A morning spent journeying inward and a tribute
- Sunil Sunkara
e-mail: sunilrsunkara@gmail.com

March 13, 2017

A dancer paints in space and creates moving paintings. These words often said by Kathak maestro Pt Birju Maharaj resonated at  MES Auditorium, Kothrud, Pune on 29th January  morning when the Design 14 team took the stage. Aural, visual and visceral, all senses were activated by the music, costumes and choreography of ‘Design 14’ by Anjali Patil from Canada. The first act was an ode to the Sufi spirit that is embodied in all Kathak. The unique feature of the music was the use of claps to give the theka of the taal. It went very well with the sufi ethos. Qawali has often used clap marking and that gave an appropriate connect between sufikalam and Kathak. The finale to the sufi piece showed the use of an aroha or ascendance of chakkars of different variety ending in a crescendo.

This was followed by the central piece, an exploration of Taal Dhamaar or 14 beat time cycle. The stamina intensive, high energy choreography was presented very well by Anjali Patil and her troupe. The program was presented by Kalanubhuti Society for the Arts.

Design 14

Anand Sadhana

Nritya Yog

Photos: Kishor Gumaste

The second half of the program was a unique presentation Nritya Yog focusing on the intersection of dance and yogic principles. Nritya Yog began with Shivyog presented by Rasika Gumaste and troupe in Odissi. Shiva, the eternal yogi, was presented through a confluence of soothing music and graceful dance by Rasika and her troupe. This was followed by Anand Sadhana presented by Asmita Thakur along with Shruti Apte, Mrunalini Khatavkar, Janhavi Kulkarni and Megha Nagarad. The importance of music in creating a meditative atmosphere was explored by Asmita. The use of footwork as a representative of the cosmic rhythm that connects human beings to each other was truly an effective use of Kathak technique to portray the subject.

The last presentation was Dwaita-Adwaita by Rama Kuknur and Yashoda Patankar. A brilliant choreography representing the yin and yang or balance that is an important part of yog was presented through mirror image choreography. The finale was a tarana presented by Rasika, Asmita and Rama. 

February 27, 2017, was the 96th birth anniversary of Late Guru Acharya Parvati Kumar. Celebrated each year as Smrutikusumanjali (an offering of flower like memories), by his prime disciple Dr. Sandhya V Purecha, Founder-Principal of Bharata College of Fine Arts, Mumbai, this year it was celebrated through a masterclass by Pt Birju Maharaj and Saswati Sen. Maharaj shared his childhood memories and journey in Kathak. After this, Sandhya shared her reminiscences of the late Acharya’s Kathak connection. Parvati Kumar had his initial training in Kathak from Sundar Prasad who was a disciple of both the Jaipur and Lucknow gharanas and had received his training in Lucknow gharana from Bindadin Maharaj, grandfather of Pt Birju Maharaj. Though Parvati Kumar spent the rest of his life exploring Bharatanatyam, with special emphasis on Abhinaya Darpanam, he always had great regard for Kathak and moreover, was a great proponent of learning and knowledge sharing.

Thus it was most befitting that Pt Birju Maharaj pay homage to the late Acharya through a masterclass in Lucknow Gharana Kathak. The masterclass began with Saswati Sen teaching Kasturi Tilakam, a 14th century composition written by Bilvamangala Thakur and composed by Maharaj in raag Bhupali. This was followed by an intricate ladi or footwork pattern that was composed on the spot by Maharaj. Maharaj’s senior disciples from Mumbai - Renu Sharma, Kiran Bhargava, Vijayshree Choudhary and Preeti Sharma - and Sangeeta Sinha from Varanasi were present to pay their homage. Satyaprakash Mishra from Mumbai and Utpal Ghosal from Delhi accompanied on the tabla.

The Bharata College of Fine Arts offers Bachelors and Masters degrees in Bharatanatyam and Kathak as well as Diploma courses for school children. The Bharatanatyam program is taught and mentored by Sandhya. Other faculty members include Rajenthiran Naidu, Chitra Dalvi and Suhani Dhanki. The Kathak program is mentored by Chetan Saraiya and Paullumi Mukherjee. As a part of the curriculum, the college conducts classes in Yoga, Sanskrit, Music, Journalism, Travel & Tourism and other allied subjects that are available to all students making it a very holistic approach .The administrator of the college, Bhavna Shah, said it is the dream of Sandhya and herself that Bharata College becomes a meeting place for art and artists from around the world, a positive space where art can truly blossom. Saswati Sen and Pt Birju Maharaj will be conducting such master classes regularly in future at the college.

Based in Mumbai, Sunil Sunkara is a Kathak dancer with a PhD degree.