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Samvatsara Katha by Chidakaash Kalalaya
- Nita Vidyarthi
Photos courtesy: Chidakaash Kalalaya

June 8, 2019

Among those who have moved to study Natyashastra tradition of Natya (drama) practices and its applications during the past decade to the end of reconstructing them, no one is more fortunately equipped for the task than its scholar and Guru Piyal Bhattacharya, who has seriously applied himself to the subject. He is at once a dancer, musician, dramatist, writer and choreographer engaged in elucidating the core worldview and its subsequent efflorescence through various dramatization of selective texts.

Rupaka is the Sanskrit word for drama and follows the Natyashastra strictly. Piyal's present focus is on Upa-rupakas which were developed in the post Natyashastra period. They do follow Shastraic grammar but the structures of these ancient dramas can be altered and improvised within the boundary of the Natyashastra.

Slide show

The spectacular Upa-rupaka 'Samvatsara Katha' by the artists of Chidakaash Kalalaya, The Centre for Art and Divinity, spearheaded by Piyal was recently staged at Uttam Manch and in quick succession at Tapan Theatre, Kolkata. Conceived, choreographed and directed by him, the production was principally the description pertaining to seasonal manifestations known as Ramkreeda. In order to explore the poetic liberations, Piyal reconstructed this Upa-rupaka, a minor dramatic form developed post Bharata Muni's era, by incorporating two others, Prerana (an enigmatic, yet humorous representation, strung with riddles) and Hallisaka (dance performed in circles) in the performance. It concerns the formation of seasons or Ritu and emerged out of the training received by his disciples on 'Marga Natya' based on his research. The production tried to bridge the gap between academic work and the practical execution of this tradition making it suitable and acceptable in the present time.

Woven around Bhrgu or cosmic male epitomising Agni (formless energy) and Angira or cosmic female epitomising Soma (formless matter), their characteristic subtleties were expressed through the myriad forms of beings and phenomena. The Ritu-Chakra or change of seasons in the Indian context is one such physical creativity of nature.

With the musicians seated at the back of the stage, the Mangalacharan ushered in the invocation of 'Samvatsara Chakra' from Satapatha Brahmana Vijnanabhasya by Pt. Madhusudan Ojha and Pt. Motilal Shastri. With only a spotlight projected to the center stage, Bhrgu (stately Sayak Mitra) adorned with a garland of bells around his body comes in a veil, followed by Angira (Rinky Mondal), who is not fully revealed, suggesting that truth always remain shrouded. This depicted adi rasa (shringar) and adi raga respectively. The arrival of each ritu was elucidated by a masculine entity wrapped in royal grandeur and feminine entity as the Nature's delightful desire to succumb to its enigma.

The performance text was based mainly on Kalidasa's Ritusamhara, Magh's Sisupalavadha's sixth canto and Jayadeva's Gita Govinda apart from inputs from Sudraka's Padmapabhritakam and Jaiminiya Upanishad. The music was an integral part of the reconstruction process. A meticulously trained Dhrupad singer, Piyal structured the Dhrupad songs under specific ragas to provide visual imagery of the different ritus. There was no recorded music and the "padas" of the songs picturised the different season. A combination of ancient and medieval instruments like singa (buffalo horn), conch shell, shehnai and chitra vina set the tone of this work of reconstruction. Dhrupadi Rabab was specially used to add colour to the production.

The colour of the costumes was influenced by the Ragamala paintings of the late 16th to early 18th century from different regions of Rajasthan, Deccan and Nepal. The attires and the exotic ornaments, all made by the members of the organisation were not only stunning but transports the audience to the medieval Indian era.

Rudra Prasad Roy with his stout, sculpted physique fitted the first ritu, Grisma (summer) perfectly as he entered with bold steps set to the striking notes of Brindavani Saranga in the Khayal "Dahan lagey Suraj Kiran". Strumming of straight notes from Mattakokila Vina (21 strings) represented sharp, burning heat. The Vipanchi Vina (9 strings) played by young minstrel, serenading beautiful women represented the intoxicating heat, complementing the burning summer.

A sight to behold was Meghraj (Sayak) arriving with his Kinnari Vina accompanying the thundering "gong gong Ganapati." His elephantine movements sprinkled with "Ashani shabda mardala" from Kalidasa's Ritusamhara, "Nupurnaad ramya" and "Jhamjham brishti" depicting monsoon clouds, sways with legs raised sideways while gradually lifting the foot with toe upwards were some fine points in the choreography executed marvellously by a dancer of high calibre. Raga Megh, percussion instruments like mridangam, pakhawaj, mizhavu and mainly Bengal srikhol played by a group of women covered under an indigo Jamdani symbolizing the rumbling clouds articulated the tone of Varsha (monsoon).

The arrival of Sarat (autumn) with the chanting of slokas from Ritusamhara in Akashbhasita on the raga Revathi/Vairagi was enacted by a group of women (Prakriti) dancers with Angadhvani. Women dancers with white pith lotuses pinned on the top of their heads offered a wonderful imagery of the flowers floating in the ponds and the white stoles on them symbolized purity. The Devi arrived with the sonorous selection of Devisukta along with all the Mangal Vadya - Kutti mizhavu, bells of Kumbakonam, cymbals, kurangkural/shehnai, mizhavu, mridangam and srikhol, to create an auspicious ambience .The only scene behind the curtain (Antarayavanika) was the "Nirmalya," an offering to Adishakti by the divine trinity Brahma, Vishnu and Maheshwar.

Hemanta, the transitional ritu, harbinger of winter was depicted by raga Bihag suggestive of the depressive feeling for the estranged lover. Raga Bihag is mentioned in Sangita Parijat as raga Bihangam. Hemanta wraps nature with a bleak cover - the white stoles symbolize the onset of winter. Slokas from Ritusamhara painted the harvesting season. Winter or Sit was ordinary as compared to the other seasons. It was portrayed from Sudraka's Padmapabhritakam by Sayak Mitra.

Raga Vasanta heralded Spring (Vasanta) with joyous celebration by blending dance and evoking images of happiness through Jayadeva's "Lalita Lavangalata" and enacting verses from Kalidasa's Ritusamhara worshipping Kamadeva (Deep Ghosh) seated under the canopy of his Ekatantri Vina. Sringar rasa is the dominant rasa of Vasanta depicted by adi vina: Ekatantri Vina (one stringed tube zither) as seen in the Ragamala paintings. An enchanting irresistible swinging rendition of "Naba palasha palasha, banampurasphuta paragaparaga" developed the merriment and ecstasy of Vasanta.

The gratifying presentation ended with the ultimate bliss where the dichotomy of Bhrgu and Angira, ritu and nature ceased to exist revealing oneness. The dancers were covered with veils which signify the diluted existence of Bhrgu and Angira as separate entities, which faded away to ultimate bliss with the chanting of 'Narayana...'

A thundering applause from the audience and words of appreciation from the legendary Ratan Thiyam who watched the performance eagerly, for Piyal and his work and courage to present such productions made 'Samvatsara Katha' worthwhile.

Dr. Nita Vidyarthi is a veteran critic of performing arts and writes on dance, music and theatre in leading publications.

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