Tuesday, 31 March 2020

GURU DEBAPRASAD AWARD FESTIVAL


NITA VIDYARTHI


In memory of the legendary Odissi dancer and guru, Debaprasad Das, the prestigious Guru Debaprasad  Award Festival is held every year on his birth anniversary for the past 12 years by Tridhara in Bhubaneswar. Debaprasad Das had created a unique style by amalgamating tribal and folk dance elements with classical Odissi with the scintillating sabdaswarapatha.

Under the leadership of  Gajendra Panda, director and torch-bearer of the Debaprasad school,  Tridhara honours acclaimed dancers, gurus and personalities, who have made a significant contribution to Indian art and culture on the opening day of their three-day annual festival.

The prestigious 13th Guru Debaprasad Award for 2019 was presented to eminent personalities such as guru V.P.Dhananjayan and Shanta Dhananjayan (Bharatanatyam), veteran guru Durga Charan Ranbir (Odissi), Pt.Raghav Raj Bhatt and Bidushi Mangala Bhatt (Kathak) and senior art critic Nita Vidyarthi.

The Guru Debaprasad Prativa Award introduced last year to encourage promising young talents in Odissi dance, went to Binayak Panda (Ganjam), Amrita Das (Vardhaman), Rathimalar Govindarajoo (Malaysia), and Atasi Mishra (Rayagada).



After the inauguration and the award ceremony, the distinguished dancer and foremost disciple of Debaprasad Das, Durga Charan Ranbir, opened his performance with the Ektali based mangalacharan He Krishna karunasindhu set to raga Kalyan, mesmerizing with his tribhanga at the very outset. The chiselled,  baraha hasta mudra (boar hand gesture) in Baraha pidabhi Ram mrigamada tilakam and imagery of kundalkanta mandakam lighted up the underlying nuances of the lines.  His captivating abhinaya of the Jayadeva ashtapadi Mamiyamchalita bilokyam set to raga Kalabati (Triputa tala) in Ramahari Das’ music sung by Sukanta Kundu, saw the best of the exemplary veteran in his own choreography. Niranjan Patra’s pakhawaj, Abhiram Nanda’s flute and Ramchandra  Behera’s manjira provided understanding support. He concluded his recital with a short piece Pada shrinkhalam Madhava hridaya banam with his disciples Manoj Kumar and Gayatri.

The principal dancers of Tridhara presented the Odissi dance drama Yogini Yoga Rupa, portraying vividly some of the yoginis like Kalika, Chandika, Ramchandi, Bhadrakali and others from the 64 yoginis, which are the manifestations of the yogic power of Rudra (Lord Shiva) resulting from his meditation. Kedar Mishra’s script inspired by the hypaethral temples of Yogini Pitha in Ranipur-Jharial in Balangir district and Hirapur, near Bhubaneswar, illustrated the mystical female cult of 9th century.


There is a popular belief that yoginis had their origins in animistic traditions of adivasis and they worshipped grama devatas (village goddesses). Gajendra Panda‘s invigorating choreography recreated the primal power of these folk traditions with a rustic touch, incorporating folk elements like Daskathia. What kept the interest alive was the rhythmic sabdaswarapatha   Chan Chan Chandrahans Chakitahara and Kali kankali naramundamali with briskly stepped movements around the stage of these goddesses (dancers) on their respective vahaanas like the buffaloes and the lovely dancers’ pyramid with Bhadrakali on top. Blended with sharp music by Gopal Chandra Panda and vibrant ukuta of guru Dhaneswar Swain, the rendition offered interpretative brilliance to the sahitya.


It was a real privilege to watch a dignified  Bharatanatyam duet on the second evening by the veteran dancing couple V.P.Dhananjayan and Shanta Dhananjayan. The unforgettable, involved rendition of the ashtapadis Yahi Madhava,  intertwining smoothly with Badasiyadi kinchidapi from Jayadeva’s Gita Govinda, created a piece of dramatic spiritual significance with clear enunciation of the lyrics. Simple costumes, unhurried, extremely natural movements, restrained abhinaya, expansive ability and soft-focused visualisation of Priye charushiley, while sustaining the intense moments, captivated throughout the performance. Shanta Dhananjayan as Radha portrayed a strong woman accusing Krishna of being unchaste in love towards her and asks him to go away. VP Dhananjayan as Krishna implores forgiveness with a naughty look playing upon his twinkling eyes even at eighty!


Another senior couple Raghav Raj Bhatt and Mangala Bhatt brought home the essence of Durga Lal‘s Kathak in their performance. Raghav Raj Bhatt’s Madhurashtakam was fulfilling with smooth Kathak elements. Mangala Bhatt’s  abhinaya in the thumri, Mohe Chhedona Nanda ke Chhail was communicative. The duet tarana in raga Kalavati composed by Pt. Birju Maharaj, saw innumerable variations and detailed treatment of the rhythm showing their mastery over rhythmic syllables of nritta.


Rathimalar Govindarajoo, a fit and strong dancer, has a complete understanding of the Debaprasad style. In her rendition of Ashtashambhoo, she communicated wonderfully with religious fervor, especially portraying  Marang barayate.

Amrita Das, principally a skilful dancer of the Kelubabu gharana had adapted the Debaprasad style competently. Her Durga tandava choreographed by Gajendra Panda was an effective enquiry into the iconography of the powerful mother goddess.


It was heartening to see that Tridhara had devoted the entire closing evening to solo recitals of Chanda, Champu and Bhajan, the traditional songs of Odisha by stalwarts, luminaries and seasoned singers. The second evening opened with the melodious flute recital of Pt. Ajay Prasanna in raga Puriya Kalyan, vilambit, madhyalaya, and finally, a riveting drut accompanied by Prasenjit Poddar’s wizardry on the tabla.

Kavi Samrat Upendra Bhanja recipient 82-year-old Shyamamani Devi, put forth an amazing theme and content in her full-throated rendition of Chapadhari Raghunath goley mrigamari , but the centerpiece was the cha champu, Thapire kaho thapirey priya sakhi, concluding with a soulful chanda, Aha dhanurdhar birabor. Age has not tarnished the sublime appeal in her rendition. Veteran Chittaranjan Pani, began with the highly popular  janana, Monima Sunima followed by the delicately tuned janana, Dinabandhu Ayi aali Srichhamurey (appeal to the almighty) with bhaktibhava.

Guru Ramhari Das introduced champu kavya as a work of exquisite literary composition of poetry and prose where all lines of a song begin with an assigned alphabet. There are only 34 songs. His recital started with the Odia alphabet “Ha”(Ha champu, Hari hambaro ek praner dhan) followed by the soul-stirring bhajan, Shymalroop Barna Sundar. Delineating the raga Simhendra Madyam, veteran Keshav Chandra Rout enthralled with  Sapatati moro re (Sa champu).

Sangita Panda, daughter and disciple of the stalwart Gopal Chandra Panda is a powerful singer.  A janana, Daya koro Dinabandhu sukhey jau aaro din, brought out the emotive aspects of raga Chakrakeli, and intensity of the lyrics. The chanda, Sriradha batuli premarasa tuli in raga  Krushna Kedar, reflected a textured depth in her singing.

The timbre in the renowned Sangita Gosain’s voice is extremely captivating. Hence the chanda, Aarey babu shyamghana  and Dha champu, Dhira re ki dhana tu na dilu aaja took a different dimension.

Nazia Sayeed has a sweet and delicate high pitched voice just right for the La champu Leelanidhi hey. Her singing was refined with an elegant charm.

Photos courtesy: Tridhara


KONARK FESTIVAL


TAPATI CHOWDHURIE


Started by guru Gangadhar Pradhan in the year 1986, the five-day Konark festival of dance is like no other and attracts people from all over the world. The festival is organized by Odisha Tourism and Odisha Sangeet Natak Akademi. With the beautiful backdrop of the ancient Sun temple, all the performances are conducted in an open-air auditorium, and dancers emerge from their abode with the tinkle of their ankle bells and the sound of music from instruments combined with sonorous singing. The entire place, decorated with multi-coloured festoons of light and Odisha artefacts, created visual grandeur.


Odissi, Bharatanatyam, Kuchipudi, Kathak, Mohiniattam and dancers from Bali, Indonesia were chosen to perform this year. Apart from the main dance festival, the beach of Chandrabhaga offers the famous Sand Art Festival, which also attracts sand artists from far corners of the world, as they compete to win a prize from the Odisha Tourism Development Corporation.

One performance on each day showcased the state’s very own Odissi dance. The festival opened with Anweshana, from Srjan, the house of revered guru, Kelucharan Mohapatra, currently spearheaded by its artistic director, Ratikant Mohapatra. Anwesha was a bouquet of Odissi dance; modern, yet classical. Commencing with an invocation to the Sun God, the foremost of the nine planets, his disciples performed the Hamsadhwani pallavi, a creation of guru Kelucharan Mohapatra, who had initially designed it for a solo performance. Ratikant Mohapatra had beautifully re-choreographed this piece to suit a group rendition. Prayer to Goddess Bhagawati and a tribute to the nation concluded his recital.


Aloka Kanungo also a direct disciple of guru Kelucharan Mohapatra presented a new idiom, Sabda Nrutya, which she had created by adding new sensibilities to the original form. Sabda Nrutya was presented by her along with her talented students in Dasa Mahavidya. The power of Shakti, the formidable energy-revealed through her ten manifestations with the use of tantra, mantra and yantra was the dancers’ tribute to all great women. Her strong musical ensemble consisting of guru Laxmikant Palit, Prof. Ramhari Das, Himanshu Swain and guru Dhaneswar Swain, guided her all through. A pallavi,  Mana sambhar in raga Sankaravarnam referred to the three times repetition of one of the four rhythms in the Odissi parlance. Jamuna kulare krushna eka dui jana was an expressional dance which blossomed fully with young gopis who were puzzled on finding two Krishnas on the banks of Yamuna. The emotion of wonder was suitably displayed in all its subtlety.

Swapnarani Sinha, a disciple of guru Durga Charan Ranbir (Deba Prasad school), and her group presented a different flavour with their vibrant dancing. Conceptualised by Swapnarani, her Triveni sangam dealt with the story of the confluence of the three rivers. Several mythological stories were collated to narrate the tale, upholding the sanctity and purity of the rivers. Professor Ramhari Das composed the music and wrote the script and guru Dhaneswar Swain composed the rhythm. Agni stuti in raag Bibhabari Kalyani to the rhythm of Dhaneswar Swain presented the story of Agni.

Prahlada Natakam, based on the popular folk dance of Ganjam district, by guru Gajendra Panda, however, did not fit the bill of Odissi.  Tandava nritya of the elephant headed God performed before the dance-drama embarked on Sabdaswarapata. This was performed to a packed audience until the story ended.

The grand finale of the festival was by Guru Kelucharan Odissi Research Centre (GKCM Odissi Research Centre, Bhubaneswar) with their presentation of  HamsadootiThe Swan Messenger. It was one of those rare, mythological stories conceptualised by Sangita Gosai to music and rhythm composition of Swapneswar Chakraborty and Satchidananda Das, choreography by guru Kasturi Pattnaik. The story is from the Harivansa Maha Purana. The main characters of the story were the golden swans and the demon king Bajranava –enacted through an excellent rendition of Odissi dance by Yudhistir Nayek. Performed in the grand open-air stage, the piece was a gripping dance-drama.
Kathak was presented by the disciples of Nadroop of Pune run by guru Shama Bhate. Footprints of tradition showcased tradition and also brought about different flavours in its rendition. Surya Vandana and presentation of Roopak taal comprising uthan, thaat, aamad, tatkar, natabari bol, paran and tihai preceding kaliyadaman and chaturang in raag Kedara, was an amalgamation of tarana, sargam sahitya and dance, accompanied by pakhawaj.   It was a sheer aesthetic delight to watch this group of well-trained dancers.

Mohiniattam dancer Jayprabha Menon was at her delightful best in Tatvam. Relying totally on sopana sangeetam of Kavalam Narayana Panicker, she struck a chord with their Rasa Ganapathy in ragam Kuntalavarali and talam Adi. Her group also performed Chandana charchita neela kalebara –an adulation of Krishna by the gopis who indulge in Ras Leela with him from the Geeta Govinda. In Narayana Guru’s Naga Tatvam she touched upon knowledge of the awakening of the primordial energy through the power of the snake in ragam Punnagavarali and Adi talam. Jayprabha effectively imitated the popular practice of playing the magudi by the snake charmer. Her fine expression and nritta along with her well-trained group of Mohinis said it all. In the finale, Jayaprabha and her group presented Jeeva, where they emphasized the rhythmic syllables in the 14-beat sopana sangeeta tala.

In their Kuchipudi presentation, veterans, Raja and Radha Reddy, portrayed the winds of change that are fast spreading in our motherland.  Through their dance-drama Bharata Bharati, they reminded us of the richness of our motherland and the message of peace, non-violence and truth we represent. Portraying Bharat as a land where the Natyasastra originated, as a land of the vedas, where many religious practices are followed, and yet people live amicably. Every detail of their presentation was rooted to tradition. The dancers had practised to perfection as they spread joy to the onlookers. Guru Raja and Radha Reddy’s appearance to act out the navarasas was applauded by the lay and the connoisseurs alike. Guru Kaushalya Reddy’s nattuvangam was praiseworthy.
Vaibhav Arekar, a bright star in the firmament of  Bharatanatyam is also a well-equipped theatre person. His Surya Namaskar was unique in more than one count. Beautiful light designs by Susant Jadav to highlight crucial parts of the presentation like that of the rising sun, which was portrayed elegantly by Vaibhav. Neat presentation and some wonderful rendition of dance units woven together with dance phrases were delightful to watch.
Vaibhav, along with his group, performed jatiswaram, transforming the pure nritta piece into a work of art never seen before! The ever-changing designs playing with the swaras were pleasurable. The piece, in the hands of Vaibhav, acquired a new character. Medieval poet Jaydeva’s Dasavatar also had a different take. He praised Kesava’s ten manifestations with much creativity. A polished dancer, he ignited his students to perform their very best. This reviewer has the aspiration to see Vaibhav work more wonders with traditional pieces that our eyes have got tired of seeing.
The Balinese dance group, Widya Budaya from Indonesia, performed Selat Segara a contemporary choreography of a traditional temple courtyard dance to welcome the audience. The disappearance of Sita was taken from the Ramayana and presented in magnificently bejewelled and bedecked costumes; the dancing, unfortunately, had precious little to offer.  


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.

Roopaka
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.

Upa-Roopakas

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

Budding musicians present gharana perspectives


By Ashwin Bhandarkar


Kalanidhi, a music circle in Pune, kicked off its fifth year with its first chamber concert in the ‘Masik Sabha’ series on 19 January 2020.  In keeping with the theme of Exploring the intricacies of Jaipur Atrauli gharana for the concert, the artists featured were two up-and-coming khayaliyas of the gharana - Nishad Matange and Devashree Navaghare-Bhargave. The former presented ragas Bahaduri Todi and Kukubh Bilawal, both being melodies that are closely identified with the Jaipur Atrauli gharana, while the latter presented ragas Komal Rishabh Asavari and Suddha Sarang, ragas that are frequently rendered by artists from other gharanas as well. 

Both artists gave a good account of the solid taleem that they have received from their respective gurus – Manik Bhide, Rajshekhar Mansoor and Ashwini Bhide Deshpande (for Matange), and Manjiri Asnare-Kelkar (for Navaghare-Bhargave). The distinct stylistics of the Jaipur Atrauli gharana - the usage of the khula aakaar, laya-oriented systematic development of the raga, maintaining of the sanctity of the structure of the bandish, use of behlava, were in evidence in both performances and elicited appreciation from the knowledgeable audience. Both performers were ably and unobtrusively accompanied on the tabla by Pranav Gurav, currently a student of Aneesh Pradhan, and on the harmonium by Ameya Bicchu, a student of Tanmay Devchakke

In addition to the objective of giving a concert platform to budding artists, the other objective of the ‘Masik Sabha’ series is for these artists to share their perspectives of the art form and how they relate to it. Both Matange and Navaghare-Bhargave spoke about and fielded questions from the audience on their individual takes on the relevance of gharanas and what this tradition means to them in the context of their grooming in the Jaipur-Atrauli gharana. The take-away for the audience was that while influences – whether incorporated consciously or unconsciously - from other gharanas are inevitable in today’s day and age, the aesthetic viewpoint and the stylistic approach of performing imparted in the Jaipur Atrauli gharana is central to their art.  

The venue for the programme was the music chamber created by industrialists Shrinivas and Padmaja Gadre at their bungalow in Kothrud. With its intimate setting and excellent acoustics, it provided the perfect setting for the chamber concert (baithak or chotekhani mehfil). It is also heartening to note the increase in the number of music circles/sabhas in the Mumbai-Pune area that are organising chamber concerts and the encouraging turn-out for such concerts.  Several of them are run by musicians themselves – in the case of Kalanidhi, it is run by the Gurav family consisting of tabla artist Milind,  khayal exponent Aparna, their son, Pranav, and their daughter-in-law, Komal.

(The author is an IT professional, a rasika and blogger)                                  

(Photos courtesy Kalanidhi)

Thursday, 5 March 2020

SHRESHTHA BHARAT SANSKRITI SAMAGAM


NEWS & NOTES

A national cultural confluence

The Shreshtha Bharat Samskriti Samagam is a unique series of festivals featuring music, dance, drama, folk, tribal arts, puppetry and allied traditions, organised by the Central Sangeet Natak Akademi, under the advice of the Prime Minister, in six directions of India, including smaller cities and towns. The confest is the brainchild of Chairman Shekhar Sen, whose desire it is to celebrate all branches of the performing arts at one venue. Apart from presenting these art forms through performances, seminars were also held wherein paper presentations by scholars of the respective forms were included. These have been documented and will be brought out as a volume for the benefit of future generations.

The mammoth project was launched at Bhubaneswar in Odisha (10-14 July 2018), and its success gave SNA enough impetus to hold the next events in different parts of the country: at Ahmedabad, Gujarat (west) in September 2018; Amritsar, Punjab (north west) in November 2018; Guwahati, Assam (north-east) in December 2018; and Tanjavur in Tamil Nadu (south) from 10 to 14 September 2019. The sixth one will probably be held at Indore in Madhya Pradesh (central India).

The fifth edition of the confluence was held in collaboration with the South Zone Cultural Centre, in Tanjavur—the ancient capital city of the Cholas, where culture flourished. This edition too covered music, dance, drama, folk, tribal arts, puppetry, and allied traditions. The pattern followed was also the same on all five days. The morning sessions, from 10.30 am to 1 pm, were devoted to seminars and discussions by stalwarts, while the evenings were devoted to performances by veterans. The topic for discussion was ‘The past, present, and future scenario of the performing art forms’. Some of the senior musicians who participated were Pushpraj Koshti, Neyveli R. Santhanagopalan, Chitravina N. Ravikiran, Kaivalyakumar, Lalgudi G.J.R. Krishnan, and Neela Ramgopal.

On the second day, stalwarts spoke on folk and tribal arts. Indumati Raman gave a spellbinding talk on the Bhagavata Mela tradition practiced and performed at Melattur on Narasimha Jayanti every year. M.V. Shimhachala Sastry, Harikatha exponent from Andhra Pradesh, presented an erudite and interesting paper on endeavours for the sustenance and development of the art form. Anupama Hoskere from Bengaluru was articulate about the puppet tradition of Karnataka, which encompasses several art forms, and is a rich repository of the social history of the land. Atashi Nanda Goswami spoke of the past, present, and future of glove puppets in West Bengal.

In the evening, there was a shadow puppet show of Karnataka on the theme of Gautama Buddha, to give the audience a taste of puppetry.

Among the speakers on dance were veterans Kanak Rele, who gave a glimpse of her work in the revival of Mohini Attam, and Saroja Vaidyanathan, who spoke about the past, present, and future of Bharatanatyam. Senior Kuchipudi dancer-teacher Vyjayanthi Kashi, traced the history and changing patronage of dance as well as the present scenario, while Kuchipudi and Bharatanatyam exponent from Gujarat, Smita Shastri spoke about the evolution of Kuchipudi, the need to preserve, propagate tradition, and called for more interaction between generations.

Zafar Sanjari spoke on Nautanki, and Murari Rai Choudhury from West Bengal spoke on theatre. The topic of drama was taken up again on the last day where Deepak Karanjikar (Maharashtra), K.G. Krishnamurthy (Karnataka), R. Raju (Puduchery), Padamshri Josalkar (Goa), Naresh Chandra Lal (Andaman and Nicobar) and Debasish Mazumdar (West Bengal), gave their valuable inputs. Interestingly, Karanjikar threw light on the history of the Marathi Natya Sangeet tradition.

The performance segment included choral music by the Madras Youth Choir, a Carnatic violin concert by veteran M. Chandrasekharan—both from Tamil Nadu, and Hindustani vocal maestro M. Venkatesh Kumar from Karnataka. Shimhachala Sastry presented Harikatha, Khirod Khakhlari of Assam provided a glimpse into the tribal dance of the Bodos, and Ravi Kumar of Telengana performed Oggu Dolu with his troupe. Legendary T.A.R. Nadi Rao performed the rare poikkaal kuthirai attam (dummy horse dance) along with N. Jeeva Rao of Tamil Nadu.

Jawaharlal Nehru Manipur Dance Academy, headed by Rajdhari K. Jadu Singh, presented a mixed bag of breathtaking pung cholom, dhol cholom, and vasant ras. The team from Kathak Kendra, Delhi, led by senior artist Rajendra Gangani, presented the technique of Kathak in all its aspects.

The Dogri play Ghumayee, directed by Balwant Thakur of Natrang, Jammu, was a poignant presentation about a bride who refuses to blindly bow down to orthodox traditions. Bhasa’s Karnabharam, a Sanskrit play, directed by K.N. Panikkar of Sopanam Institute of Performing Arts and Research Centre, Kerala, was a gem presented with much sensitivity, bringing out the greatness of the protagonist, who in spite of being a brave warrior was led by circumstances to accept defeat. Kathakali was used abundantly in the drama.

Kapila Venu, Director, Natana Kairali Research Training and Performing Centre for Traditional Arts, Irinjalakuda, and an exponent of both Nangiar Koothu and Koodiyattam dramatised Kamsavadham in Koodiyattam style. She narrated the story from Devaki’s point of view and also wove in the navarasa. Since it was held in the open air, with bright electric light outsmarting the glow of the traditional oil lamp, the show was somewhat marred.

Rounding up the Tanjavur Samagam, Aruna Sairam, Vice-Chairman of the Central Sangeet Natak Akademi, said that a common thread runs in all of us even if we hail from different regions. The deeply embedded  impulses are in our genes, though we may not be aware of them. She recalled the importance of the devadasis and the rituals performed by them, as narrated to her by her music guru T. Brinda. In summing up, she said that every art form goes back to the core values in each tradition. Over the years, the stories told cannot remain constant; even if they are reinvented in new forms by new artists, they build character and unite us as one cultural unit.

The Sangeet Natak Akademi and the Department of Culture hope that the Samagam congregations would go a long way in the furtherance of their mission “to strengthen and propagate  all that is living and life-sustaining in India’s culture”.

TAPATI CHOWDHURIE

Bharatanatyam school celebrates 50 in Quebec


NEWS & NOTES

Being an engineering professor, I am not a music or dance critic by any standards, but I do get attracted to good music or artistic performance whenever available in the area where I live, particularly music concerts and dance performances organised by various associations, schools from the Indian diaspora.

My introduction to Bharatanatyam was from Priyamvada Sankar during the arangetram of one of her students more than four decades ago, for which her husband invited me. He was my roommate at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore, and in 1974, I immigrated to Canada to join as a Professor at the Universite du Quebec a Trois-Rivieres in Quebec, Canada. Priyamvada, through her wellprepared explanations on the format of a standard Bharatanatyam, made it easy to understand this beautiful art form. Her dedication and her introduction of this art form into the Qu├ębec mosaic fifty years ago is a commendable achievement. The 50th anniversary of the Priyamvada Sankar School of Bharatanatyam was celebrated on 5 October 2019 at the College Durocher Auditorium, Saint-Lambert, Quebec, Canada. Priyamvada was one of the earliest, prime students of the illustrious guru T. Balasaraswati, about whom I have heard so much in my youth.

The impressive souvenir/ commemorative album, aptly named Natyam 50, brought out for the occasion, contained numerous meticulously preserved photos from the earliest days of Priyamvada as a child dancer as well as articles relating to her school, her awards, and on her numerous associations with various dance schools in North America and India. With her background as a Sanskrit scholar, in addition to being a Bharatanatyam dancer and teacher, Priyamvada is also associated with various organisations like the Interfaith Council for several decades.

The grand event was wellcoordinated by Priyamvada’s two sons, with the assistance of a large number of students and their parents. There were speeches by invited guests and a couple of parents whose daughters were the second and third graduates of the school who had performed their arangetram more than four decades ago! These speeches were tactfully presented between two items in the programme to enable the audience to pay full attention to the details.

The evening started with a prayer to Lord Nataraja, Raksho Daksha padambujena, composed by the late Dr. V. Raghavan, father of Priyamvada. This was rendered live by T.S. Ranganathan, a family member who came from India to participate in this celebration.

The traditional prayer songs accompanying the opening dances were offered first to Lord Ganesa and then to Lord Muruga. An interesting format of the dance repertoire was chosen for this occasion, which included traditional items such as jatiswaram, padam on Lord Nataraja, and tillana; a beautiful ashtapadi of Jayadeva on Lord Krishna was also presented. As this anniversary coincided with the auspicious Durgashtami day during the Navaratri festival, befittingly a Tamil masterpiece – Sri Chakraraja – a melodious song on Devi was chosen and performed gracefully by three senior dancers. The overall choice of songs, mostly in Sanskrit and Tamil, to suit the Navaratri celebrations, made an enjoyable impact. Muthuswami Dikshitar’s Ananda natana prakasam, which was performed by senior graduates from New York, also received good response.
The fitting finale of the celebration was the graceful abhinaya performed by Priyamvada Sankar for the famous song Maitreem bhajata, composed by Dr. V. Raghavan and blessed by the Paramacharya Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswati of the Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham.

Another special aspect of this celebration was the remarkable camaraderie between the students, their parents, and the appreciation and admiration for their guru Priyamvada Sankar. Their feelings were sincere and heartwarming, a
trait that is becoming rare in th  present day. The fact that the idea of this celebration was initiated with enthusiasm by more than sixty past graduates and current students bears witness to the guru-sishya tradition, return in the form of gratitude, and respect as ‘dakshina’ by the disciples to the guru. The fact that many of Priyamvada’s past students who hold high positions in their professions, despite their numerous commitments, all of them found time to come from long distances for rehearsals and participate actively on the stage, is indeed most commendable.

One notable observation was the presence of ex-Provincial Minister of Health and Current MLA in our Quebec National Assembly, Dr. Gaetan Barrette, a special guest for this occasion. He witnessed his first full-fledged Bharatanatyam performance and remained appreciative till the end of the celebrations that lasted more than three hours.

‘Natyam 50’ was a spectacle that we enjoyed celebrating the remarkable milestone in Priyamvada’s artistic endeavour, in the company of an adoring audience, numerous old and new friends, family, loyal students, and committed parents. This is the legacy that Priyamvada Sankar has achieved in the past 50 years of her promotion of the Tanjavur bani of Bharatanatyam in North America.

Prof. V. RAJAGOPALAN