Guru Glory

Sur Singar Samsad Sammelan and Bhavan’s Cultural Centre, Andheri hosted the 60th Swami Haridas Sangeet Sammelan at the Sardar Patel Sabhagruha at Bhavan’s College Campus, Andheri. It was a dual celebration also marking 80 years of Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. The three-week celebrations go on till the end of the month, with a host of classical artistes from across the country coming to perform everyday at the venue, offering a cultural spectacle of the performing arts on a mammoth scale.

November 18 saw three Gurus of different dance styles perform, with their students, and it was a pleasure to see that unlike music, dance gurus have groomed many more shishyas who will be the gen- next in performing arts.

The evening began with Guru Roja Kannan, performing the Dashavataram (choreographed by her Guru, Padma Shri Adayar K Lakshman). Dancing to taped music, to the ragamaliga (one composition in multiple ragas) ‘Avataram/ alankaram Seidan adi ’ (he assumed/adorned avatars), clad in a purple and gold costume, and minimalistic in her embellishments, but for the traditional head jewellery, the diminutive Guru Roja brought alive the enactment of the 10 avatars of Vishnu, in her performance.

The narrative of each legend behind the avatar was crisp and evocative. Guru Roja is light on her feet and with her expressive face and doll-like features, the portrayal of the avatars was endearing and lively, especially Krishna. Her Kalki avatar was magnetic. In an entirely solo performance, she filled the stage with her presence and held the viewers spellbound for nearly an hour.

The next hour was an enthralling series of short performances by Dr Uma Rele and the students of the Nalanda Dance Research Centre, Mumbai, of which she is the Principal. Dr Rele is always very clear that she is Dr Kanak Rele’s (the Founder-Director of the Nalanda Centre) student first and daughter-in-law second. Dr Kanak Rele was solely responsible for raising the bar where Mohiniattam and Kathakali were recognised as respectable art forms.

Dr Uma Rele’s repertoire was collectively titled Vitthala Tuzhe Charani (dedicated at your feet, oh Lord Vitthala). The songs were in Marathi, and it was a Triveni Prastuti, the items blending Bharatnatyam (Dr Rele) and Mohiniattam and Kathak. It started with a brief Ganapti Vandana. Then a number in Virah khandita nayika (lover in pangs of separation), where the woman is yearning for her beloved (ie. Lord Krishna ) who is away. She sees the Lord when she looks in the mirror. In this piece, the Kathak dance students led the play.

One fluid motion transported one into the Madhura Bhav Bhakti where the nayika  looks at god as her lover and wants to merge the Jeevatma and the Parmatma (the materialistic body with the eternal soul), with the Mohiniattam students swaying and bending gracefully, firm and definitive in their stances. The Bharatanatyam students danced to an Eknath Abhang, Aalya Paach gwaalani, paach rangache shrungaar karuni...(the five cowherdesses have come bedecked in five colours of adornment).

The Dashavatara merged all three styles, between Bharatanatyam Jathis (a unit of repetitive body movements, set to a specific rhythm, and accompanied by hand gestures) and the Kathak and Mohiniattam dancers enacting the avatars. A special mention to the Narasimha avatar which got a huge round of applause for its depiction.

The Tarana started lightly to a happy lilt and quick movement, eventually melding into a devout Vitthala bhajan. The dancers were fluid, graceful, and technically flawless in this magnificently choreographed ensemble piece. The segment of Krishna’s Raas with the girls was a beautifully amalgamation, and very well coordinated between the three styles. The entire hour played out as one continued instant, without  a break in the flow. The solitary male dancer in the ensemble, playing Krishna was exceptionally graceful.

After a brief honouring of the three artistes of the evening Guru Roja Kannan, Dr Uma Rele and Pandit Rajendra Gangani, and other eminent gurus present, like Bharatnatyam exponent Deepak Muzumdar, Acharya Ganesh Hiralalji of Kathak, and Ravindra Atibuddhi of Odissi, the youthful and dynamic Pandit Rajendra Gangani took the stage, swirling his way onto the stage in a long round of chakkars (swirls and pirouettes). His students Neelakshi and Priyanka performed intermittently, and they regaled the audience with classic Jaipur Gharana repertoire-largely intricate footwork.

Pandit Rajendraji’s performance was supported by Kalinath Mishra on the table, Somnath Mishra on vocals and harmonium, Rudraansh on the Sarangii and Smt. Alka Gujjar on the sitar. The paran (a vocal sequence of syllables of rhythm) was effortlessly enunciated by his disciple Neelakshi. Rajendraji started with a Shiv Aradhna, Damaru Har har baaje, in Raag Gunkali, displaying chalan, uthaan and thaat  of such caliber, with excellent support from Kalinath Mishra on the tabla.

It was like thunder and lightning married when Rajendraji’s footwork flew at such fantastic tempo. A Pranaam Arpan in teen taal, then dhamaar taal, mostly bol (syllables of rhythm)and paran, whilst he displayed microscopic speedy taal nuances in with his feet, multiple tempo, in a magical weaving  of movement and stillness in juxtaposition.

With his lissome form, you could barely hear his feet on the stage, but for the whisper of the ghunguroos. Frenetic rhythm, to toe gliding, to gat nikaas (increasing tempo of ones gait) to jugalbandi where he danced the thaats first and Kalinath Mishra replicated them on the tabla, to 30 chakkars that left the viewers awestruck at the sheer incredible sight of grace in movement, light as the breeze, from murmur to hectic rhythm, in frenetic percussive crescendo, all earned him an applause as he danced like the night would never end.

There was spectacular artistry in Rajendraji’s Tatkaar (footwork), and a dignified spiritual flavour in his inspired dervish-like dancing.

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Suguna Sundaram belongs to the rare breed of writers in English who review Indian classical music and dance. A trained classical musician and dancer, Suguna has over three decades of experience as a writer. Interestingly, her day jobs over the years have been with all things commercial, including being editor of some of the most popular (and boldest) film fanzines. Suguna Sundaram reviews Indian classical music and dance on Xyngr.