Gandharva Festival of Dance and Music at Princeton 
- Sunil Kothari 

July 5, 2005 

On Saturday the 19th June, I attended organization Madhyam's Gandharva Festival of Music and Dance 2005 at Nicholas Centre, Edison, NJ organized by that pretty, complete with hazel-brown eyes, typical of chitpavan Maharashtrian community, the Kathak dancer Archana Joglekar. It was a six hour long affair: Kathak by Archana Joglekar, Hindustani instrumental music by Vishwamohan Bhatt - the Grammy Award winner and also disciple of Grammy award winner the legendary Pandit Ravi Shankar - Hindustani vocal by Kishori Amonkar's disciple Arti Anklikar, concluding with Bhairavi, the three of them performing together. 

It was Father's Day and Sunday. I was told by friends who drove me to the Auditorium that in America, on Sunday, people organize the programs at 3 pm because by 6 pm they start developing what they call 'the Sunday blues' meaning they do not like the idea of attending office on Monday morning! Be that as it may, the auditorium was full, people had bought tickets in advance and a few were trickling in, there were two half an hour intervals and big spread of Indian food and Mango Lassi, Samosas, rice, paneer, mixed vegetable, and so on - big queues I saw during each interval and the organizers had given enough time to the audience to eat and chit chat. 

It was a sheer delight to enjoy the high class classical music and dance in an auditorium which would 'give run for money' to our Mumbai National Center for the Performing Arts auditorium, well known for its acoustics. Nicholas center has excellent acoustics, you cannot ask for better lighting and the comfortable seats, which we occupied for six hours and more- as the program ran for more than six hours. But no one complained; pin drop silence. No one moved or even coughed, once the program started. Such respect for the artists placed them in a mood to give their best. 

The festival started with invocation – Ganapati Atharvasheersha presented by the disciples of Archana Joglekar. They were dressed in the costumes as would Vedic kanyas, with flowers in hairdo, flowers as earrings, also flowers for the bangles and such decoration evoked serenity. They all had youth coursing through their frames, and looked attractive- kanyas from a tapovan. And the choreography by Archana to the 'shlokas' from Atharvaveda titled 'Ganapati Atharvasheersha' recited in a Brahmin family, as she had listened to in her childhood, to which the iconic images of Ganapati, 'Vighnaharta' (remover of obstacles), ekadanta (one toothed, as he had broken one tooth to write the Mahabarata), offered his mushakavahana (whose vehicle is the mouse), shuddhabuddhi pradayaka, (giver of unalloyed intelligence), the eight directions, and each direction the dancers intertwined, creating tableau like effect and picturesque and sculpturesque images. They are all trained by Archana at her Archana Nrityalaya, which she runs teaching Kathak to local Indian Diaspora young disciples. They all were well trained and as per their age group and their 'taiyyari' looked satisfactory. 

With leisurely pace, the musicians explored the world of sound casting a spell on those immersed in music of Vishwamohan Bhatt's Mohanaveena. He chose Madhuvanti raga and evoked the mood of viraha- pain caused due to the separation between lovers, and gave a self effacing performance with his amazing dexterity, traversing various music notes in a manner born, and the gamaks and the meends were enjoyed by the cognoscenti and others alike. He then sang a lullaby he had composed on Mother's day, which was also evocative, and ended by singing a Rajasthani composition 'Kesraia Balam' in Maand! It was one of the finest recitals by him I attended in recent times. I also would like to give credit to the excellent acoustics here in America - it is like our classical arts are like dazzling diamonds and the diamonds have been set in befitting settings! Vijay Ghate, the ace tabla player gave excellent support without trying to steal the thunder, or show off his virtuosity. As a matter of fact, Vishwamohan and he had great rapport and understanding. Wherever necessary, when he displayed the magic of his fingers creating sound patterns on tabla, the audience spontaneously gave him a heartening applause. 

Archana's own performance was remarkable for her confidence, selection of Durgastuti, sancharis, elaborating deeds of Mahishasuramardini, Devi, and full of drama and energy necessary to evoke the mood, covering the stage with imagination. Dressed in a yellow dupatta with the red bandhani ghagara and blouse with kundan and pearl ornaments, she created a pleasant impression, further enhanced by her mastery over footwork, taal, different nritta, pure dance aspects of Kathak and teen taal, the usual tode, tukde, tihai, parans, ginati ke bol and so on. But she scored in her delineation of the technical aspect of counting off the ginatis, of nine, overlapping it with a story line, as does Birju Maharaj. She acknowledged his pioneering work in this area. Archana is a Kathak dancer, a story teller. She charmed the audience with brief anecdotes, how to order the child who goes on playing hopscotch and does not obey the mother; finally when she gets angry, the child obeys her- interpreting the numeric syllables of the tabla and with padhant, Archana kept audience interested in nritta aspect. 

She presented a natawati paran with bhav, of Sita attracted towards the golden deer and finally requesting Shri Ram to get that deer for her. She had enlisted the artistic support of Mitali Banerjee, a classical vocalist, and to the rendering of the Chaiti song, she enacted bhava, expression. The bahu in a joint household does the daily chores and then while decorating herself she notices that one of her earrings is missing. She looks for the pearl earring everywhere, on the terrace, near the well where she had gone to fetch water, near the cowshed where she had milked the cows, but could not locate it anywhere. She asked her mother-in-law, sister-in-law but hesitated asking her younger brother-in-law, who was quite amused at her search for the earring, but was not asking him, for the simple reason that he would make fun of her! Archana succeeded in bringing to life each and every character with consummate artistry. And such a simple but effective enactment to the exquisite rendering of Chaiti song by Mitali was highly enjoyable. The earring is finally found stuck in the dress of her husband, who had gone for work! The gentle humour was depicted as it should be. Archana has studied Kathak from Asha Joglekar, a noted Kathak senior exponent and her mother. Indrajit Chowdhury on sitar and Neela Nadkarni on harmonium added to the richness of her Kathak recital. 

Similarly vocal recital by Arti Anklikar was captivating. She chose Nand raga, not a favorite of the audiences in general except of those who are connoisseurs, and a bhajan 'Mare ghar aavo' made popular by Kishori Amonkar, her mentor. She has a fabulous voice, and she followed Kishori Amonkar’s style faithfully, reminding one of Kishori's range and style. She was apprehensive if there would be at least a few members in the audience. She need not have worried. She had excellent accompaniment in tabla by Ramdas Palsule. In Milind Kulkarni, the young harmonium player from Sangli, trained by Pandit Vasantrao Gaurav, and in Pune under Pramod Marathe, Hindustani music has found a star performer who with his deep understanding accompanies the vocalists in a manner which endears him to the audience. Arti's vocal recital was thus further embellished by modest but gifted musicians. At the end of her program, people gave her and the accompanists, a standing ovation and were literally eating out of her hands. 

The concluding Bhairavi where vocal and instrumental music and dance were to combine like 'triveni sangam,' had to forego the Mohanaveena, as the sruti alignment was not commensurate with the sruti alignment of the vocal singing. Instead Vishwamohan sang melodiously in his 'gayaki ang'. Arati joined him competently and Archana danced Kathak tatkar! The back of Ramdas Palsule, the tabla player as it were, developed 'the eyes' and in perfect sync, Archana danced 'tatkar' - it was amazing to see this coordination, spontaneous and mind boggling. With such a sumptuous fare, none left and were looking for more to come. But all good things have to come to an end. So did that evening of the Gandharva festival of Music and dance 2005. 

I shall cherish this festival for long, as there was pin drop silence, acoustics were perfect, audience was captive and the artistes were in great form. 

I envied the Indian Diaspora. How lucky to get the best music at the very doorstep. And I am glad as 'a globetrotter' I could partake of the feast! 

Dr. Sunil Kothari was Professor of Dance at the Rabindra Bharati University at Calcutta and the first to occupy the Uday Shankar Chair. A dance writer, roving critic, research scholar and author of many books, he is the recipient of the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award, the Lifetime Achievement Award conferred by Kalanidhi Fine Arts of Canada, in March 2004.