“Katha Kahey, So Kathik Kahey”
– “He who tells a story is called a Kathik”
This phrase gradually took shape in a beautiful form – Kathak, the story-telling traditions of the temples of north India. From the rustic cloth bag of the village minstrel, it travelled through the royal courts of Hindu and Muslim rulers and finally reached the proscenium stage, as one of the foremost classical dance forms of India.
Kathak, originally an ancient temple dance of North India, over the years evolved to become a dance form greatly influenced by social, religious and political issues of the times. During the Mughal era, Kathak was transformed from a temple dance into a court dance being patronized by the Mughal rulers. Islam, being intolerant of idolatry, the religious content was gradually altered in order to suit the tastes of the patrons and the dance form became sensuous in nature. It soon lost its religious flavour and changed into a medium of entertainment. In the process, it enriched itself and became a synthesis of Hindu and Muslim cultures. There was a greater stress on rhythmic footwork, fast pirouettes, and subtle intricate movements. Competitions between court dancers raised the level of accomplishment and dexterity of the dancers. After India became independent, Kathak emerged as a classical dance form with global recognition. The main Gharanas (families) of Kathak are the Lucknow, Jaipur and Benaras Gharanas. Named after the cities in which they evolved, they have their own distinctive styles. Gurus and disciples of each Gharana followed their traditions, to pass on the art to their successors.
Padma Vibhusan Pandit Birju Maharaj is the torch-bearer of the famous family, Kalka-Bindadin Gharana of Lucknow, which has been serving the art of Kathak dance through centuries together. Besides being a superb dancer, Pandit Birju Maharaj is also gifted with a number of other qualities which adds to his artistic carrier. He is widely acclaimed, not only as a performer but as an inspiring ‘Guru’, having successfully trained numerous students in India and abroad. Panditji has given a completely new dimension to Kathak by experimenting with new techniques in the application of dance dramas. A choreographer of repute, his bold and intellectual compositions in traditional themes are brilliant, refreshing in concept, crisp and entertaining. A measure of his genius is the fact that at the young age of 28 years, he received the Sangeet Natak Akademi award. He is also a recipient of the country’s second highest civilian honour – Padma Vibhusan, besides several other prestigious awards.
To celebrate the 70th birthday of the danseuse, his favourite and senior most disciple Bipul Das under the aegis of his school, Mridang, organised a three day Kathak festival – ‘Vasundhara’ – in Guwahati. The festival was basically a tribute to the legend by his disciple conforming to the famed ‘guru-sishya parampara’. Pandit Birju Maharaj along with another disciple Sashwati Sen conducted workshops for three consecutive mornings while the second half saw scintillating Kathak performances.
The three day festival was inaugurated by Pandit Birju Maharaj himself on Dec 24, with the performance of Guru-e-Namah. The inaugural day of ‘Vasundhara’ held at Rabindra Bhavan, saw violin and sitar recitals by Bidyut Kalita and Nabin Rajkhowa. Anita Sarma performed an Oddissi dance recital while Sashwati Sen executed a scintillating solo Kathak dance drama.
Quincy Charles, a West Indian national, stole the limelight on the second day with a Kathak recital. Aritri Bezbaruah sang a Hindustani classical vocal while Moromi Medhi and Ellora Bora Singh performed Kathak and Bharatnatyam recitals respectively. The festival also saw the vast talent pool of Kathak in the state as B grade students of Mridang carried out a flawless ‘ritu-vasant’ dance performance.
Dance is a ramification of almost everything in nature and this statement was proved true during the third and final day of the Vasundhara festival. The pioneer of Sarod in Assam, Tarun Kalita began the evening function of the final day with his soulful rendition of Raag Baagheswari. His performance is credible as he had to deal with a tragedy in the family and was playing the Sarod with a guitar plectrum. Another frontrunner of Satriya dance in the country, Saradi Saikia performed a Satriya dance recital with her troupe. Senior students of Mridang performed the Darbaar-e-Salaami; the Darbaar-e-Salaami is the Islamic version of Kathak. Luna Poddar and Paromita Maitrya carried out a Kathak duet while Raghav Shah choreographed a Kathak recital.
The icing of the cake however was a Kathak demonstration by Pandit Birju Maharaj. Using the ghoongro, the legend showed that everything in nature is in dance form. Right from the sound of the feeding of birds, waves of the ocean to the ringing of the telephone, Panditji produced these sounds which captivated the audience long after the festival ended. His rendition of Jayanta Hazarika’s eternal classic ‘Tomar Kotha monot porile’ brought the crowd up to its feet for a standing round of applause.
The said festival showed the beauty of the guru-sishya parampara of India. Despite globalisation making inroads into each and every aspect of life, it is heartening to note that this unique tradition, a trademark of Indian musicians, still hold so much value in the heart of the artistes. It is more gratifying to see such a talented pool of young artistes coming up from the state. Festivals like ‘Vasundhara’ should be held more frequently in order to give Classical music and dance the respect and status, it so rightly deserves.