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Nishi Singh: All Kathak gharanas portray the same theme in their own unique styles
- Vijay Shanker

August 7, 2023

Accomplished Kathak exponent and Reiki master Nishi Singh is based in Dubai for the last nine years. Nishi is the senior disciple of Kathak maestros Pt Birju Maharaj, Pt Durga Lal and Pt Rajendra Gangani. Nishi holds the distinction of being the recipient of awards like the 'Aekalavya' and UAE Amazing Teachers Award for her contribution in the propagation of Kathak on the international platform. Nishi shares her experiences regarding learning Kathak in different Gharanas, her challenges in promoting Kathak in Dubai, being the host for the online festival during the pandemic, her research on the spiritual aspect of Kathak and its relation to Reiki, her passion for Kathak for more than three decades and more.

Nishi Singh
Nishi Singh

You are one of the senior disciples of Late Pt Durga Lal and you have learnt from other mentors like Kathak queen Sitara Devi. Can you tell us the technical differences you experienced and your experience of learning from such veterans?
I started learning dance when I was 8 years old under my first Guru Pt.Rajendra Gangani. There was a dance institute called Sanjaydeep Music College in Janakpuri, Delhi, Guruji fondly remembers, and we often talk about those memories whenever I meet him. I really miss those days. After I completed my levels from Pracheen Kala Kendra, Guruji advised my mom to try my admission in Kathak Kendra, New Delhi. After completing my 12th, I cleared my entrance exam and interview at Kendra but was admitted to Pt. Durga Lal's class. I was not the senior most disciple of Guruji, when I started training under him, there were few seniors already. It was a blessing, truly bliss learning under his guidance. But unfortunately, while I was still learning, he left us suddenly and we lost our Guru, our guiding light. It was a very sad moment for all of us, but I guess god needed him more than us. I still remember his vibrant personality, his graceful, energetic performances. He often played pakhawaj during our classes and that sound still haunts me and gives me goosebumps. I remember all his lessons and miss him always.

At Kendra, every student had a Master class on Wednesday under Pt. Birju Maharaj and that was again a blessing to learn under his guidance, during our Kendra festivals. I was a recipient of Kendra's scholarship throughout my training period and finally topped my post-graduation finals with the guidance of Urmila Nagar didi. I started with Jaipur gharana, learned Lucknow gharana in Maharaj ji's master classes and productions at Kendra. During our Kendra festivals I saw performances from Banaras gharana for the first time. It was Pt. Gopi Krishna's disciples from Mumbai and I could find out the differences through their movements, bols etc. Ultimately I realised all the gharanas portray the same theme with little difference in technique and execution, pertaining to the particular style.

After my marriage I shifted to Mumbai. During an event I met Guru Sitara Devi. When I told her that I was to participate in the Kal-ke-Kalakar Sammelan organised by Sur Singar Samsad, after some days I received a call from Sitara didi, I was so excited. She welcomed me and gave me so much love and affection which I can never forget. I thanked god that I landed in safe and trusted hands. She could hardly walk that time, but she trained me, along with 2 other students for Shringar Mani and Haridas Sammelan. Isn't it a blessing? 2 years under her guidance was a treasure, my most memorable experience.

When did you decide to become a professional dancer? What is your experience of being an empanelled artist of ICCR?
Nothing was planned, it just happened. During a phase when I was looking for a job desperately, I applied for ICCR interview and cleared my practical interview but unfortunately was never given any country or events. Nevertheless I did receive some prestigious invitations through the Kendra to perform for Kathak Mahotsav, Khajuraho festival etc.

What fascinates you the most about Kathak?
The discipline, Guru Shishya Parampara values and respect fascinates me which is missing in the present generation.

Have you learnt any other dance style? Which other style do you enjoy watching?
During my job with the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting (song and Drama division), I had to learn some state folk dances which were compulsory and a requirement for Army shows. This is how I had an opportunity to learn these dances and thoroughly enjoyed performing as well. I love Odissi and find it very graceful.

What has been your experience during the pandemic? Do you conduct classes online?
It wasn't a good period at all. I had to teach online because of no other option. Life changed for every artist I guess but also learnt new ways of teaching with new technology online.

Please narrate your experience on being the online host for the International dance festival in 2020.
It was a wonderful experience of my life. I am grateful to all senior Kathak gurus for accepting my humble invitation. To name a few, Gurus Shovana Narayan, Purnima Pande, Rani Khanam, Urmila Sharma, fortunate to get the blessings and support from late Pt.Birju Maharaj ji and Pt. Rajendra Gangani during the show. My co-host popular RJ Siddhartha Singh and I made it a successful event of 2020.

You have done extensive research on the spiritual aspect of Kathak. How could you relate it to Reiki?
I did my Masters in Reiki healing and meditation and have been practicing it since 12 years now. I wrote my research thesis on Kathak & Spirituality. As you are aware, classical dance is the expression of the soul; the varied body movements, expressions relate to varied stories from the Hindu mythology. Like other classical dances, Kathak too revolves around the same theme. My research throws light as to how Kathak emerged from the Kathakaar tradition (story telling) and changed drastically during the centuries. During the Mughal regime, Kathak was used as a form of entertainment as it was patronised by the kings. I have explained as to how the spiritual aspect of Kathak is most important as it is the spirit that dominates and takes us closer to godliness. Reiki is a self-healing process as every person is gifted with certain innate quality which we are not aware. Reiki teaches how one can heal and make use of these qualities with divine intervention.

What are the difficulties you faced in establishing yourself as a Kathak dancer and teacher in Dubai?
To set a base in a different country is always a challenge starting from scratch again. Those established hardly welcome you, especially if you belong to their own community (hard but true). It was tough to find the genuine connections but soon realized that only my hard work can open my doors and possibilities if I want to pursue my passion. Initially I collaborated with institutions and later set my own licenced classes under the name 'Taal School of Dance'.

Nishi Singh receives the Aekalavya award in Dubai
Nishi Singh receives the Aekalavya award in Dubai

Tell us about the Aekalavya award.
The Orissa Government and the Odisha Samaj United Arab Emirates made a study as to who is promoting and propagating Indian classical dance in Dubai and overseas and my name came up. I felt privileged to be recognised for my services as a Kathak dancer, teacher and choreographer. The Aekalavya award was presented to me by Odisha Samaj United Arab Emirates (OSUAE), Consul General of India in Dubai, Lasyakala Academy in the presence of dignitaries like veteran Odissi exponent Ileana Citaristi. I am also the recipient of Pt Bhimsen Joshi International award, UAE Amazing Teachers Award, Kalajeeva and Nandanam Award for my contribution as a classical dancer and teacher.

Your future plans and aspirations?
I believe that future is unpredictable, so we should leave it to the god's plan, as he controls and is the supreme power. I just want to spread happiness, peace and love through my performances and my students.

Nishi Singh can be contacted at

Vijay Shankar
Vijay Shankar is a Kuchipudi and Kathakali exponent, teacher, bilingual journalist, arts critic and actor.

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