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In praise of Kathak
- Shyamhari Chakra
Photos courtesy: Samved

April 9, 2015

“Today, this book is in front of you. It is a bundle of my passion, my struggle, my experiences and my sentiments.” These last lines of the book authored by Mumbai-based Kathak exponent Uma Dogra aptly sums up her “labour of love” carefully and honestly crafted over the past five years.

Book release

The well-known dancer-choreographer-scholar, a much respected name in Mumbai’s artistes’ fraternity, released the book during a very special occasion that she hosted in Mumbai recently. It was the 25th edition of the annual Pt.Durgalal Festival that she has been staging in memory of her guru. It was also the Silver Jubilee celebration of Samved Society of Performing Arts that she had founded. And, most importantly, it coincided with 50 years of her journey as a dancer.

There could not have been a better and befitting occasion than this to release her book collectively by celebrities like Hema Malini, Dr. Sunil Kothari and Darshana Jhaveri in presence of stars and stalwarts like Kanak Rele and Swapnasundari during the inaugural ceremony of the three-day festival. Presence of late Pt. Durgalal’s wife Bala Durgalal on the occasion added much dignity to the occasion as both the book and the festival were a tribute to Uma Dogra’s beloved guru.

The elegantly produced book – diligently designed by Mumbai-based veteran advertising professional Subodh Podder – is visually arresting. The black-jacketed book, spread over 77 pages, is a visual treat with more than 25 pages of photographs, mostly of Guru Durgalal shot by India’s most revered dance photographer Avinash Pasricha.

In Praise of Kathak contains 13 chapters. The first three chapters – The First Steps, Meeting with Guruji and Pandit Durgalal – are brief biographical sketches of the author-dancer and her guru whom she has put on par with god. The next two chapters – Kathak and Elements of Indian Classical Dance – deal with a very brief introduction to the tradition of Kathak with reference to the four gharanas – Jaipur, Lucknow, Benaras and Raigarh.  Moving on, the chapters - Angika Abhinaya, Kathak definitions, Rhythmic terms, Tandav & Lasya, Gat Nikas & Gat Bhaav – predictably explain the theoretical and technical aspects of Kathak.

The next chapter - New Compositions – bears Uma Dogra’s deeply personal and intimate signature. It is the script of Taal Durga that she created for her guru’s 60th birthday. The yellow pages containing images of her own handwriting gives it an archival and nostalgic look.

Hasta, the following chapter on the hand gestures and positions, is quite useful for students of dance and the audience who are not aware of the intricacies of the dance. The 28 asamyukta hastas and 23 samyukta hastas as defined in Nandikeshwara’s Abhinaya Darpana have been explained briefly but beautifully with the help of colour photographs. “In Kathak, hastas do not have the same importance as in Bharatanatyam, Kuchipudi, Kathakali and Odissi. Only a few asamyukta and samyukta hastas are used in Kathak,” adds the Kathak exponent author.

The concluding chapter of the book - Nirvana through dance – is deeply personal. The name of the chapter has been christened after the film that Uma Dogra has made on her guru. “How does one define a maestro who contained multitudes?….. Words would limit his limitless essence,” she points out in the chapter to justify the addition of the chapter on the film.

The book’s arresting visual appeal apart, what touched this reader-reviewer a lot is the language of the author. The sentences have been kept short and simple that gives the reader the feeling of listening to the writer than reading her writings. Apparently, the book is meant for the students of Kathak and dance lovers who wish to understand and appreciate Kathak better as a well-informed audience. “Hence, I have stayed away from the technical and grammatical jargons of words. I have attempted to make theory accessible to the common man. In just three lines, the student or the reader of the book must be explained the theory, the technique or the concept for that matter,” explains the author.

Why has the book been titled as In Praise of Kathak? “I have lived Kathak, literally. Uma Dogra is nothing without Kathak. I am always in praise of Kathak that has been my existence and identity. Hence, I could not think of any other title for my book,” confides Uma Dogra.

Though the book has been a convergence of Uma Dogra’s autobiography, her guru’s biography and the essence of Kathak as an Indian classical dance tradition, I am convinced that given her vast experience and poetic power of articulation through words, she should have scripted three books separately for the greater benefit of the readers and her admirers.

Publisher: Samved Society for Performing Arts, A-202/2, Amit Nagar, Yari Road, Versova, Mumbai 400061.
Email:, Phone: 98207-11418

Shyamhari Chakra is a former correspondent and arts critic with The Indian Express and The Hindu for 20 years in Bhubaneswar, He is presently based in New Delhi as a writer of dance matters.

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