8th edition of Parampara Dance and Music Festival
September 4, 2018
It was eight years ago that Sattriya exponent Anita Sharma, disciple of Guru Jatin Goswami, had started the national festival of classical music and dance at Guwahati. She and her husband Samar Sharma pooled their resources together and invited leading dancers and musicians from all over India to give an opportunity to local Assamese people to witness their art. Though difficult, with goodwill and support of their friends and institutions they generated an interest among the connoisseurs and lay public for these arts welcoming the dancers and musicians to Guwahati to present their art.
Anita Sharma was interested in classical dance forms from her very childhood, having studied Sattriya and then Odissi under Gourima Hazarika. It so happened that when she saw Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra's performance, she was completely mesmerized and decided to study under him. She visited Bhubaneswar from time to time to study from Kelubabu, spending three to four months at a stretch and mastered the nuances of Odissi. Not only that but also with blessings of Kelubabu, she established Abhinaya Society at Guwahati inviting Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra to train young aspirants in Odissi. Thus began a new chapter in the East for popularity of Odissi.
Kelubabu was pleased at her initiative and spent considerable time conducting classes and workshops at Guwahati. His son Ratikant and daughter-in-law Sujata Mohapatra also joined him and trained several dancers. Anita Sharma's daughter Arhie Kaushik also studied Odissi.
It was in 2000 that Sattriya dance was recognized as the eighth classical dance form; several dancers including Anita Sharma with the permission of Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra started studying intensively Sattriya dance under Guru Jatin Goswami. The recognition of Sattriya as a classical dance form was a historical event and evoked among the hearts of Assamese people love for their own dance form. Within a span of ten years majority of dancers started mastering Sattriya dances.
Earlier Manipuri, Kathak and Bharatanatyam dance forms were popular in Assam. Bharatanatyam continues to be popular even today. Odissi was another addition. And there was generated an awareness about the richness of these dance forms. With Sattriya receiving national recognition it was natural that practically among educated middles class, the young dancers took to Sattriya in a big way.
Eight years ago in 2010, Samar and Anita started Parampara Festival. The visiting dancers like Rama Vaidyanathan, Sujata Mohapatra, Vidha Lal and others drew large crowds. Participation by renowned Hindustani tabla maestro Shankar Ghosh from Kolkata helped Parampara to gain popularity and cognoscenti looked forward to the annual festival for watching established and renowned dancers and musicians. This year the festival included participation of local musicians and dancers along with artistes from other cities. The program was flagged off with Hindustani vocal recital by Mewati Gharana exponent Pragyan Barua. Trained by Birendra Kumar Phukan, Pragyan Barua is a household name in Guwahati. His renderings were well appreciated.
Despite heavy rains and flooded streets, interested audience made their way to Sri Sri Madhavdeva International Auditorium, Kalakshetra, for the evening's program. Odissi exponent Ranjana Gauhar presented two ashtapadis as choreographed by her guru Mayadhar Raut. The leisurely exposition of Sakhi he keshi madhanamudaram was full of delicate nuances. Radha's request to sakhi to bring unto her, her beloved Lord Krishna was replete with reminiscences which Radha recalls with shyness and delight. How she had received a note from Krishna to meet her privately in his bower, opening the window with a knock on the door, reading the note and preparing to leave for rendezvous, Radha prepared herself with new sari, took off ankle bells, blew off the lamp light and was on her way to meet Krishna, overcoming all the obstacles on her way. How Krishna from behind caught hold of her and drew her close to him, said sweet nothings and withdrew her clothes giving her kiss. Radha describes the love play to Sakhi extolling Krishna who vanquished demon Keshi. The choreography details gently shringara with indelible expressions with Ranjana retaining the original choreography. She has mellowed with maturity.
She chose another ashtapadi Kuru Yadu Nandana which speaks of Radha's request to Krishna to decorate her once again after the love play. As a swadhinapatika nayika, Guru Mayadhar Raut has etched an excellent image of Radha. Requesting Krishna to put sandal paste on her breasts, rearrange her disheveled hair, dark as bee, and place beautiful flowers that fell when kissing her intensely (sakachagraha chumbanadanam). The embrace of Krishna compared to intensity of attack of an elephant was suggestively depicted. The art of suggestion, dhwani, was seen in full play, making the presentation enjoyable with rasanishpatti. Ranjana is a seasoned artist. Both her presentations were of high artistic standards.
The highlight of the evening was a new choreographic work of Anita Sharma. It was commissioned by Central Sangeet Natak Akademi for 18th August to be presented in New Delhi. On account of demise of Atal Bihari Vajpeyee and national mourning, it was postponed. Therefore, Anita decided to present it at the Parampara Festival. It was about the history of independence of Assam about which I must admit I knew little and enjoyed the running commentary along with key incidents performed in Sattriya dance style. I would like to quote the script in detail as it would be of interest to general readers. Anita played the role of Sutradhara telling the story performed by group of six dancers, three male and three female. It was quite engrossing and woven economically drawing attention to important events.
The sacred, mighty Brahmaputra river flowing through Assam, the land of rising sun of eastern India also known as Luit which means "blood" in Assamese, is the symbol of power, majesty and greatness for the people of Assam. The grandeur of the Luit or Brahmaputra has been the inspiring source of solidarity and unity and braveness to stand strong in turmoil time. The mighty Brahmaputra has been the silent witness of many historical events, uprisings, struggles from time immemorial.
The dance drama entitled "Luitor Parar Agnisur" (The fiery tunes of the bank of Luit) is primarily an endeavor to depict the struggle and sacrifices of people of Assam, the story of Assam martyrs during freedom movement of India from 1857 revolt to 1947.The Brahmaputra here is the storyteller of glorious pages of history of Assam in freedom movement. In 1857, we should also remember that along with the great names like Nanasaheb, Tantia Tope, Laxmibai, in Assam two valiant freedom fighters Peali Baruah and Maniram Dewan were publicly hanged at Jorhat, Assam. The partition of Bengal in 1905 was also strongly opposed in Assam by Assamese people and a loud movement was raised with slogans, fiery songs and poems by Jyotiprasad Agarwala and Ambikagiri Roychoudhury. A fiery poem of Ambikagiri (sah tal bal nirbhar sit...) was used in this presentation.
In 1921, the Mahatma came to Assam for the first time and he had written in YOUNG INDIA about the Brahmaputra and the patriotism of Assamese people. In1942 during Quit India Movement, Mahatma's iconic "DO OR DIE" slogan echoed entire Brahmaputra and Barak valley. Entire Assam was burning under the leadership of Gopinath Bordoloi, Tarunram Phukan, Siddhinath Sarmah, Amio kr Das etc. The Assam Congress Committee, Shanti Sena and other outfits were declared unlawful by the British. Kushal Konwar was hanged due to his alleged involvement in the Sorupathar train derailment. Bhogeswari Phukanani, Kanaklata Baruah (a teenage girl), Mukunda Kakati, Kalai Koch, Komala Devi, 13 years old Tileswari Baruah and many more were martyred in police firing during march towards hoisting the congress flag in police stations.
The endeavour of the evening was to bond the immortal patriotic songs and poems of Assam by legendry Jyoti Prasad Agarwala, Dr. Bhupen Hazarika, Ambikagiri Roychoudhry, and Hiren Bhattacharya with the traditional dance form of Sattriya to exhibit in the entire contents of dance-drama, the glorious pages of Assam's freedom struggle in an artistic and classical way of expression with the help of traditional Assamese original tunes and music.
The presentation started with the famous song of Dr. Bhupen Hazarika, "Mahabahu Brahmaputra Mahamilanar tirtha, kata Jug dhari ahise prakashi samnyar artha" (the mighty Brahmaputra, the pilgrimage of great confluence, through the ages it has borne the lesson of coexistence). Anita as Brahamputra river narrating the story with recitation by Debajoyoti Sarmah enacted various events standing on upper level of the stage and in front three male dancers and three female dancers displayed the flow of the river and enacted the events which were part of independence struggle. The hanging of Kushal Konwar was enacted artistically by a male dancer standing and bending his neck on the left. The warriors ran raising their arms and fists. The spirit was of courage and sacrifice. In the finale, the national flag with tricolour was spread across the stage held by the six dancers, whose costumes complimented the colours of the flag. One did not notice the colours in the beginning, but when they held the flag, one saw the colours of their costumes.
In the end when they sang national anthem of Assam written by Lakshmikant Bezbaruah, "O mur Apunar Desh," the audience sprang to their feet and sang along with musicians. It was very emotional and touched the hearts of the audience. The credits must be given for the script and recitation to Debajyoti Sarmah, choreography by Anita Sharma, music by Prashanta Rajkhowa and the musicians were Giren Kalita, Krantika Sandilya, Prasanna Barua and Bishnu Sarma. The dancers were Aarhie, Bandana, Dipankar, Dipjyoti, Jinti, Rajib and Shrutimala.
The production needs to be seen in the Capital and also in other states to show how a theme of independence can be woven artistically in one particular style and can convey the message. Congratulations to all artists involved in this production, because it pushes the boundaries of Sattriya dances, which are predominantly replete with bhakti bhava. Such secular themes need to be presented to reflect the contemporary situations.
On August 25, the second day, renowned Sattriya dancer Ramkrishna Talukdar with his troupe presented choice numbers from the Sattriya repertoire. After the prayer, Ramkrishna selected to present story of Lord Krishna and his deeds. The sequence of Puthana Moksha was well enacted. Next episode was of Kubja whom Krishna restores to beauty. The third episode looked like someone was hurt and could not walk, wanted to ride on back of Krishna and Krishna crushes him under his feet. I do not know this story, nor did Ramkrishna explain it.
Though the presentation was communicative, Ramkrishna needs to be careful and not to perform at such speed. It loses its natural characteristics. There must be some 'shukun' as restful presentation. It appeared that Ramkrishna is also expert in Kathak and the influence of Kathak in fast tempo was seen in this episode. Else, there were attractive tableaus. For instance, the choreography of Seshasayi Vishnu, reclining on many hooded serpent, the female dancers turning into Seshanaga with many hoods and one female pressing legs of Vishnu as Lakshmi. That visual was imaginative and attractive.
Kathak exponent Marami Medhi, a disciple of Guru Charoo Bordoloi and late Surendra Saikia, is a name to reckon with in the field of Kathak artists of Assam. As a professional dancer, she kept her commitment even when she lost her father ten days earlier. But the show must go on. And it must be said to Marami Medhi's credit that she paid tribute to her father with a flawless performance. She was accompanied by her gifted daughter Megharanjani Medhi and husband Jay Prakash Medhi, a renowned singer and a vocalist.
With an attractive stage presence and dressed in a white costume with a golden colour jacket she went through the paces with ease and grace, typical of Lucknow gharana. Her thaat, uthan, aamad et al were full of grace and maintained perfect tala and laya. The chakkars were arresting and footwork full of authority having practiced for so many years. In Thumri, she registered delicately expressions full of nuances. She has performed all over India and abroad and deserves to be seen more often outside Assam.
Megharanjani took to stage like a lightning. With attractive stage presence, she charmed her audience with a series of chakkars winning rounds of applause. Her pure dance was arresting. Here is a young dancer to watch. She is a rising star in firmament of Kathak and is bound to go places. Also she is working in Assamese films which has gained her a fan following.
The vocalist Sabarni Dasgupta, a disciple of Pt Ajoy Chakraborty, proved her mettle with Úlan in her renderings of Megha raga, appropriate for the season. She has a fine voice and wide range which she covers with ease.
The star of the evening was Bickram Ghosh, son of legendary Shankar Ghosh, the wizard tabla player from Kolkata. Bickram has created his own niche with his experimentations and innovations. He accompanied young Abhisek Sen, a disciple of Pt Shyamal Chattopadhyaya, who in turn had studied under Pt Ravi Shankar. Abhisek therefore followed Ravi Shankar's bani, style, and proved that he can carry on the legacy with pride. His tuning was melodious and command over playing in druta was arresting. Bickram gave him excellent support.
Then they swapped roles. Bickram played and Abhisek supported. Bickram regaled audience with his wizardry in playing tabla recalling various gharanas and amazing bols. Also when Abhisek played Kirvani, he created sound of mridang by having third tabla sounding like mridanga. Their combination was perfect. The audience was eating out of their hands. Bickram has worked out so well playing tabla even as a soloist that every time one listens to it one is mesmerized. With his innovations his albums Beyond Rhythmscape, Folk tale, Drum Invasion are extremely popular. Both complimented each other highlighting each other's art.
Despite the heavy rains and inclement weather the 8th Edition of Parampara was a success.
Dr. Sunil Kothari is a dance historian, scholar, author and critic, Padma Shri awardee and fellow, Sangeet Natak Akademi. Dance Critics' Association, New York, has honoured him with Lifetime Achievement award.
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