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Manipuri Guru Bipin Singh's centenary celebrations in Kolkata

September 14, 2017

Guru Bipin Singh's centenary celebrations were flagged off in Kolkata by Manipuri Nartanalaya on 23rd August on his 100th birthday by Dr. Anuradha Lohia, Vice Chancellor of Presidency University at West Bengal Rajya Sangeet Natak Akademi. A large number of disciples of Guru Bipin Singh from Kolkata and also from his birthplace Silchar, from Bangladesh, Mumbai and New Delhi were present.

Guru Bipin Singh
From among Bipin Singh's principal disciples, Darshana Jhaveri, the youngest of the four Jhaveri sisters reminisced about their early years of training in Mumbai when Guruji had come to Mumbai after working with Madame Menaka's Nrityalayam. He was in great demand, said Darshana. No sooner was their tuition over, the car would be waiting downstairs to take him to another student. Later on, the Jhaveri sisters made arrangements for him to stay and give them training instead of running around and devote time to research and choreographing new numbers.

Darshana screened excerpts of a documentary made on Bipin Singh, edited by her to show Guruji's technique - his extracting movements from pung cholom, kartal cholom, and studies he made under various gurus of Manipur, collecting innumerable bols, learning styles, and arriving at classical elements of Manipuri dance to dispel the wrong and popular notion that Manipuri was a folk dance. That was his great contribution to Manipuri dance forms. Darshana explained screening bols of various gurus, compositions for Prabandha Nartan, Telana, solos from Rasalilas, correlating elements with Natyashastra principles and creating new numbers within tradition.

Along with the precious documentary in collection of National Centre for the Performing Arts, where the Jhaveri sisters have donated a vast collection of Guruji's compositions, recordings, videos, photos, there are some rare and interesting recordings of abhinaya padas by Ranjana Jhaveri, technical aspects by Priti Patel, singing by Kalavati Devi for abhinaya, sixty four divisions of shringara, nayika bhedas highlighting the essence of Manipuri dancing.

Kalavati Devi

Bimbavati Devi

Guru Bipin Singh with the Jhaveri sisters Nayana, Ranjana, Swarna, Darshana

Debjani Chaliha, the senior most dancer and disciple of Guru Amubi Singh, spoke about how Guru Bipin Singh used to work hard to establish Manipuri as a classical dance form. Priti Patel spoke on how Guruji was punctual in teaching. From age of 12 she had studied under Guruji, and he composed solo numbers on her. He was generous to let her and Sruti Bandopadhay, compose contemporary dance numbers. Sruti recalled how besides other dance styles she was leaning, she concentrated on Manipuri and so strict was Guruji that there was little time to spend between coming from residence, going to school and practice continuously. Besides Guruji, both Priti and Sruti studied from Kalavati Devi (wife of Bipin Singh) and Darshana Jhaveri. Paushali Chatterjee, in whose residence Guruji was staying on ground floor and conducting classes, her mother singing for Manipuri performances, spoke on how as a child she studied directly from Guruji and Kalavati Devi. Bimbavati, Guruji's daughter, also learnt dance from her childhood. Being a daughter of Guru Bipin Singh and Kalavati Devi, dance was in her blood. She said that she used to watch Guruji teaching and got used to remembering the bols.

Priti Patel

Sruti Bandopadhay

From Bangladesh, the Muslim exponent Tamanna Rahman had never seen Manipuri dance till she saw Guruji's disciple and Kalavati Devi's sister Shantibala Devi performing Manipuri in Dhaka. She lost her heart to Manipuri and came to Kolkata to study further after Shantibala moved to Canada. She stayed with Guruji for six years and mastered the art. Once when she was performing with Kalavati Devi and other dancers, the presiding guru of Hare Krishna movement saw her and when he was told that she was a Muslim from Bangladesh dancing, he blessed her and said she was one of the Gopis of Krishna from Brindavan. Tamanna said she was deeply moved. Running classes in Dhaka, now she is a Professor in Dhaka University teaching Manipuri. Laily Basu and others from Kolkata who had taken initiative in arranging these celebrations remembered their training under Guruji and expressed their gratefulness for the art they have studied and are practicing and carrying on Guruji's tradition.

Tamanna Rahman

Dr. Anuradha Lohia suggested that the documentary on Guru Bipin Singh should be put on YouTube, so that young generation who has never seen him could have glimpses of his dancing. Kalavati Devi, Director of Manipuri Nartanalaya, and her daughter Bimbavati thanked all for coming and paying tributes to Guruji on his 100th birthday. Throughout the year there are various plans to have series of performances in Kolkata, Mumbai, Silchar, New Delhi, and Imphal in memory of Guru Bipin Singh.

Dr. Sunil Kothari is a dance historian, scholar, author and critic and fellow, Sangeet Natak Akademi. Dance Critics' Association, New York, has honoured him with Lifetime Achievement award.

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