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Saturday, 28 March 2020

Bhaanotsav (Marga Natya) PC Amarendra Nath Dutta

Meena Banerjee

Under the guidance of guru Piyal Bhattacharya, Chidakash Kalalay, the centre of learning ancient Indian art-forms, organised Bhaanotsav at Padatik Centre, Kolkata. The two-day celebrations aimed to establish a connection between the ancient and medieval ages. Bhattacharya’s gifted disciples cum troupe-members presented before a knowledgeable audience that included Ustad Bahauddin Dagar, Ratan Thiyam, Rudraprasad Sengupta, Sunil Kothari, Sandhya Purecha and several others from the music, theatre and dance fraternities.

Bhaanotsav, was based on monologues; Bhana, Vithi, Prakarana, and Prahasan are the types of roopaka that were employed as a tool to educate the society in which exist social evil - drawing from Bharata’s Natyasastra which showcased the marga (way) through marga-sangeet (music), marga-nritta (pure dance), and marga-natya (drama).

The word Bhaan rang a bell for all those who grew up on the stories of Gopal Bhaan/Bhaand, a court jester of Raja Krishnachandra of Nadia, Bengal (1710-1783). These Bangla stories, based on the exploits of Gopal Bhaan, are dipped in humour and yet offer valuable social messages. The long sustained notes of music of yore helped in meditation, the body movements of dance depicting the creation of the universe, helped in understanding the philosophy of life, and the satire-dipped drama openly described the social scenario of those times, with both its good and bad sides. The audience was free to draw the conclusions.

Naatya was categorized in dasaroopakas (ten distinct modes) led by natak, the grandest form of roopaka spanning a long period of time, stringed by its erudite sootradhar. Bhaan, on mundane (laukik) platform, covers only one day’s happenings narrated by a Vita, a character belonging to the middle class with his leanings towards amorous love and valour.  

From this angle, the storyline of Padma-Prabhritakam (the lotus consent), written by ancient Sanskrit-playwright Shudraka, blatantly exposes the hypocritical attitude towards the prostitutes who, like Siva, swallow the poison to allow the society flourish in art, culture and related etiquette. Sayak Mitra, as Vita, brilliantly applied the monologues (Bharati Vritti) supported by subtle aesthetic sense (Kaishiki Vritti) and ekaharya to portray several characters through light-hearted jibes and addressed serious social and psychological issues. The layout of the scenes added to the authenticity of the narratives, written and tuned by Mitra, a worthy disciple of Bhattacharya.


Day-two featured Bhanak and Bhanika, two upa-roopakas (abstract dance poetry), which heavily rely on music and dance. These minor dramatic forms that developed in the medieval period were employed to elevate spiritual awareness of society. Bhanak (Sayak Mitra), representing Siva, sits under a symbolic banyan tree brought in by the performers in a procession, and through song, dance and dialogues explained and related the seven notes with seven vortex centres and seven dimensions of consciousness. Bhanika (Pinki Mondal), a female raconteur who heard teachings of several wise ones, established different stages of human life through the saga of Dasavatara – as elucidated in Vajrayana Buddhism.

Bharatmuni opened the doors wide by prescribing any language or instrument capable of manifesting the desired rasa and moral value. The research team (Tanmay Bhattacharya, Rakesh Das, and Deep Ghosh) employed this well. Participating artists, Akash Mallik, Shubhendu Ghosh, Rinki Mondal, Manjira Dey and several others along with the musicians (Abhijit Ray, Joy Dalal, and Piyal Bhattacharya), designers and technicians infused life in the characters and their times.

Sathguru Thyagaraja Hamsadhwani Award

Violin maestro M. Chandrasekharan was conferred the Sathguru Thyagaraja Hamsadhwani award on 26 February 2020 by M. Venkaiah Naidu, Vice President of India.  The function was hosted by Hamsadhwani at the Kalakshetra auditorium. Present on the occasion were M.Murali, Managing Director, Sri Krishna Sweets, Mohan Parasaran, Senior Advocate, Supreme Court, Ramnath Mani President, Hamsadhwani,   D.Jayakumar, Minister, Government of Tamil Nadu, R. Sundar, Secretary, Hamsadhwani, Preetha Reddy, Vice Chairperson, Apollo Hospitals, and Revathi Ramachandran, Director,  Kalakshetra. The award ceremony was followed by Kalakshetra's celebrated Maha Pattabhishekam dance drama.

Thursday, 19 March 2020

Varied Hues of Accompaniment

By Meena Banerjee  

The Zakir-mania gripped Kolkata once again on the eve of the Valentine’s Day! After witnessing the mind-blowing solo recital of the tabla wizard in January, Nazrul Manch geared up again to welcome him; but this once as an accompanist to a solo concert by sarod maestro Tejendra Narayan Majumdar, the organizer-cum-participant of the 8th Swara Samrat Festival, day-four. Hoards of people stood in the aisles of this huge auditorium to get a few glimpses of the star-studded felicitation of Pandit Vijay Kichlu with a ‘Life-time Achievement Award’ and the act of music-making, reverently dedicated to Ustad Ali Akbar Khan and also to Pandit Ravishankar on his birth centenary.
Majumdar approached Chhayanat like a man head over heels in love with his chosen raga. Stroking very softly, he seemed to appreciate the beautiful features of the raga in the alap segment before trying to arouse it from its dispassionate reverie. This melodious language of love was scripted with breezy oscillations and gently curving meends – all the way! Some meends spread wings across octaves and landed on the desired notes with pin-pointed accuracy.  The first soft and brief touch of komal nishad, followed by bold shuddh ni left the raga quivering with happiness. The jod arrived in slow tempo but with demanding gamaks that faded out in silence leaving a divine taste of melody before robust, powerful bolkaris, rose with refreshed quest, trailed by loving meends.
Frankly, the raga allows a lot of them at every bend, if, of course, its lover pays heed to it! This once Chhayanat was in good hands and evidently, Zakir sahib was touched by this contagious sensitivity. And that perhaps decided the style and mode of his art of accompaniment for the entire evening even though Majumdar opted to do gatkaris in Madhumalati, a raga invented by his guru, Ali Akbar Khan.

Art of Accompanimennt

As usual, from this point onwards, the evening was going to be totally under the spell of Ustad Zakir Hussain. With trepidation one also recalled another evening two years back at the same venue, of the same soiree, dedicated to the same legend known for his raga-worship by the same organisers but with a different artiste opposite Zakir sahib. He allowed himself to be showcased in the role of a hardcore entertainer; probably because the person in center wished to cater to amusement. To the utter disappointment of numerous music-addicts like this reporter, ‘sur’ (melody), offered by a heavy, evocative raga like Bageshri was mercilessly chopped off to coerce it into a cluster of lifeless, staccato ‘swaras’ (notes). Only the thrill of rhythm was served by both of them on that occasion.
In sheer, heartwarming contrast, this once he offered an exemplary art of tabla accompaniment which, much beyond the copybook techniques, spoke volumes about a sensitive musician’s emotional involvement with music – irrespective of the underlying demand for showmanship commensurate to his carefully crafted and jealously guarded image that has created a demand for ‘bouncers’ during music soirees!
Such was the impact of sur and the complex yet sweet raga, that after the brief aochar when the sarod began the slow teental gat, his tabla decided to tiptoe in quietly with the simple, straight theka – without the ornate fillers between the beats - apparently in deference to its pathos-ridden melodic pattern that sported both gandhars, madhyams and nishads. Like an unobtrusive tanpura, he allowed the composition to cling on to the tuneful, ringing beats and to unfurl its melodic beauty to the optimum.         
The first exhilarating repartee took a cue from the ekhara, stacatto phrase. Soon, different jati-based layakari began and the tabla reverted to play the role of an anchor with majestically impressive ‘simple’ theka. In reply to this longish passage, the tabla crafted identical designs. Next, when powerful bolkari based phrases created a crescendo and tapered down with a tihai, his jawabi sangat once again arrived as an example of his amazing melodic memory-based craftsmanship. A few dramatic pieces of saath-sangat displayed great anticipation on the part of table, almost like a mind reader. This was electric; and that is when the string snapped!
Without a blink, the following two-minute solo round of the tabla heightened the already warmed up mood with a rela interspersed with aesthetically studded bols of different aural effects. The following medium-paced jhaptal changed the texture with aad chhand interpolated by brisk four-stroke or five-stroke-patterns per beat. This opened up an interesting dialogue between the two maestros. After a few fast running taans, a quiet tihai very lovingly bowed the raga out.       
Yaman Manjh, as taught to Majumdar by Pandit Ravi Shankar during a project work, came as his homage to the legend. Lighter in character, the raga is a heady blend of Yaman and Khamaj. As expected the aochar was loaded with typical Ravi Shankar-nuances. The composition set to sitarkhani seemed to give a free license to Zakir to show his ornate, swaying and dancing style. During the mukam based saath-sangat, the tabla, interestingly, adopted the mukam-pattern and left the rest of the theka un-struck to give sarod a free space. This playful mood unleashed the entertainers in both; but both remained reverently loyal to the raga, playing technique and genre. 
In an era when solo concerts are fading out, such evenings, when one can witness several moods of the musicians, come as reassuring promise!   

Thursday, 12 March 2020

On Nuances of Padams

By Siddharth Vijayaraghavan

Curated by ArtEry, the Nuance Series commenced its first lecture demonstration on 16 February 2020, with Sangita Kalanidhi S.  Sowmya’s presentation on Padams.

Vidushi Sowmya began by casting light on the etymology and the initial usage of the term ‘padam’ in Bharata’s Natya Sastra, and delved deep into the subject. She explained the various types of padams—from Jayadeva’s ashtapadis, padams of the Dasakoota, to sringara sankeertanas of Annamacharya. Sowmya then spoke about famous padam composers in Telugu -- Kshetrayya, Sarangapani, and Muvanallur Sabhapatiayya, and Tamil composers like Ghanam Krishna Iyer, Subbarama Iyer, and Mambazha Kavirayar. She even included specific compositions of Ramalinga Adigalar and Bharatiyar to illustrate the relevance of the padam as a musical form in modern times.

Throughout her presentation, Sowmya emphasised the importance of looking at the padam as a musical form far beyond the cliche of it being a slow, dense composition sung towards the end of the concert. Citing examples based on her learning from her gurus (vidushi T. Muktha, and  Sangita Kalanidhi S. Ramanathan), she brought forth the padam as a musical form, highlighted its musicality, and told us how to apply it judiciously in practice. An engaging workshop by vidushi Sowmya.

A precious insight into Harikatha

It isn’t on every Saturday morning that you gather at a  serene place covered with greenery and a vibrant aura, to get a glimpse into an ancient art form of India. Paathashala, the two-day workshop on the Techniques of Harikatha organised by Charsur Arts Foundation in collaboration with Vijayashri School of Harikatha, and conducted by well-known Harikatha exponent Vishaka Hari was more than enlightening. As a prerequisite, students filled out a short questionnaire on their basic qualifications, knowledge in Sanskrit, scriptures, and musical compositions—some of the essential criteria for participating in this workshop.

Vishaka Hari introduced the concept of Harikatha, which essentially is a one-person theatre art form, where the performer assumes the nature of the katha patram (character) and becomes one with his or her art. The topic for a Harikatha is chosen according to the occasion, the story can be developed on any plane, and the themes are endless, she said. Providing more insights she said that a learner of this art has to focus on the right mix of singing, narration, philosophy and humour while building a story. All assertions made during the katha are based on dharma.

Vishaka Hari took the participants through the various styles of Harikatha across the country. Just like any other art form, what is practiced in the northeast to Tanjavur Krishna Bhagavatar’s style, Harikatha is like a potpourri of cultures infused with knowledge and aesthetics. Following this, youngsters explored the eightfold structure of a Harikatha, such as panchapati, prathamapada, poorvapeetika, tillana, tani avartana, katha nirupanam and mangalam. To present these features, Vishaka Hari stressed that the performer must be well qualified and have knowledge of at least five languages, and a strong hold over the itihasas, puranas and other relevant texts. She pointed out that a good memory, creativity, eloquence, knowledge in music and other fine arts, and above all dedication to ones guru, are some of the prerequisites for a Harikatha artist.

The workshop was more an interactive session rather than a regular instructive workshop.  That  the participants were encouraged to discuss and exchange ideas, made it even more interesting.  As a resource, Vishaka Hari was easily approachable and made even the complex subjects, simple to understand. Her subtle sense of  humour combined with her ‘bottom-up’ approach for visualising a story, was refreshing.

The following sessions included a practical exercise. The participants were asked to perform Harikatha on various topics. “We learnt how to present a Harikatha on Krishna Leela, with the aid of Sanskrit verses/slokas from the Govinda Kathamritam.  It was interesting to see how each set of verses conveyed a different story or leela of Lord Krishna. From the tales of Gokula to Brindavana leela, every stanza came to life through Visakha Hari’s explanation.”
She also pointed out how the voice has to be modulated, be aligned with sruti even while speaking, at times, and how the performer has to be eloquent yet calm at the same time. The tone of the voice during narration would be changed according to the bhava of the katha under exposition.

She also kindled the interest of the students to explore this art form through different approaches—like Nritya katha, where one could showcase her talent to dance while performing Harikatha.; or Chitra katha, where one could combine painting and Harikatha.

During the second session, students were given handouts on slokas from Sri Sri Anna’s work Govinda Kathamritam, which describes the divine pastimes of Lord  Krishna, in different metrical forms. Students were taught to sing the slokas, the word-for-word meanings and story were narrated in detail, and suitable songs of different composers were sung for each episode.

The evening was reserved for performances by the students, based on what they had assimilated in the morning. On day one, Prahlada Charitram was presented by Varun, followed by Janani’s part one of Seeta Kalyanam. Snigdha Desiraju expounded on Bhavas in Tyagaraja Kritis, and Aradhana Anand performed Govardhana Leelai through Vishnu Shatpadi.  On the second evening, Janani performed the second part of Seeta Kalyanam, which was followed by Srinidhi’s  Prahlada Charitram, and Vignesh performing Ayyaval Charitram. The display of Harikatha by children, as small as 7-8 years, was a treat to watch; their coherence of thought and command over speech were beyond words. The audience thronged on both days to support the artists and the children. This two-day event was indeed a great initiative and an enriching experience for all the students who participated.

With inputs from
N. Bhairavi, S. Srinidhi, Snigdha Desiraju and Vignesh Chandrasekharan