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Shishira Chhanda Festival
Photos: Simha's photography

December 4, 2018

Noted Odissi dancer Sarita Mishra established her Adyasha Foundation in 2010. Trained from a young age by various gurus and later on by Yudhishthir Nayak and by Bichitrananda Swain, Sarita moved to Bangalore after marriage. She found among Bangalore community, great interest in Odissi dance form. With increasing number of Odiyas settling in Bangalore, Odissi dancers receive support from the Odiya community. To the credit of Bangaloreans they have also shown interest in Odissi dance, despite the predominance and popularity of Bharatanatyam and Kathak.

Four years ago, Sarita with support from well wishers planned a two day annual Shishira Chhanda dance festival inviting local senior dancers. Sarita also started showcasing her disciples along with the local established dancers and exposed the disciples ranging from tiny tots to senior dancers to other dance forms like Kathak, Bharatanatyam and Kathakali. She also presented her solo numbers which drew attention to her talent as a gifted solo dancer and choreographer. Within a span of four years, she succeeded in earning goodwill of several dancers and institutions for her sincerity, integrity and perseverance.

The first day of the fourth edition of Shishira Chhanda (Nov 10 & 11, 2018) featured Bharatanatyam by Saroja Vaidyanathan's senior disciple Rashmi Aggarwal, now settled in Bangalore and currently taking further training under Padmini Ravi. She also runs her own institution Shri Sudha Centre for Performing Arts. She chose to present a varnam penned in Hindi by Ajay Vishwanath and choreographed by Padmini Ravi. It dwelt upon Krishna's dalliance with various Gopis, women and his relationship with them in various stages, Krishna and his two mothers, with Radha and so on. The emphasis was on sringara. Though she seemed to have good grasp over pure dance, the abhinaya somehow did not jell and seemed to be on laukik, popular level, not rising to any spiritual level. Also some of the movements to depict sringar looked seductive and not appropriate for Gopis and other nayikas. The poetry in Hindi also appeared lackluster. Rashmi would do well to avoid movements which do not appear appropriate in Bharatanatyam form. There are several gems of varnams which she should explore instead of performing such a varnam in Hindi which does not have aesthetic or high poetic quality.

Rashmi Aggarwal

Arpita Bannerjee

Arpita Bannerjee was trained in Kathak from a very young age by legendary Guru Bandana Sen in Kolkata in Lucknow gharana. Like many of her contemporaries, she also took lessons in workshops conducted by Birju Maharaj and has studied dance numbers of Jaipur gharana. At present she is training in Nandini Mehta and Murali Mohan's Nadam institute in Bangalore. She also runs her own institution Riyaz Studio in Bangalore. She performed a shloka in Sanskrit choreographed by Harish Gangani. Then she moved on to traditional Kathak selecting Jhaptaal of ten beats and presented thaat, tode, tukde, parans with competence. She concluded with Tarana set to Kalavati raga choreographed by Geetanjali Lal, who has invested the Tarana with excellent chakkars and footwork. Arpita did justice to the choreography. What would help Arpita for an impressive performance is to select items which leave an impact on audience instead of selecting items both from Liuchow and Jaipur gharana. Though she is a well trained dancer, she needs to concentrate on a specific gharana displaying her mastery over it.

Sarita Mishra presented her Adyasha Ensemble which was not in a manner of a straight forward Odissi recital, but emphasizing on Odissi technique. It was presented with live music by celebrated musicians from Odisha. On mardala and khol was Guru Bijay Kumar Barik, vocal by Guru Harapriya Swain, violin by Surmani Ramesh Chandra Das and on manjira was Guru Yudhisthir Nayak along with Sarita Misra. As usual, when the tiny tots entered the stage with their cherubic smile and charm, they stole the show winning rounds of applause for their stances and dancing steps in tune with mardala. The prayer "Jagannath Swami" set the mood of devotion. It was followed by a garland of rhythm depicting the grammar and movement vocabularies of Odissi. In the end, it artistically merged into a traditional pure dance piece known as Batu Nritya. The playing on various instruments like veena, bansuri, manjira and mardala was reminiscent of the female musicians as seen on the parapet of Konark Temple with arresting sculptural poses.

In the second segment, Bijay Kumar Barik played khol also besides mardala. Khol is known as Adi Vadya. It is believed that Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu used khol in all his prayers and chants. Sarita also ventured to present a Kannada composition "Tamboori meetidava" in Odissi technique, which was perhaps attempted for the first time. It had an instant appeal to Kannada speaking audience as it is a shared traditional and known composition. Sarita‘s attempt to showcase the training she imparts to her students was thus successfully presented in a novel way.

Adyasha ensemble

Rekha Raju (Photo: RN Sudhi)

Dr. Rekha Raju, who runs her institution Nrityadham Temple of Fine Arts in Bangalore, is a reputed Mohiniattam and Bharatanatyam exponent with a large number of disciples. Set to Tilang raga, her Mohiniattam recital commenced with the Ganapati prayer by Ramdas displaying the various attributes of Lord Ganapati whose vehicle is the mouse. Rekha has a mobile visage and registers bhavas in an engaging manner. Though petite, she performs with allure and grace. The pure dance cholkettu was performed with competence. Swati Tirunal's popular Hindi song "Chaliye Kunjanmo thum ham mil shyam hari" saw her displaying various shades of expressions of shyness, meeting Lord Krishna, describing the beauty of Brindavan, the flora and fauna and flowing river Jamuna, excelling in netrabhinaya. She was accompanied on vocal by Gomathi Nayagam, mridangam by Jagadeesh Janardhanan, on flute by Sunil Kumar and on edakka by Kalamandalam Anandan.

The highlight of the evening was the performance by Bharatanjali's group choreographic work by Guru B. Bhanumati. Trained by the legendary Dandayuthapani Pillai, B. Bhanumati is a name to reckon with in the world of Bharatanatyam. A vastly gifted choreographer, her disciples are a legion in Bangalore, known for their perfect synchronization of movements, complete involvement in what they perform and bringing out the inherent dignity and beauty of Bharatanatyam form. Her dancers presented Poorvarangavidhi choreographed by legendary Mysore bani dancer Dr. K.Venkatalakshamma. It is usually presented instead of Alarippu in which obeisance is paid to the deity and to show gratitude to the local ruler under whose patronage the art has flourished. Set to Hamsadhwani raga and adi tala, it was performed with such excellent alignment of movements that one was as it were, under a spell. The finale with bringing the ruler all dressed up in royal garments with pugree, and attendants holding royal umbrella over his head, had a stunning visual. I saw it for the first time and I must confess that it was a rare experience to witness such a gem of Mysore bani.

Bhanumati continues to surprise the connoisseurs with choreographic gems. Tanjavur Shankar Iyer's popular composition set to Revati raga and adi tala in praise of Lord Shiva had flourishes of choreography, dancers showing the flow of river Ganga from the matted locks of Shiva. Bhanumati interwove Natesha Kautvam highlighting the various deeds of Lord Shiva protecting his devotees. She also wove in a shloka from Taittiriya Upanishad lifting the presentation to a devotional mood.

However one would continue to remember and marvel at Bhanumati's presentation of Tulasidas's prayer "Sri Ramachandra kripalu bhaj mana," in which within five minutes, in form of a tableau she presented in nutshell the key incidents of Ramayana from Kameshti yagna till final Pattabhishekam, in a seamless manner. It is this ability to imagine and condense the story artistically that sets Bhanumati apart from other choreographers and dancers. And she is blessed with a troupe of well trained dancers who bring to life the exquisite images which leave indelible impression. No wonder even when this number must have been seen by the audiences in Bangalore, its popularity was evident when the audience gave a heartwarming applause.

But there was more. Oothukadu Venkata Subbaiyar's Kalinga Nartana Tillana has received exquisite imaginative interpretation in Bhanumati's hands. The dancers turned into multihooded serpent raising several heads, moving in graceful sliding movements and Krishna trying to capture the tail, not succeeding at the illusion of various heads turning away. But finally we see Krishna dancing over the hooded serpent with rhythmic sollus which keep audience tapping their feat. The repetitive musical notes in this Tillana are enchanting and delightful. The audience gave them a standing ovation. Bravo, Bhanumati and her disciples!

Bharatanjali ensemble

P Praveen Kumar

On the second day, versatile Bharatanatyam exponent P Praveen Kumar presented in varnam format, the theme of Sakha through the eyes of Arjuna. Praveen Kumar has made several strides within the last few years. His Bharatanatyam dance has serenity and maturity. Despite his slim frame, he transcends it when interpreting the roles he enacts. The theme of friendship between Arjuna and Krishna, through the eyes of Arjuna was a new angle. How Krishna stood by him, helping him every time, his wedding with Draupadi, with Krishna's own sister Subhadra and the real strength when in war. Arjuna was miserable seeing his own relations who he had to kill; he gave up arms and fell at Krishna's feet. Krishna revealed his Vishwarupa and conveyed what was his Dharma. Arjuna took up the weapon and fulfilled his Dharma with friendship of Krishna. The nritta was arresting and the music by Jhanvi was appropriate bringing out nuances of friendship and as per the narrative. Praveen did justice to the theme which was well selected and different from the usual varnams.

Sarita Mishra presented a sequence from Ramayana dealing with Surpanakha, sister of Ravana. Choreographed by Bichitrananda Swain, the enactment as performed by Sarita did justice to the character. Sarita has a stage worthy presence which is further enhanced by her graceful movements. She registers expressions with ease and gets involved with the character she is depicting. When Surpanakha saw Rama and Sita in Panchavati, she was enamored by looks of handsome Rama and wished to be united with him. And recalling her own demonic image, she transformed herself into a beautiful maiden. That particular passage with a pallavi choreographed by Bichitrananda Swain was danced with enchanting glances and movements becoming a beautiful maiden. When Surpanakha approached Rama, he told her that he observes ek patni vrata (only one wife), therefore she had better go unto younger brother who is alone and approach him. Lakshmana tried to dissuade her but Surpanakha did not relent. Lakshmana out of exasperation cut off her nose. She cried in agony and declared that she would take revenge for this humiliation by complaining to her brother Ravana. The disfigurement and anger of Surpanakha were well enacted by Sarita in contrast to her earlier bashfulness and pleasant dancing. This ability to switch moods and expressions is an asset for Sarita.

The finale with prayer of goddess, epitomizing Shakti was another gem of a choreographic number which gave Sarita scope for displaying her abhinaya with complete involvement. Both the beautiful and ferocious temperaments of the Goddess were seen clearly. The tranquil mood towards end with imaginative lighting building up the devotional shanta rasa mood always leaves an impact. Sarita was seen in total feeling of surrender. With her talent, Sarita deserves to be seen on more platforms.

Sarita Mishra (Photo: Ushankar Photography)

Prabal Gupta

Prabal Gupta has earned a name for stree vesham in Kathakali. Currently he is studying from asan Sadanam Balakrishnan. He has improved a lot under his mentorship and deep study. He chose to present Urvashi, the celestial nymph who was smitten by the beauty of warrior Arjuna. She begs of him for his embrace and accepting her as his lover. Arjuna dissuades her mentioning that she is like a mother. She taunts him and argues but Arjuna does not accept her pleadings. She curses him that he shall become Brihannala for his refusal.

With his pair of large eyes, Prabal immediately struck a rapport in stree vesham. His face wore various expressions with netrabhinaya and command over facial movements. Charming with celestial beauty his impersonation was quite appealing. The subtle nuances were eloquent and conveyed the emotions of Urvashi.  In recent times, solo Kathakali presentations are becoming rare, also particularly in genre of stree vesham. Therefore including Kathakali in the evening performance was a welcome step. The presence of asan Sadanam Balakrishnan also gave encouragement to Prabal. If he continues at this rate progressing under his guru's guidance, he will be able to scale artistic heights.

The existential philosophy: I am therefore you are. The concept took shape in form of Nayaka Pratinayaka which was choreographed by Aruna Mohanty in Odissi dance to the libretto written by Odiya poet critic Kedar Mishra. Yudhishthir Naik, disciple of Guru Gangadhar Pradhan, was trained by Aruna Mohanty to present this item in Shishir Chhanda Festival. Kedar Mishra took up archetypal characters from Satya Yuga, Treta Yuga, Dwapara Yuga and Kali Yuga. The text was in Odiya and there were comments also in English for each Nayaka and Pratinayaka. Singing and music made it dramatic when both Nayaka and Pratinayaka asserted their beings: I am therefore you are.

In Satya Yuga, if there was demon Hiranyakashipu, so was there Narasimha, half lion and half man incarnation of Vishnu. The well known story of the demon king seeking immortality and his inability to bear his son Prahlada worshipping Hari, father challenging son to prove if his god Hari was omnipresent, and if so was he in the pillar? He strikes the pillar and out jumps the figure of Narasimha who kills Hiranyakashipu. The poet reiterates: I am therefore you are! The character of Pratinayaka was etched well with vigour and tandava element. Yudhishthir , being a male dancer with stout figure, projected the characters effectively. Come Treta Yuga and the Nayaka and Pratinayaka are Lord Rama and Ravana. The Odiya poetry repeats: I am therefore you are. It encompassed major episode of Ramayana. Ravana in disguise as mendicant kidnaps Sita, Sita throwing her ornaments, fight with Jatayu, monkeys building bridge over ocean, Rama’s crossing it and the duel between Ravana and Rama, Rama killing Ravana shooting an arrow at the vessel of nectar in stomach of Ravana and his death - the existence of Nayaka and Pratinayaka was artistically established.

Dwapara Yuga had Kamsa as Pratinayaka and his nephew Krishna, the eighth child of his sister Devaki as Nayaka. Krishna arrives and kills elephant, Kamsa is frightened remembering the eighth child of Devaki would kill him. The attahasya, laughter, Kamsa is unable to bear, he places his palms on his ears and is frightened knowing that the Nayaka will annihilate him. In Kali Yuga, Truth and Untruth were suggested by gambling and greed, to amass the wealth, stealing and arrogance were shown competently. In particular, the seduction, lust was portrayed by women of easy virtue, with all the coquetry to the use of pallavi artistically with lusty rhythm. And the violence, killing innocent people, striking terror found reflection in Yudhishthir’s abhinaya. But despite all these opponents, elements the final victory was of Truth.  Pratinayaka and Nayaka existed – one is there, therefore the other is there. Yudhishthir did justice to Aruna Mohanty’s choreography.

Yudhishthir Naik

Tandava ensemble

The group performance by four brilliant Bharatanatyam dancers of Tandava ensemble was another highlight of the evening. Dwelling upon Balamurali Krishna's "Amma Anandadayini" prayer, the devotional mood for the goddess was imaginatively choreographed by them. Their coming together, harnessing their talent in a remarkable manner, using the classical format of Bharatanatyam was a pleasure to watch. Kartik Datar, son of Usha Datar, is a chip off the old block. His nritta and abhinaya along with other three dancers complimented the overall choreographic work.

As devotee and further narrating the power of the goddess, each one of them performed with total involvement. The alignment when standing in a diagonal line, or their sitting and gradual upward movement formed stunning visuals. The goddess with her multiple arms and wielding different weapons, created sculptural images. How the art of dance involves sculpture, colour, exquisite poetry and melodious music was reflected in their choreography. Kartik Datar, Somasekhar, Srinivas and Ananth did an excellent job of performing in harmony. It will be invidious to single out any one of the four for independent praise. The teamwork was exemplary. 

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

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