Vasanthahabba - Dusk to dawn treat  
by G Ulaganathan, Bangalore 
Photos: Lalitha Venkat 
February 12, 2004   

Come the first Saturday of every February and all roads lead to Hessarghatta. And this Saturday was no different with nearly 1000 four wheelers and hundreds of two wheelers moving bumper to bumper towards the small village on the outskirts of Bangalore. This sleepy, dusty village keeps awake one whole night and the sounds of various musical instruments and ghungroos can be heard for miles around. Vasantahabba, the dusk-to-dawn music and dance spectacle at the Nrityagram, the dance village founded by Protima Gauri Bedi has come a long way in the last 13 years. 

What started as an evening of Indian classical music and dance in which the leading lights of Carnatic and Hindustani music and well known classical dancers representing various styles of Indian classical dances showcasing their talents, has now moved with the times. Now one can see a blend of classical and modern, performed by the well known and the not too well known artistes. 

view of crowd at 4.50pm in the amphi-theatre
The audience too which started as a trickle has now swelled to around 40,000 and they travel from all over India to witness the varied cultural fare and also as a tribute to Protima who died in a landslide in the Himalayas in 1998. 
Nrityagram Ensemble
Dollikunitha group
Vasantahabba this year also saw the entry of corporate sponsors, Spice and Bru, who chipped in to keep the festival going. The amphitheatre where the performances are held gets filled up by evening and the organisers did well to put up huge screens outside the venue where a few thousand people could enjoy the performances. Still there was this constant tussle between those trying to squeeze their way in and the volunteers and policemen trying to stop them. This goes on the whole night. Fortunately the efficient and courteous crowd management by the student volunteers from the Mahaveer Jain College, V V Puram (they have been doing it for the last four or five years) helped to prevent any major law and order problem. In the earlier years, when the men in khaki used to regulate crowds, there used to be a lot of bad mouthing and disturbances leading to unpleasant incidents. 
Perhaps in keeping with the curious mixture of various genre of music and dance -from Carnatic vocal, Hindustani instrumental  to world music and Bharatanatyam, Odissi to modern dance and Bhangra presented by various artistes inside, the fare outside in the stalls were also varied--there were stalls selling anything from Pulavs to Pizzas and Popcorn to Pepsi. 
Astad Deboo
Arundati Nag
Though a vast majority still come to enjoy the music and dance, there is a sizable crowd for whom it is a weekend picnic with all the goodies to enjoy. It is this section, which at times gets boisterous as it happened when the internationally famous contemporary dancer Astad Deboo took the stage. Trained in Martha Graham dance technique and blending it with the Indian traditional dance styles, Astad’s range is phenomenal and when he performed his deeply introspective solo piece, there were a few catcalls and that was enough for him to loose his cool. “I give you 5 minutes, those who cannot appreciate my dance can leave. Or if you can dance better than me, come and show your talents on stage”, he warned the audience. Before things could go out of control, fortunately Arundhati Nag, the soft spoken compere intervened and set things right.  But Astad who has danced in various international fora should know his audience and his angry reaction was definitely unwarranted. 
Odissi by village children
Bharatanatyam by village children
The scene-stealers were definitely the tiny tots (about 300 of them from villages nearby are taught Bharatanatyam, Odissi and Kathak during weekends in Nrityagram) who put up a brilliant show giving hope that the future of classical dances is bright and they are the potential performers of tomorrow. According to Ms. Lynn Fernandez of Nrityagram, this year the Nrityagram’s Outreach programme has also brought in some students from Bangalore city who have been learning for the last couple of years. 
Odissi by Rudrakshya all male ensemble
Bhangra by Buta Singh and group
While, the tall, slim Pryadarshini Govind in her Bharatanatyam recital was brilliant with her sculpturesque poses and the lovely Thillana, the all male Odissi dance troupe from Bhubaneswar, Rudrakshya, trained by guru Bichitrananda Swain proved that Odissi could also be a vigorous dance performed by males. During the Shiva Stuti and Dasavathar, his dancers used the space very well and brought in the devotional fervour. Buta Singh and party from Punjab performed the bhangra and it was as usual loud and fast paced. 
Pryadarshini Govind
Kadri Gopalnath and group
After midnight, it was the turn of music and Bombay Jayashree (Carnatic vocal), Kadri Gopalnath (saxophone) presented two purely classical concerts.
Bombay Jayashree
Sandeep Das, Shubendra Rao and Saskia
Indian Ocean
Shubendra Rao and his Netherlands-born wife Saskia Rao were the surprise package. Shubendra, a disciple of Pt. Ravi Shankar on Sitar and Saskia on her Cello gave a new dimension to the Hindustani music. They certainly touch the emotional chord of the audience. Antaragni, the world music band based in Bangalore, presents a concoction of Indian classical, folk, Qawwali, western folk, rock, jazz and Blues style of music. Their intense lyrics and harmonious blend of music made it a unique experience.  

The final concert was by Indian Ocean, a Delhi-based band comprising four talented musicians playing `earthy, fluent, free music’, blending Indian hymns, prayer like mantras and acoustic guitar passages.  

One more edition of Vasantahabba came to an end on Sunday morning with the promise that the show will go on. For young Meenakshi, a girl from the neighbouring village, Vasantahabba is another occasion when she comes with the hope of meeting her dear Gaurima (as Protima is still fondly remembered). She couldn’t find her this time also but she was told that Gaurima was looking at the show below from somewhere far above, perhaps from the brightly shining moon. And that thought, for this little girl, was more satisfying than anything else.


G Ulaganathan is the news editor of Deccan Herald, Bangalore.