar Kallianpurkar based in New Jersey spoke warmly about Mohanrao as a father, guardian, musician, dancer and teacher. It was an emotional and a loving portrait of a father and the audience including the young Kathak disciples of Nad Roop and other local institutions, connoisseurs, admirers of Mohanrao from different walks of life, and art lovers came to know more about Mohanrao's personal life. As a father, he was an affectionate person and more of a friend to his sons and daughter. His wife was a gynecologist and brought up her children well, when Mohanrao went to Lucknow to join Morris College of Hindustani Music at the invitation of Pt Ratanjankar to be head of the Dance Faculty to teach Kathak. A scholar and brilliant teacher, he was an all rounder, a musician who played various instruments including sitar and tabla, knew painting, sang melodiously, wrote poems, had good command over writing both in English and Hindi, studied science at St Xavier's College, was tall and handsome, gentle, with excellent sense of humour.

Way back in 1932 when he came in contact with Pt Sundar Prasad, a legendary Jaipur gharana Kathak maestro, he started learning Kathak from him. In those years, for an educated young man from an upper class Brahmin family to take to dancing was not heard of and dance was looked down upon as 'an art of women of ill fame.' That a man would pursue dance was unthinkable. With help of Mohanrao, Sundar Prasad started Bindadin Maharaj School of Kathak named after the great Kathak guru Bindadin Maharaj near Babulnath Temple in Mumbai. It attracted a few young female dancers like Nalini Jaywant, who later on became a well known film star, and Yashodhara Katju who also joined films. The famed Poovaiah Sisters from Coorg - Sita, Chitra and Lata - took lessons privately from Sundar Prasad. Sundar Prasad belonged to the Jaipur gharana but he established his school in the name of Bindadin Maharaj of Lucknow gharana. Japiur gharana people do not display photos of Bindadin Maharaj. Sundar Prasad showed courage to display his bhakti towards Lukcnow gharana and a Lucknow gharana guru. That was rare.

Most of the speakers recalled those days of Mohanrao and also told anecdotes of how Lachhu Maharaj performed Holi on the opening of the school, how well known pakhavaj and tabla players and vocalists like Amir Khan sahib associated with the school and systematic training was given in Kathak. Achhan Maharaj and Madame Menaka used to visit the school. The meeting of the great masters of music and dance was very fortuitous and created history as Kathak, a classical dance form of the north, got institutionalized. An art form which was being looked down upon because of its association with a class of women known as 'tawaifs' (women often referred to as prostitutes and entertainers), was not considered worthy of learning by educated middle class women and men.

Mohanrao Kallianpurkar

By 1939, when Pt Ratanjankar invited Mohanrao to teach at Morris College at Lucknow, Sunder Prasad was heartbroken as he depended upon his 'ganda bandh' shishya Mohanrao to assist him in running the school. Mohanrao was educated, soft spoken, dignified and an intelligent dancer. Sundar Prasad agreed to let him start a career as a guru at Lucknow. The Bindadin Maharaj School of Kathak was then closed.

Mohanrao's wife Shanta studied medicine and looked after their children. Mohanrao would visit Mumbai during summer vacation and be with his family. He looked after the upbringing of the children and continued to practice playing upon sitar and interacting with great musicians. In Lucknow he studied further from Achhan Maharaj and Shambhu Maharaj acquiring deep knowledge of the Lucknow and Jaipur gharana styles of Kathak. He was the first exponent and teacher who prepared a systematic syllabus of Kathak for university and in few years when other teaching institutions and universities started teaching Kathak, it was adopted by them. M.S. University of Baroda, Benaras Hindu University, Khairagarh University, Hyderabad all adopted the course. Mohanrao's contribution in that direction has been historic and is considered very significant, because so far the training was an oral tradition, when the technique was taught by traditional gurus, without any co-relation between technique and theory or any definite order.

A brilliant dancer, Mohanrao began to appear in many dance and music conferences. His accompanists were legendary maestros and he also had the good luck to appear when Shambhu Maharaj played tabla for him, in a three day festival on the occasion of inauguration of Bhatkhande College of Music and Dance. The next day, Shambhu Maharaj performed and on the final day Achhan Maharaj performed. Having studied from these two great stalwarts and to perform on the same stage as they did was for Mohanrao an endorsement of his talent as a performer.

In his long career as a guru, dancer, choreographer, he explored the Kathak form in its nritta aspect and also abhinaya aspect. He brought in many variations in performing tala as he saw what complexities could be understood and the form could be further extended along with traditional practice. For example, he choreographed Taal mala teen taal, jhap taal, dhamar, chautal, rupak and ashtamangal with 6 taalas theka, 70 matras and became Taal mala which Dr. Ratanjankar made ragamala for music using names of six ragas with a nagma 'shabdadhin' bandish.

Ganga Jamuna: Like Ganga and Jamuna are two separate rivers and there happens its confluence, with that concept taking two different talas, one of ten matras jhaptala and one of 15 matras panchamsavari, the meeting their sangam is in nagma of 30 matras. Another exploration was of Chitra Rupaka tala of 10 and half matras. In that, he incorporated traditional Ganeshparan, Paran Amad, Chhand etc. His challenge to students was to perform them and master the talas, fractions and come on sam with elan. Later on while teaching Rohini Bhate, he taught her many of such talas and compositions and Rohini's disciple Shama Bhate recalls that he asked her to execute tala with five and quarter matras! It was indeed amazing how Mohanrao was extending the horizons of Kathak with his contemporary sensibilities.

His career span after retirement extended to Emeritus Professor at the National Centre for the Performing Arts in Mumbai form 1971 for ten years where he gave advanced training for exponents like Padma Sharma, Bhagyashree Oke, Raja Ketkar, Habiba Rehman, Anju Gupta. It was during his workshops at the NCPA that I connected with him once again. (He passed away on December 4, 1985).

In abhinaya, he studied a lot from Shambhu Maharaj (his article in the All India Dance Seminar souvenir of 1958 is a role model for anyone to analyze abhinaya and understand how imagination for 'upaj ang', on the spot improvisation and sanchari bhavas could be explained). His own choreographing of abhinaya numbers as taught to Rohini Bhate, "Aise Ram jagat hitkari," Surdasa's "Priti kari kahu sukha na lahyo," his attaching dohas to songs selected for abhinaya illuminated the abhidha, lakshana and vyanjana aesthetic elements and the connoisseurs responded with 'Ah!' - wow! In Gat Bhava, his 'Makhan chori,' 'Hori' and 'Kaliyadaman' won great admiration. Some of his rare compositions were demonstrated in the 'Open session' after morning session.

Dr. Puru Dadhich

Dr. Chetna Jyotish Byohar

Pt. Suresh Talwalkar

Bharat Kallianpurkar

Dr. Chetna Jyotish Byohar referred to Mohanrao's erudition, study of Natya Sastra texts, rare books, and his Hindi translation of Abhinaya Darpana of Nandikeshwar at the insistence of Umanath Rai Bali. Dr. Dadhi Puruch who succeeded him after Mohanrao's retirement always addressed him as elder brother agraja - and called himself as his 'anuja.' Mohanrao was a devotee and prayed for nine nights (Navaratri) as Shakti upasaka and his students joined him in the prayers.

Ashok Vajpeyi recalled Mohanrao's participation in Kathak prasangs held at Bharat Bhavan, Bhopal in the eighties, where some of us saw him demonstrating as well as explaining the subtle nuances of abhinaya, presenting papers on Guru Sundar Prasad, Birju Maharaj and also one on nritta ang of Kathak. Those were most memorable Kathak prasangs and Kathak dancer Rashmi Vajpeyi edited in Hindi titled 'Kathak Prasang' (Vani Prakashan, New Delhi 1992).

Mohanrao also choreographed dance-dramas (earlier they were termed as ballets) in Kathak. 'Shakuntala' was his first choreographed ballet with duration of one hour and twenty minutes. Drawing inspiration from Uday Shankar, he choreographed 'War and Peace' in which his principal student Vikram Singh played role of 'God of War' and Mohanrao 'God of Peace.' It was of 45 minutes duration. In 1943, he choreographed 'Vikramovarshiyam' which was in form of Gat Bhava. Dr Ratanjankar had composed music for it. The last production choreographed by Mohanrao was of 'Meghadoot' in which all aspects of production, dance, music, costumes, choreography were handled by Mohanrao himself.

Padma Sharma & Dr. Purnima Pande

Bhagyashree Oke

Roshan Datye

Subhash Chandra

Raja Ketkar

When one looks at his chequered career, one is surprised that he was such a low profile artiste, never sought fame and carried on his work in multi-dimension manner, embracing theory and practice. Speaker after speaker brought to our notice all these and also their personal experiences. Renowned tabla player Suresh Talwalkar, Kainkini, Bhagyashree Oke recounted their association with Mohanrao. Actor and film director Amol Palekar spoke of how he understood abhinaya from Mohanrao. He was his neighbor and used to address him as Mohan Anna. Amol had never seen his dance but through interaction with him he mentioned that he learnt a lot. Padma Sharma, Dr. Purnima Pande, Raja Ketkar, Bhagyashree Oke, Subhash Chandra who studied directly under Mohanrao narrated their memorable experiences and acknowledged their gratitude to him for the insights he gave them to appreciate Kathak in its totality.

Shama Bhate had managed to get excerpts from the archive of the NCPA, Mumbai, of rare recording of Mohanrao teaching dancers and a little of his own dancing with sound - the way Mohanrao expressed the bhava though glances was unforgettable. The impress of Shambhu Maharaj's training of abhinaya was internalized by him. One regretted that film director Mani Kaul could not complete editing that film and majority of recorded videos are lost. Also Rohini Bhate's video of "Aise Ram jagat hitkari" and "Priti kari kahu sukh na lahyo" was screened.

Aarti by Nad Roop troupe

Open Forum conducted by Gauri Sharma Tripathi

The after lunch session opened with Samuhagan, chorus by disciples of Shama Bhate composed by Mohanrao on his Guru Sunder Prasad, followed by Aarti Krishna Vandana as taught by Mohanrao .It was rendered by Aditi Upadhyaya .The Open Forum conducted by Gauri Sharma Tripathi, daughter of Padma Sharma, now dividing her time between London and Mumbai, was indeed very rewarding as we all saw practical demonstration of Mohanrao's compositions both in tala and abhinaya by the veteran artistes Padma Sharma, Purnima Pande, Raja Ketkar and Subhash Chandra. In particular Subhash, who studied under Mohanrao in his last years astounded all by demonstration of movements taught to him as those of Achhan Maharaj, Shambhu Maharaj and Mohanrao were exquisite in its exposition, leisurely in pace. In teen taal he showed Thaat, different ways of showing Amad, gats of Achhan Maharaj, bending of the body, using the floor, getting up with grace, turning of the back and throwing glances. The gat bhav and gat nikas reminded the seniors among the audience of the mesmerizing power of the legendary masters. With great humility, Subhash narrated how he studied all this.

He was in Benaras studying music from Balwantrai Thakur and was keen to learn Kathak. He came to Mumbai, attended workshops at Ahmedabad and wherever Mohanrao would give workshops, followed him and in later years Mohanrao taught him in Mumbai. It was a very touching tale. The young students in the audience applauded him and asked how could one master all these? The answer was given that they will have to find their own way of relating the art form to their time and create artistic creations which would astound the audience. Subhash is perhaps only one of the young male exponents who have specialized in this legacy of Mohanrao. He teaches at Kathak Kendra in Delhi and does not aspire to be a stage performer, but conduct workshops at various Kathak institutions imparting this aspect to those who wish to learn. It is a fact that now at a point where Kathak stands there are few takers for this style of dancing. But this aspect of Kathak also would survive in small gatherings, intimate workshops and institutions where training in Kathak is imparted. Subhash has no false notions that present day audience would enjoy the leisurely exposition of Thaat and other numbers. He has reconciled to that phase and has been conducting workshops wherever he is invited.

One of the memorable presentations was Sharadtai Bole's demonstration of doha and additional couplets for abhinaya. She sang it and did abhinaya which drew great appreciation. The nayika is waiting for her beloved to come and she watches the auspicious sings, "Shira sari sarakat hai, ankh bayin farkat hai" - from my head the sari slips off, my left eye is atremble and these are signs which indicate my beloved is coming. In another doha she sings, "Kapol par motin ki lat latakat hai," the garland of pearl is dangling, "pag chal jhever ki kil nikasat hai," the small catch which keeps my ankle bells together drops off, "ganth jude ki sarakat hai," the bun I have tightened gets loosened, "pati pardesh hathse gavan kino jo," the beloved left for journey determinedly. With delectable expressions, Sharadtai, disciple of Rohini Bhate, charmed the audience with traditional poetry.

Satyasheel Deshpande

Amala Sekhar, another disciple of Rohini Bhate, recounted what Mohanrao during Kathak Prasang at Bhopal, while explaining the art of Birju Maharaj, demonstrated a challenge given to show mud, water and lotus through abhinaya. Mohanrao touched the corner of the eye and removed the yellow which gathers there, suggesting it as mud, the tears which flow from the eyes as water and the shape of the eye as lotus! Such gems of recollections were the highlight of the Open Session.

The young celebrated musician Satyasheel Deshpande sang and referred to bandishes which relate to dance and could be performed. The thumris and the inherent dance element of those bandishes were sung by him that drew lot of appreciation from connoisseurs. It was quite an eye opener and one wishes that the musicians and dancers collaborate and enrich the field with such artistic encounters.

Evening performances
Shama Bhate had planned evening performances to show what Mohanrao had passed on to senior dancers. Through the young dancers / disciples, it was presented in an interesting manner. Prajakta performed "Mil jave Nanda ko dhota, mere man bhavana re" as taught by Rohini Bhate with such exquisite charm that one saw how well the technique was transmitted to her and what legacy of Mohanrao one can admire even today. We saw Taal Mala performed by students of Roshan Datye with all the complexities described above, but missed Prerana Deshpande's presentation of Chitra Rupak taal of 10 and half matra in which she incorporated paramparik Thaat, Ganesh Paran, Paran Amad, Chhanda etc. I was told that she did abhinaya number "Brindaban dham niko" sitting on the floor as has been the tradition.

On second evening, Padma Sharma, her daughter Gauri Sharma, Gauri's daughter Tarini and other disciples presented few numbers as taught by Mohanrao, which had old world charm. Both Padma and Purnima also danced some nritta items together. Padma Sharma enacted abhinaya to Bindadin Maharaj's thumri "Sab ban than ayi Shyam pyari re" and other numbers. In here solo Purnima Pande rendered Amad ka andaz, chhoti chhoti amad ke swarup and it was a delight to watch all these phases of Kathak. Purnima Pande's disciple Ruchi Khare presented few items she had learnt from Purnima,viz., Madhya laya bandishe, Parmelu, farmaish chakkradar, Natvari, a thumri "Chhodo chhodo Bihari" and also danced gats among which Rukhsar ki Gat was charming. She has also written a thesis under guidance of Purnima Pande on Mohanrao Kallianpurkar collecting rare material and photographs. On seeing her work, Mr. Bagdare, Director of Ustad Allaudin Khan Sangeet evam Kala Akademi, Bhopal, announced financial grant for its publication.

Taal Mala by disciples of Roshan Datye

Shama Bhate's disciples in Chatarang

Prerana Deshpande, disciple of Rohini Bhate

Ruchi Khare, disciple of Purnima Pande

Prerana Deshpande's three young disciples Mrinal, Apurva and Ishwari performed 'Ganga Jamuna' described by me earlier. The two dancers on either side and in the centre Prerana's 16 year old daughter Ishwari performed in such a flawless manner that young Ishwari won rounds of applause whenever she struck final pose on sam! The three of them executed 'Ganga Jamuna' with confidence and force. Seeing Ishwari's spark, Satyasheel Deshpande hailed her as AK 42 gun! Indeed Ishwari has shown promise to blossom into a fine dancer.

Manjiri Mahajani, disciple of Rohini Bhate

Prajakta Raj, disciple of Rohini Bhate

Prerana Deshpande's disciples performing Chitra Rupak

Rijuta Soman and Manisha Abhay

The evening concluded with Rijuta Soman and Manisha Abhay, two young dancers currently learning under Shama Bhate, presenting Thaat, Amad, Parmelu, a rare taal of 6 and half matra known as Bhinnalobha, and to the padhant of ginati by Shama won rounds of applause from a large crowd which on both days had attended the performances with enthusiasm and there was problem of accommodating them. Rijuta and Manisha have performed all over India and I had seen them in Delhi. I was duly impressed by their aharya abhinaya, command over taal and pat coming on the sam.

Coming from Delhi, Ashok Vajpeyi, Rashmi Vajpeyi and I were much impressed by the high standard of the accompanying musicians both on percussion and vocal support, which lifted the level of enjoyment. Chinmay on harmonium, Charudatta Phadke on tabla, Hrishikesh and Vinay Ramadasan (originally from Kerala) lent excellent support. The dancers' energetic dancing with such high level of music compelled us to admit that our faith in Kathak was reinforced. Often in an outspoken manner, Ashok Vajpeyi says that Kathak is being performed to very low caliber poems and wonders why they have no interaction with paintings and literature. But seeing demonstrations of the young dancers of Roshan Datye, Prerana Deshpande, Shama Bhate, we admitted that Kathak in Pune has raised the bar of Kathak, more so with their exquisite musical sensibilities.

A handsome volume on Mohanrao Kallianpurkar
On the occasion of his centenary (1913-2013), a handsome large size volume on Guru Mohanrao Kallianpurkar was brought out by Kathak exponent Shama Bhate on behalf of her institution Nad Roop, Pune. It contains articles by Mohanrao Kallianpurkar in Hindi viz., Guru Sundar Prasad Arati, Guru Bindadin Maharaj Gauravashtak, Guru Pandit Sundar Prasad, Kathak ki shaili Bhopal, Parampara aur Birju Maharaj, and Chintan; and in English viz., Pandit Shambhu Maharaj, Kathak - an analytical study, paper presented at 1958 All India Dance Seminar convened by Sangeet Natak Akademi, The Technique of Kathak (published in Marg Kathak special issue1959), 1st ever Syllabus in Kathak History, Bhatkhande University of Music, Lucknow, Rohini as I know her, A book review of Indian Classical Dance (author Dr. Kapila Vatsyayan) and Traditions of Indian Classical Dance (author Mohan Khokar), articles by others in Hindi, Pundit Mohanraoji Kallianpurkar jiwani tatha karya by Rohini Bhate, Jhonkon se uda rahe hai yadon ke panne by Sushri Padma Sharma, Mohan Rao Kallianpurkar: Tadon ke Jharokhe men by Sushri Purnima Pande, former Vice Chancellor Bhatkhande Sangita Samsthan sama Vishwa Vidyalaya, Lukcnow; Mohan Rao Kallianpurkar - mentor and friend not Guru by Uttara Asha Coorlwawala, Shatashah Pranam in Hindi by Pranati Pratap, A tribute to my Guru Pandit Mohan Rao Kallianpurkar by Bhagyashree Oke, Majhe Dadaguru by Shama Bhate in Hindi, Kathak Utsav 2003 Kathak Kendra, New Delhi dedicated to Guru Mohanrao Kallianpurkar by Dr. Sunil Kothari, Thumri's genesis in Kathak dance by Mohan Nadkarni, Remembering Mohanrao Master Saheb by Susheela Misra, (from The Hindu Friday, August 1, 1997), Pandit Mohanrao Kallianpurkar 'Lahaja' 2006 by Rohini Bhate in Marathi. There is an acknowledgement list: Dr. Vinod Kallianpurkar and Bharat Kallianpurkar, sons of Mohanrao Kallianpurkar, Ambika Diwgi, Rashmi Vajpeyi, Dr. Sunil Kothari, Padma Sharma, Purnima Pande, Ruchi Khare, Subhash Chandra, Bhagyashree Oke, Uttara Asha Coorlawala, Pranati Pratap, Aruna Kellar, Kathak Kendra, Sangeet Natak Akademi, New Delhi and N.C.P.A, Mumbai, Mahararashtra Cultural Centre, Pune, Raza Foundation, New Delhi.


Booklet with articles

Only six copies have been brought out with rare photographs. It contains historical documentation and is a collector's item. If the financial assistance shall come from Department of Culture, Govt. of India, Shama Bhate hopes to bring out more copies and make it available at a reasonable price.

It contains two significant articles by Mohanrao Kallianpurkar: viz., analytical description of Shambhu Maharaj's abhinaya of Maharaj's favourite thumri "Koun gali gayo Shyam" dealing with nayanbhava and angikabhinaya, through body. It is so rich in its various nuances and interpretation, that as a methodology for describing abhinaya in Kathak, it offers a model for similar description of abhinaya for other dance forms by exponents. With visuals like CD/DVD, supported by accompanying music, vocal and instrumental, the research scholars can provide a tool to understand abhinaya. Unfortunately, the oral singing recording of the thumri by Shambhu Maharaj when he performed at the 1958 Dance Seminar is the only record of that rare event as no visual recording on silent 16mm film was taken by late Govind Vidyarthi, document officer and photographer.

The article on Syllabus of Kathak, First ever in Kathak History, is another rare document which is followed even today at Bhatkhande University, Lucknow, M.S.University, Baroda, Khairagarh, Benaras, Hyderabad and other institutions. The few rare photographs of dance dramas Mohanrao choreographed are the photos of earliest 'ballets' of Malati Madhav (which was later on adopted by Bharatiya Kala Kendra featuring Kumudini Lakhia, Birju Maharaj, Krishna Kumar, Kamal Kirtikar and others), Shakuntala, Meghdoot, Vikramovarshiyam, War and Peace. His two well known female disciples became film stars - Yashodhara Katju and Swarnalata Syal (a Punjabi from Delhi) who became famous in film Ratan but married a Muslim film director and migrated to Pakistan.

In one of the reviews of a book of Mohan Khokar he has critically observed when he did not find mention of few leading dancers in his writings: "Mention of the leading exponents of a style is absolutely essential because an acquaintance with the form is likely to begin with the performance of an exponent rather than through a study of the historical origins of the form. That is why any description of the evolution of a style is incomplete without a comment on how it is presented and interpreted today by eminent practitioners." How true! The critical faculty and analytical approach on Mohanrao's part had always been admired by one and all.

One is grateful to Shama Bhate for organizing the centenary celebrations, even when as she says, she had not directly studied under him but had studied under Rohini Bhate, who studied under Mohanrao. Shama addressed him as Dada Guru - the lineage as explained by her is praiseworthy. The Pune audience stood by her, all dancers of Kathak and other styles attended in large measure. That speaks volumes for Shama Bhate's sincerity and efforts.

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 12 years.

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