March 28, 2009
Classical Kathak dance form has special appeal to masses. An open-ended form, it has a distinct advantage over other forms. People love to witness the chakkars, the pirouettes, the tatkar, the intricate footwork, compositions barely of one or two minutes and in rendering bhajans, and thumris, Kathak dancers with simple abhinaya convey a lot.
However, their command over the technique, the tala, time cycles and lay, the rhythm, the repartees between the tabla player and the dancers invariably involves audiences and the artistes entertain the audiences with joy.
Kathak Kendra has an enviable record with great masters who have taught more than two generations of dancers. Legendary gurus like Shambhu Maharaj and Sunder Prasad-ji have imparted training at the Kathak Kendra. Pt Birju Maharaj had a long innings teaching, performing, choreographing and leaving his own impress on countless students who studied under him. Directors like Gopal Das, Keshav Kothari, Jiwan Pani worked towards making it a national institute of Kathak with a very high level of standard for training. The annual Kalka Bindadin Mahatmas acquired a reputation of national festival of Kathak, with tireless working and artistic vision of Keshav Kothari, and established the event which dancers from all over India looked forward to participating and attending.
Sangeet Natak Akademi, the Deputy Secretary Mr. Dasgupta has been given
the charge of Kathak Kendra as its Director. With thorough experience as
an able administrator and exposure to artistic events of national importance,
Mr. Dasgupta, since he took over charge of Kathak Kendra, has set in motion
several activities. Few months ago last year, he organized a festival in
memory of late Pt Durgalal, the Jaipur gharana exponent, featuring the
dancers of Kathak Kendra, and showcasing the best talent. He saw that all
workers, teachers, gurus, performers, the repertory dancers and members
of the staff were involved in it and succeeded in bringing to them a feeling
of belonging to one family.
This was my second visit to Agartala after nearly fifty years. In 1959, when I had joined the research team of Bharatiya Lok Kala Mandal, Udaipur to undertake survey of the tribes of Manipur, Nagaland and Tripura, I had spent a fortnight witnessing the folk dances in Agartala and other places in Tripura. At that time Tripura was accessible by road and train. Now it is bounded on the North, West, South and South-East by the international boundary of Bangladesh. In the East, it has common boundary with Assam and Mizoram.
The city of Agartala has a long association with the poet Rabindranath Tagore who has expressed his feelings in the following words: "... the woodland of Tripura has sent out invitation to their floral feast through their courier of the South wind and I have come here as a friend..." The association between Tagore and the Maharajas of Tripura goes a long way back. It was here that Gurudev had for the first time seen Manipuri Raas and requested the Maharja to send Buddhimant Singh, a renowned Manipuri dancer to Santiniketan. During an informal meeting with leading painters, literary figures, film directors, local dancers, and musicians at the Directorate, we met the author Bikach Chaudhuri who is currently writing a book on Tagore and Tripura, which will throw light on Tagore and the Maharajas of Tripura and their mutual affection and the assistance that the Maharajas gave to the poet to support Santiniketan and various activities. More about it later on, in another account and Diary of Agartala, Tripura.
On the opening
evening, the Kathak duet by Delhi based husband and wife team, consisting
of Assamese exponent Hemant Kumar Kalita and his wife Moumala Nayak was
presented. Trained by Birju Maharaj, Hemant has an attractive stage presence,
a fine figure and flawless technique. Moumala Nayak was associated with
Vaswati Mishra. They complement their performance with imaginative entries
and exits, performing together, one making an exit, other picking up from
where one leaves and coming together. Their presentation of Ardhanarishwara,
enhancing the attributes of Lord Shiva and Parvati was well synchronized.
Performing to teen tala, various compositions, like Natwari tukda, Tripalli
Aamad, chakkardar, parmelu, they created a favourable impression. In a
Bindadin Maharaj bhajan, "Aise Ram hai dukhaharan," replete with bhakti
bhava they enacted episodes of Ahalya and Krishna providing clothes to
Draupadi and saving her from humiliation, in the court. When Indra showed
his displeasure and tried to submerge the gopas and gopis, with torrential
rains, Lord Krishna lifted Mount Govardhan and saved his devotees. Among
the accompanists, Rajesh Pandey lent vocal support whereas Kishore Gangani
on tabla and Salim Khan on sitar provided able instrumental support. A
fine couple to watch.
Of late Abhimanyu has developed his own way of telling story, highlighting the story telling element - Katha of Kathak dance. He has a melodious voice, and he sang with emotion about the game of dice incident from the Mahabharata. Sometimes rendering the dialogue, narrating the story through vachikabhinaya, his enactment was dramatic and impressive. His impersonations of characters of Duryodhana, Shakuni, Yudhishtira, Draupadi and Dhushasan were full of bhava. Rajesh Pandey (vocal), Akhilesh Bhatt on tabla, Ghulam Mohammad on sarangi and Salim Kumar on sitar as accompanists highlighted Abhimanyu's recital.
Kathak by Malati
Shyam of Kathak Kendra was full of joy. She dances with abandon and her
graceful endings, covering of the space, invariably reveal what thorough
training she has received from Birju Maharaj. She has internalized the
beauty of movements and knows how to engage the attention of the audience
to the subtleties of Kathak. With spirited padhant, recitation of the mnemonic
bols, Malati executed nritta, pure dance numbers with élan. Displaying
the gait of peacock, Mayur Gati, revealing face through a variety of ghunghats,
veils, then again performing parans, taking 27 chakkars - 9 each, three
times - Malati moved on to Fagun Hori. Enacting abhinaya to various stanzas
of Hori, she created the mood of the festival of colours. There was a fine
sense of humour when Gopis dress up Krishna as a Gopi, such liberties are
taken during Hori and is allowed as fun! Accompanists Shakeel
Ahmed Khan (tabla), Nasir Khan (sarangi), Salim (sitar) and Indu Prakash
(vocal) are all versatile musicians and their support was in perfect sync
with Malati's dance.
From Delhi, Harish Gangani, son of Kundanlal Gangani, the Jaipur gharana maestro, followed Chinmoy Das. Harish has studied under his father and later on under his brother Rajendra Gangani. Personable, energetic, thorough in his understanding of Jaipur gharana technique, he has good stamina. He also has wide exposure and experience and is at present teaching at Kathak Kendra's South Centre in New Delhi. Opening with Shiva stuti, he executed ekapada bhramaris, chakkars, pirouettes lifting one leg, and unleashed several parans, showing his mastery over nritta, pure dance, with emphasis on virile element, the hall mark of Jaipur gharana. The permutations and combinations of various mnemonics and tihais of his father Kundanlal and Jailalji's, Sunder Prasadji's bandishes, compositions, were a delight to watch. In his dance also, one noticed the old world charm of Kathak. Taking 40 chakkars, he won rounds of applause from the audience. His dance was replete with technical nuances of nritta and the fund of traditional knowledge he has is praiseworthy. Most of the accompanists were from Kathak Kendra and some invited artistes/accompanists had stayed back. Therefore there was a certain high standard seen in the accompaniment of music during solo performances.
Gangani, Lucknow based Surendra Saikia took to the stage. An Assamese exponent
of Kathak, Surendra Saikia is a versatile dancer with a long period of
training in Lucknow gharana. He studied under Vikram Singhe who had in
turn studied under Acchan Maharaj. Surendra Saikia has mastered the technique
and his graceful bodily movements were arresting, revealing the nazakat,
delicacy and khoobsurati, the beauty of the Lucknow school. After the prayer,
Surendra showed the various ways of standing while dancing; Acchan Maharaj's
Aamad, the indescribable grace in the gat of Murali, flute, Mugat, crown,
and carrying a sword. One rarely gets an opportunity to see such numbers.
In Gat Nikas, he charmed the audience with gait of a swan and an elephant
and showed what the gurus of old generation have bestowed a legacy on him.
He also performed one paran he had studied from Rohini Bhate which had
catching utplavanas, the jumps. While dancing tatkar, he amazed the audience
with sound of one ankle bell out of more than two hundred he was wearing!
Ravi Nagar (vocal), Nasir Khan (sarangi) and Arun Bhatta (tabla) as accompanists
were in fine fettle and added to the charm of his dancing. He deserves
to be seen more often in festivals.
Her abhinaya showing her visage through various types of veils, and in particular the way women in Rajasthan see through ghunghat using fingers to peep through had the 'audience eating out of her hands.' They applauded her art with admiration. Her prayer in lasya, the graceful mode, in praise of Tripura Sundari, the presiding goddess of Tripura, consort of Lord Shiva, was evocative. Concluding with Hori, she transported all to Brindavan where Lord Krishna and the Gopis play Hori. She was ably supported by Indu Prakash (vocal), Nasir Khan (sarangi) and Shakeel Ahmed Khan (tabla). It was the highlight of the festival.
On the third and final day, Assamese exponent Bipul Chandra Das from Guwahati performed. He trained initially in Jaipur gharana under Kundanlal Gangani and then after obtaining a scholarship he trained under Birju Maharaj at Kathak Kendra in New Delhi. He also accompanied Birju Maharaj within India and abroad taking part in various dance dramas, choreographed by Birju Maharaj. Now he is settled in Guwahati since 1987 and runs his institution Mridanga training young students in Kathak. He is also a lecturer at the State College of Music, Guwahati.
is delicate, gentle and graceful. After the invocation 'Shantakaram bhujaga
shayanam' in praise of Vishnu, he performed some compositions in teen tala,
Aamad 'dha taka thunga' with impress of Birju Maharaj, displayed the movement
of a serpent in Gat nikas, showed Nav ki gat, the boat gliding on the river,
and performed Bindadin Maharaj's bhajan with episodes of Ahalya coming
to life with touch of Rama's feet, Lord Krishna saving Draupadi from humiliation
and Krishna lifting mount Govardhan. Like others, he also displayed tintinnabulation
of one ankle bell.
She rendered the stuti 'Ya Devi sarva bhuteshu' creating iconic images of the Goddess with great ease and a feeling of devotion. Moving to nritta, pure dance she performed to teen tala. The speed with which she executed the footwork had excellent clarity. Her thaat, the graceful bodily movements were arresting. She has internalized the graceful style of Birju Maharaj and evolved her own style. Also the movements of the wrist as developed by her are an absolute delight to watch. Her padhant, recitation has feeling and with one parmelu using various sounds of bird etc, she created an amazing soundscape. In bhava parmelu how a nayika offers grain to the bird, the bird responds with happy sound and the bird flies away - such images were presented with imagination. Similarly, she created images of the raindrops, lightning, then rain and so on, using the mnemonics in a highly imaginative manner.
Dancing to the song 'Jadu bhare tore nain' - enchanting are your eyes - she chose an episode of a nayika drawing a painting of her beloved hero, and employed similes of the quicksilver movements of the fish and deer to describe the magic of the eyes, the eyebrows which resemble a bow and danced imaginatively, communicating the main statement that the eyes are enchanting! The anaghat tatkar had the subtlety and stamp of authority. She would do well to cover the stage in terms of space, as often being very close to the mike reciting padhant, her dancing looked restricted. She is a brilliant dancer and transcends the heavy figure in a trice, once she starts dancing! Shakeel Ahmed Khan on tabla, Nasir Khan on sarangi and Rajesh (vocal) had excellent rapport with the dancer.
was by Malabika Mitra from Kolkata, with special accompaniment by the tabla
wizard Sabir Khan. Malabika had received her initial training from Pandit
Ram Gopal Mishra in Jaipur gharana. Later on, she studied from Pandit Om
Prakash Maharaj, a disciple of Lacchu Maharaj in the Lucknow gharana style.
She also took training under Birju Maharaj and Vijay Shankar. She has an
arresting stage personality, is blessed with a large pair of eyes, which
she uses for abhinaya with advantage and has solid technique. She has over
the years won a reputation as a leading dancer. Sabir Khan belongs to Karamatulla
Khan saheb's tradition. The very nature of Kathak demands that any tabla
player should be able to accompany a dancer, even if they did not have
any rehearsal. Listening to the recitation of mnemonics, the bols, he should
be able to reproduce them.
In gat nikas, she displayed the graceful nayikas, mugdha, madhya and pragalbha, three types of women according to their temperament. And the piece de resistance was expressions using eyes - raising upwards it turned into prayer, raising sideways it showed affection/love, looking with a cross feeling suggested anger and so on. Malabika also performed Jaipur gharana nritta numbers and in praise of Tripura Sundari she chose her ferocious mood reciting Kali paran. The vocalist Anand Gupta assisted her in padhant. Sabir Khan also delighted audience by paying Karamatulla Khan saheb's bandish, composition. Since the spring season is nearing, Malabika also performed compositions of Hori reciting kavits and dancing to the song by Surdas. The playing with colour had as usual, the evocative mood of the festival of Hori.
The three-day festival ended on a happy note with appreciative audiences who expressed their gratitude to all the visiting artistes. Sadhana Srivastav, the ace compere from Delhi introduced the artistes and activities of Kathak Kendra with customary finesse for which she is known. Dinesh Poddar, the lights designer from Kolkata, enhanced the performances with imaginative lighting. The stage design with three arches by young set designer Kailash filled the backdrop and the flower arrangements with the lamp had Kathak Kendra and Sangeet Natak Akademi's signature. Geetanjali Lal thanked the local organizers and leading lights of the city like painter Swapan Nandy, who is also a mime artist, his wife who is a painter and also musician, and others who honoured artistes with flowers. Kathak Kendra, had put up an exhibition of music CDs, books etc published by Sangeet Natak Akademi and there was a brisk sale as it was easily available and also at a discount.
New Delhi, Director Mr. Dasgupta, musicians, artistes and the staff with
their efficiency acquired over the years, all deserve praise for such a
laudable effort on their part to take Kathak to these regions.
Sunil Kothari, dance historian, scholar, author, is a renowned dance critic,
having written for The Times of India group of publications for more than
40 years. He is a regular contributor to Dance Magazine, New York. Dr.
Kothari is a globetrotter, attending several national, international dance
conferences and dance festivals. He has to his credit more than 14 definitive
works on Indian classical dance forms. Kothari was a Fulbright Professor
and has taught at the Dance Department, New York University; has lectured
at several Universities in USA, UK, France, Australia, Indonesia and Japan.
He has been Vice President of World Dance Alliance Asia Pacific (2000-2008)
and is Vice President of World Dance Alliance Asia Pacific India chapter,
based in New Delhi. A regular contributor to www.narthaki.com, Dr Kothari
is honored by the President of India with the civil honor of Padma Shri
and Sangeet Natak Akademi award.