Colombo Telegraph

Celebration Of Indian Independence: A Cultural Tribute In Kathak Tradition 

By Tennyson Rodrigo

Tennyson Rodrigo

The Indian Cultural Centre in Colombo (ICC) celebrated India’s 70th Independence Anniversary with a dazzling recital of Kathak dance at the Bishop’s College Auditorium on Saturday 13th August 2016.

Though attendance at the occasion was by invitation, ICC was gracious enough to give free tickets on request.

Renowned Kathak exponent Pragati Sood Anand was the principal recitalist; her troupe comprised four other female danseuses and a musical ensemble.

Ms Anand studied dancing for 12 years at New Delhi’s Kathak Kendra and has performed all over Europe as well as in the UK, Australia and America. Among her gurus is today’s most celebrated Pandit Birju Maharaj who has enthralled American audiences at New York’s Carnegie Hall along with tabla wizard Ustad Zakir Hussain.

India’s ancient classical dance forms have continued to evolve and flourish to this day with their original unique characteristics essentially retained. Each such form of dance represents a distinguishing set of ethnic, cultural and artistic identities; Kathakali and Mohiniyattam of Kerala, Kathak of Uttar Pradesh, Manipuri of Manipur, Bharata Natyam of Tamilnadu and Odissi of Orissa are regarded as the main forms of classical dance.

Traditionally, Kathak dancers are experts in music, dance and story-telling. The word ‘Kathak’ is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Katha’ (story). It embodies a quaint synthesis of folk arts and Hindu and Muslim traditions evolved over centuries from temple ritual to colourful courtly entertainment. Today this dance genre has global appeal and many accomplished exponents of the art live and perform in places such as Toronto and San Francisco Bay area.

It was a pity that there was no printed program containing synopses of the stories portrayed in the dances. After a brief invocation Ms Anand proceeded to charm the audience with a profusion of enthralling dance items as virtuosic solos or with her quartet of all-female Kathak specialists.

Kathak In Solo 

Just as much as a complete piano sonata with all movements would define the form and structure of western classical music, only a complete solo recital can unveil the full gamut of the Kathak tradition. Hence public performances on occasions such as this are not for discerning aficionados of the art form. But the evening presented plenty of variety, technical virtuosity and entertainment.

In the epic Ramayana, the story of Rama and Sita is one of the most famous love stories of all time. Their lives are inextricably interwoven with those of Lakshmana and Ravana. In their complex relationships Sita epitomizes perfect womanhood──virtue, spousal fidelity, courage and self-sacrifice.

In an engrossing Kathak narrative Ms Anand showcased the quintessential attributes of Hindu womanhood. With scintillating footwork, pulsating eyebrows, jingling ankle bells and rapid pirouettes she portrayed the sheer range of Sita’s incessant conflicts, emotional ordeals and tormenting predicaments.

The singing and playing of live music from the troupe enhanced the ambience and blended well with the danseuse’s expressionistic elements. In this atmosphere it seemed a bit incongruous however that Ms Anand opted to use recorded sound tracks for two of her solo dances from Bollywood movies one of which was from the film Devadasi. While the dancing itself was vibrant and energetic the raucous sound blaring through loudspeakers wasn’t the most concordant.

Kathak In Ensemble 

Though one would expect a Kathak dancer’s technical virtuosity and expressive poetry to be tested at a solo performance, an ensemble of accomplished Kathak dancers can create an impact of sublime visual enchantment, rhythmic mastery and luscious fantasies.

India prides itself on a unique repository of exquisite saris, jewellery and embellishments needed to portray the mythical and legendary characters in the storyline of a dancer. Ms Anand’s danseuses wore either a sari wrapped around the waist (with a choli covering the upper body) or a light-weight skirt with embroidered border to highlight the dance motion. Adornments to the hair, face, ear, neck, hand, and ankles elaborately decorated the artist. The awe-inspiring costuming was buoyed by atmospheric stage lighting. Ms Anand and her quartet comprising Shivalika, Shipra, Nilakshi and Simran in their ensemble performances captivated the audience as they floated across the stage like lively celestial spirits.

Kathak And Ragadari Music 

Kathak and North Indian ragadhari music are inseparably wedded, each feeding and sustaining the other. There is no other Indian classical dance form which is so integral with north Indian classical music. In this regard it is analogous to what Carnatic music is to Bharatha Natyam.

A dance item showed the parallelism between the typical structural progression of a Kyal (the most formal style of a vocal rendering after Drupad) and the dance. Starting with a gat (the cyclical theme) from the music ensemble, the danseuses synchronized their footwork and other movements in Vilambit Laya (slow tempo) and gradually accelerated to Madhya and drutha layas (medium and fast) and climactic jala (rapid tempo). The perfect synchrony between the tabla player and the dancers and their rhythmic exchanges were electrifying.

Ms Anand also gave a dazzling display of the Tarana which is a sine qua non in a Kathak recital; Tarana is a creation of the illustrious 13th century Sufi poet Amir Khusro. It uses mnemonic syllables which the dancer may recite while being engaged in a playful footwork competition with the tabla. The creative improvisation and flow of energy had the audience mesmerized.

Vande Matam-Ode To The Motherland 

In 1882, Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay, wrote a poem in both Sanskrit and Bengali which came to be known as Vande Mataram. As it was a hymn to the Motherland it resonated eloquently in the emergent movement for India’s independence. It was first sung in that context by Rabindranath Tagore at the 1896 session of the Indian National Congress.

After independence in 1950, the first two verses of Vande Mataram were conferred the official status of the “national song” of the Republic of India, distinct from the national anthem, Jana Gana Mana…

With a choreographic rendering of Vande Maram imbued with pride, patriotism and joy, Ms Anand’s sumptuous Kathak recital to commemorate India’s independence was brought to a reminiscent finale.

*The writer is contactable at rodrigot@lankacom.net

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