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Nupur steps into its third decade
Photos courtesy: Goa Kala Academy

January 27, 2016

For ankle bells which have sounded for over two decades, Goa's annual Nupur festival spread over three days, marking its 21st consecutive celebration this year, had a modest audience gathering each evening. Carrying a certain aura pervading its performance site, in the precincts of Shree Mahalsa temple at Mardol in Goa, this festival mounted by Kala Academy Goa in association with the West Zone Cultural Centre, was conceived as a means of initiating, what popular perception sees as, a very western oriented people of Goa into the classical dance heritage of India. The event is now perhaps in need of a venue like the Kala Academy's own aesthetic premises by the sea, frequented by a cosmopolitan clientele. Also the travails of having to travel twenty odd kilometers from Panjam to Mardol for a festival which starting at about 7 o clock ends at nearly 11pm each evening, belies the purpose of the endeavour to reach out to the larger population. The temple grounds with the lit Dnyandeep in the rear bounded on by the temple (very distinctive architecture unlike any other region in India, sporting exquisite chandeliers hanging from the ceiling in the main entrance hall leading to the garbagriha) on one side and living premises for priests and visitors on the other, arguably makes for an attractive setting, the sound of puja bells and the drums heralding the evening haarti, suiting the ambiance of 'temple dances.'

Sapna Naik and her students

Selected with care, the artists featured were accomplished performers. But the curtain-raiser by Kala Academy's own product Sapna Naik and her students proved disappointing. Pushpanjali with an invocation to Ganapati in the lyric "Gajavadanabeduve" in Hamsadhwani, and the Tillana as group renditions offered a measure of clean Bharatanatyam lines. But Sapna's solo rendition of the varnam in Shanmukhapriya "Kolamayil Vahanane" fell short of expectations in both nritta tautness and in interpretative dance. Even the Meera Bhajan "Tumbin more kaun Khabarale' in Misra Hindolam lacked impact because of the dance's limited abhinaya. The organizers did not seem to insist on the time schedule for each artist being adhered to.

In equipoise and being able to hold most challenging one-legged stances, and in rhythmic grasp, Kuchipudi dancer Yamini Reddy stands high. "Adenamma" in Paras, her father/guru Raja Reddy's piece-de-resistance, was rendered with Úlan by his daughter who brought to bear on what used to be statuesque masculine majesty, a quality of feminine energy. Introducing an effective contrast in tone was 'Sringaralahari' in Neelambari expounding the grace and allure of Rajarajeswari. An abridged rhythmic display on the brass plate in the Tarangam concluded the recital. Kaushalya Reddy's assertive nattuvangam led Ravikant's melodious vocal support with well tried Bhasker Rao's mridangam accompaniment and Shiva Krishna Swaroop's violin interventions.

Yamini Reddy

Rajendra Gangani

Three artists on one day was one too many and by the time Kathak Guru Rajendra Gangani took the floor, it was nearing 10pm and he had to wind up with a few of his Jaipur gharana jewels as intra forms. The most striking was the Farmaishi composition, with 3, 4 and 5 chakkars, each rendered at a different speed concluding an avartan. Another was the changing placing of syllable 'dha' improvised in an interaction with the tablist Pt Kalinath Misra, the sawal/jawab sessions of Gangani answering the rhythmic challenges thrown by Kalinath Misra, demonstrating the laya control exercised by both dancer and percussionist, with tihais and tatkar providing inspiring flashes of improvisation. The homage to the Guru, in this case Rajendra's father Kundanlal Gangani "Malatilak manohar bano, Laya sir chat dhari, Gurubin aise kaun kare" was movingly reverent to the Guru. On the harmonium was Somnath Mishra and on sarangi was Sangeet Mishra.

Right from the Alaripu in Sankeerna nadai with the Tiruppugarzh verses, visualized in a Kartikeya/peacock interaction with the bird becoming the vehicle of the deity, Janaki Rangarajan's impeccable araimandi, finished hand stretches and rhythmic exactitude with the typical sukhalasya and movements a la Padma Subrahmanyam (her Guru) punctuating the choreography, were evident. Janaki's depiction of the smitten nayika in the Vadivelu varnam in Todi "Mohalagiri konden Swamy", met with a very involved rendition. The nayika's all consuming love for Mannargudi Rajagopalaswamy, was depicted convincingly, though the sancharis woven round each musical statement tended to be one too many, sometimes looking repetitive. Janaki had the advantage of a soulful singer in Arun Gopinath, a fine mridangist in Karthikeyan Ramanathan and forceful nattuvangam support provided by Kaushik Champakesan. Flute melody by Jayaram completed the musical crew. "Kuru yadunandana," the ashtapadi of Jayadeva presented in the seated position right through communicated adequately, and she could have done away with the attempt in the introduction of translating the Geeta Govindam lines - which cannot avoid sounding commonplace robbing the work of its lilting poetry. After the 'haarti' ritual in the temple, the interrupted performance concluded with Vaidyanathan's Tillana in Poorvi. In common with the editing which dancers engage in today changing Bharatanatyam adavus, with an excess of lasya ridden Bharatanritta poses and movements, apart from not gelling with the linear geometry of Bharatanatyam, took away the Tillana identity of statuesque grandeur.

Janaki Rangarajan


Shama Bhate presented her students in what was a well organized recital with quality musicians providing accompaniment, not always the case with Kathak performances. With evocative tablist Charudatta Phadke was the vocalist Hrishikesh Badve's singing- combining classical purity with lilting melody. The exchanges between tablist and Shama Bhate's own strongly articulated 'parhant' with changing rhythmic accents and cross scanning of rhythm provided spirited moments during the recital. The dancers Ameera Patankar, Avani Gadre, Ragini Nagar, Savani Mohite and Shivani Karmarkar acquitted themselves with aplomb. Shiva Vandana with its minimal movements and stances made for a fine prayer after which was the 7 matra nritta with Thaat, Amad, Paran and chakradhar Tihai. The ginti compositions and paran and Parmelu Jodi in teentala in drut laya were equally well presented. The interpretative items showed Shama's imagination at work. Surdas verses "Kaun Tapate Kiyo" wherein the jealous gopis demand from Krishna's flute as to what penance it did to be placed so close to Krishna held to his mouth all the time. All the gopis try to hide the flute which they feel represents unfair competition while they are pining away for Krishna's attention.

The other abhinaya item was site specific, for it was woven round Mohini (her manifestation as Mahalsa being the main deity in the temple). Mahalsa is said to be a short form of Maha Lasya, of which Mohini was the embodiment. The dance narration of the Samudramanthan episode with how Vishnu in the form of Mohini appears to deprive the asuras of the churned ambrosia from the seas, with the entire amount being partaken by the Gods, was choreographed in a compact group effort, with no needless elongation of scenes.

The only Odissi performer Sarita Mishra, performing on the last evening, held the audience with her grace and excellent control over frozen moments, along with an aptitude for abhinaya. With the typically supple torso movements of Odissi, Sarita who has trained in both the Kelucharan and the Debaprasad Das Odissi styles, began with Pancha Bhoota, a choreography of Aruna Mohanty. The Janano "Ahe Neela Sailo" portrays Salabeg born of mixed Hindu/Muslim parentage, appealing to Lord Jagannath to become his saviour - just as he was for Draupadi and Gajendra - saving both from the perils of disaster and death respectively. This was followed by the Ashtapadi "Pashyati Dishi Dishi" the sakhi appealing to Krishna to go forthwith to forlorn Radha closeted in her home, suffused with the pangs of unrequited love. Soft touches on the mardal percussion by Bijay Kumar Barik, added to the mood of the lyrics along with Rupak Kumar Parida's vocal support. Flautist Soumya Ranjan Joshi provided melodious accompaniment. Unfortunately due to shortage of time, the dancer cut out her Pallavi in Hamsadhwani - a sad omission. But bringing in some of the vigor of rhythm into a heavily abhinaya oriented items was Maha Kali Stotra. Sarita has the requisite foundation for evolving into a fine artist.

Sarita Mishra

Shijith Nambiar and Parvathy Menon

The established husband/wife duo Shijith Nambiar and Parvathy Menon, due to the fairly late hour, went in for soft items like Swati Tirunal's lyric in Behag portraying Kuchela, the poor Brahmin, setting off to meet his childhood friend Krishna. While Shijith's presentation was evocative, the next item based on a Surdas Pad and set to tune by Bombay Jayashree, saw the Radha/Krishna dialogue - with a crestfallen Radha saying that their meetings have got to end, for she is becoming the butt of gossip and ridicule - with Krishna typically refusing to abide by these societal restrictions. The Tillana in Desh was rendered by Shijith alone. Somehow without a varnam one felt that the weight of classicism seemed missing from the recital, due to factors perhaps out of the artists' control.

Well organized on the whole, one still felt that festival authorities have to work towards attracting larger audiences. The dance on the proscenium can still reflect devotion.

Writing on the dance scene for the last forty years, Leela Venkataraman's incisive comments on performances of all dance forms, participation in dance discussions both in India and abroad, and as a regular contributor to Hindu Friday Review, journals like Sruti and Nartanam, makes her voice respected for its balanced critiquing. She is the author of several books like Indian Classical dance: Tradition in Transition, Classical Dance in India and Indian Classical dance: The Renaissance and Beyond.

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