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Moolam Festival: A tribute to gurus
- Vijay Shanker
Photos courtesy: Shambhavi

July 24, 2017

Shambhavi School of Dance, Bangalore, organized the third edition of Moolam, a national seminar and dance festival, as a tribute to gurus, on the occasion of Guru Poornima on 9th July at HN Kalakshetra Auditorium of National College, Bangalore.

The seminar commenced with the lighting of the traditional lamp by the speakers, led by Dr. Kanak Rele, Vyjayanti Kashi, Jhelum Paranjape, Dr. Meera Rajaram, Dr. Vanaja Uday and Dr. Yashoda Thakore. Director of Shambhavi School of Dance, Vyjayanti Kashi welcomed the gathering and briefly spoke about the significance of the Moolam festival in relation to the Guru Shishya Parampara.

The first speaker Dr. Kanak Rele, while remembering her first Kathakali guru, "Panchali" Karunakara Panicker, narrated about how she was groomed in the Guru-Shishya Parampara, how she was struck by the brilliant mukhaja-abhinaya wherein the facial muscles would move remarkably pertaining to the character depiction. Kanak Rele mentioned that he was a great guru, instrumental in the shaping of her as a powerful performer. In spite of being qualified in civil aviation and international law from the Manchester University, she said her calling was in the field of dance. She also spoke about the difficulties in introducing dance in the degree level and getting Nalanda College affiliated to the Mumbai University, her interaction with the then vice-chancellor Dr. TK Tope, Suresh Upadhyay, Dr. T.N. Ramachandran, Dr. Moti Chandran, Bharat Iyer and Kavalam Narayana Panikkar.

Odissi exponent Jhelum Paranjape said that she initially learned Odissi from Shankar Behera but it was Kelubabu who further embellished the dance style and made it more intricate with subtle expressions and nuances. Jhelum said that Guru Kelucharan was a true guru who would treat everyone with equal respect and concern which she greatly values.

Carnatic vocalist and musicologist Dr. Meera Rajaram ascertained the role of music in dance and choreography. Being a disciple of top teachers like Veena Seshagiri Rao, Sudha Murthy, Dr. Manjunath and her guide for doctorate, BVK Shastri, helped her greatly in becoming a musicologist. She narrated the incident when he scolded her for not writing the musical compositions and how that prompted her to compose 72 Melakartas of Mysore ragas. Meera added that the original compositions of great composers like Tygaraja, Purandaradasa and Shyama Shastri were tampered with the introduction of new ragas that would change the original flavour, quality and melody of the music, which has to be avoided and not encouraged.

Kuchipudi exponent from Hyderabad, Dr. Vanaja Uday, differentiated the significance and the drawbacks of both the Guru-Shishya Parampara of learning and the academic degrees in dance and music where you are restricted to the particular portion to be completed and how the teachers do not have any personal touch with the students. Vanaja narrated about how as the student of late Guru Uma Rama Rao at the university level, she took extra personal lessons from her at her residence that shaped her in becoming a fine exponent.

Kuchipudi exponent and teacher Vyjayanti Kashi spoke about how she started learning Bharatanatyam at a tender age from Guru Ramanna and how he was greatly disturbed when she attended a performance and subsequently she switched over to Kuchipudi. She pointed out the significance of the Moolam festival wherein the dancers while expressing their reverence, remember their gurus with a lot of gratitude. Dr. Yashoda Thakore from Hyderabad belongs to the Kalavantulu community of Andhra Pradesh known for the devadasi tradition, performing Vilasini Natyam. Disciple of the veteran dancer Swapnasundari, Yashoda spoke about the social stigma, difficulties and problems she faced in pursuing the old tradition.

Jhelum Paranjape & Poornima Dahale

Dr. Kanak Rele

Vyjayanti Kashi & Gururaju

Leela Sayi & Dr. Yashoda

The evening session was inaugurated by Guru Radha Sridhar, followed by Odissi performance by Jhelum Paranjape and her disciple Poornima Dahale. Jhelum's interpretation of the ashtapadi "Dheere sameere Yamuna teere" was subtle and evocative. Dr. Kanak Rele’s performance of Gandhari and Kubja was breathtaking. Performing in the seated posture, Kanakben took us on a flight of emotions pertaining to trials and tribulations of the powerful women characters. Madhuri Deshmukh, disciple of Kanak Rele, also performed on the occasion.

Vyjayanti Kashi's performance along with her talented disciple Gururaju was powerful for its dramatic appeal, presentation and technique, the most impressive being the episode of Hanuman trying to swallow the sun. The last performer of the festival was Lakshmi Mangathayaru and Dr. Yashoda performing the traditional Kalavantulu dance wherein the dancer is dressed in a simple costume, with little make-up and jewellery, exposing simple steps and taking you closer to the lokadharmi concept of dancing.

Moolam is thereby an important festival as many times we tend to forget our roots, as we move further in life to accomplish more, without realizing what we have lost in life.

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