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Srotas: An unusual jugalbandhi in Kathak
Photos: Kaustubh Atre

June 10, 2019

I was attending a dance conference in Charlotte University in USA, when I received an invitation from Neelima Adhye, a senior disciple of Rohini Bhate to attend an unusual program in Kathak. We all who were attending Kathak Prasangs organized at Bharat Bhavan by Ashok Vajpeyi, knew of Neelima Adhye who accompanied her guru Rohini Bhate from Pune. She had also performed at Khajuraho Dance Festival and was acclaimed as a brilliant exponent of Kathak as developed by Rohini Bhate.

Nritya Bharati established by Rohini Bhate in 1947 in Pune is an institution which has trained a generation of dancers. As a matter of fact, credit goes to Rohini for establishing Kathak in Pune and later on in Maharashtra and growing over years crossing the boundaries of India and spreading abroad wherever her students continue to train the young generation.

Neelima is the director of Nritya Bharati Dance Academy, Pune. She also runs Prakruti Kathak Nrityalaya which she established in 1995. It is a branch of Nritya Bharati. She is a visiting lecturer at the Lalit Kala Kendra of University of Pune. I was surprised to learn that she is an M.S. in Maths having received the training and degree in USA. Once University of Pune was established with dance faculty, she obtained an MA in Kathak. She, as a performer has won critical acclaim from connoisseurs. As a teacher she transmits the technique of what may now be called Rohini gharana to her disciples.

She has participated in several national and international dance festivals. She was a constant assistant to Rohini Bhate for her researches in Kathak. She has edited a two hour film on Rohini Bhate titled Laheja which is produced by Nritya Bharati. Without making any new audio or video recordings, this film has been developed only from the available archival material. She has created an audio disc of selected musical and lyrical compositions of Rohini Bhate named Noopurdhun Pyaari. Neelima has to her credit a thesis on Choreography and Kathak submitted to University of Pune in 1998. She has got original essays in Marathi by Rohini Bhate in a book form titled Laheja. It has been recently translated into Hindi and was released under the aegis of Raza Foundation in New Delhi.

Subhash Chandra

Among her well known disciples from young generation are Neha Vaidya, Radhika Joshi, Natasha Kulkarni, Varsha Godbole, Shrungali Shingitam, Vidua Walvekar, Apurva Gupte, her own daughter Sai Adhye and Nehal Sapre. Neelima also brings out a regular issue of Samvedan magazine. Under Samvedan Dance Festival she has been inviting leading Kathak dancers for performances. The latest issue of Samvedan also contains articles by Sunil Ganu, senior student of Rohini Bhate. I met him after many years. I had seen him performing in Shakuntala dance drama choreographed by Rohini Bhate many years ago. Meeting Neelima brought many memories and also more information about her and her activities.

In the first half of the program, Neelima would ask questions to Subhash Chandra, a disciple of late Guru Mohanrao Kallianpurkar, his association with Mohanrao, and also demonstrate special features of Mohanrao's technique both in terms of nritta and abhinaya. In the second half of the programme, Subhash and Neelima would perform simultaneously, numbers as taught by Mohanrao to Subhash and as taught to Rohini Bhate from whom Neelima has studied, to bring comparison and also show few differences.

Subhash is a guru at Kathak Kendra, New Delhi. He is singularly devoted to Mohanrao and follows his training, style, and repertoire. He is steadfast about it. He knows that there are few takers for this style. But he is determined to preserve and propagate Mohanrao's technique and style. Subhash is 50 years old now. When young, he had gone to Banaras to study music under Balwant Thakore. He was also advised to study Kathak under Mohanrao. He had not met him. He was told that Kumudini Lakhia at Kadamb, her institution in Ahmedabad, was holding workshop of classes by Mohanrao. He went to Ahmedabad and was completely under spell of Mohanrao's technique and teaching. From 1976 till 1979 he followed Mohanrao and studied under him. Guruji often never got up, he used to teach sitting and Subhash would sit behind and watch and follow the movements.

It is well known that Mohanrao studied under the three greatest Kathak gurus, viz., Achhan Maharaj, father of Birju Maharaj, Shambhu Maharaj, younger brother of Achhan Maharaj and Sundarprasad of Jaipur gharana. We had seen in Bhopal Kathak prasang, Rohini Bhate demonstrating the styles of Shambhu Maharaj, Lacchu Maharaj and Sundarprasad. Subhash used to watch Mohanrao demonstrating styles of Achhan Maharaj, Shambhu Maharaj and also Sundarprasad. Not having seen Achhan Maharaj, few could remember his style. Shambhu Maharaj's style was broad and expansive. Subhash demonstrated it beautifully as he had observed Mohanrao demonstrating them.

The anecdotes were interesting. In Raja Chakradhar's durbar at Raighar at one point there were Achhan Maharaj, Shambu Maharaj and Jailal. Raja Chakradhar would ask Achhan Maharaj to create various thaats. It was also a proviso that never that thaat be repeated. Raja would insist that thaat should be also long, lamchad, like in classical music aalap and should be invested with imagination. Once Achhan Maharaj performed a chaal which was unique. After that Shambu Maharaj was to perform and Achhan Maharaj was worried if Shambhu Maharaj's chaal would be appreciated. He later on never performed chaal so that Shambhu Maharaj's chaal would be appreciated.

Sundarprasad believed in Achhan Maharaj and used to worship keeping Bindadin Maharaj's photograph and follow his technique. Sundarprasad belonged to Jaipur gharana but always respected Achhan Maharaj. He ran a school Bindadin Maharaj School of Kathak in 1939 in Mumbai. He was keen that Mohanrao should stay in Mumbai and assist him in running the school. But when Mohanrao received invitation to join Morris College in Lucknow, he chose to move to Lucknow. He had studied Kathak under Shambhu Maharaj and was a devoted student of his. At Morris College he also for first time developed the curriculum of Kathak and that syllabus is still considered unparalleled. It is followed at Bhatkhande College of Music, Dance Department of M. S University of Baroda and also elsewhere.

It was interesting to listen to the anecdotes. Mohanrao used to say that every time a disciple would take his guru's name, he would receive his blessings. There was reference to parans. Three types of Ganesh parans have been taught. One was received from 'Radha Govind sangeet sara' from Jaipur. Subhash recited them. He said that 'Gam Gam Ganapati' paran is Sakharam's composition. He was a pakhavaj player and it was composed in 1940.

Subhash mentioned aamad - Achhan Maharaj used to perform 'Badi aamad' and Shambhu Maharaj used to perform 'chhoti aamad'. Padhant had to be perfect and the movements to be in perfect laya.

Mohanrao studied abhinaya from Shambhu Maharaj. His favourite was the famous thumri 'Kaun gali gayo Shyam?' Rohini Bhate and I were lucky to see abhinaya to this thumri by Shambhu Maharaj in All India Dance Seminar in 1958 at Vigyan Bhavan in New Delhi. What is called 'upaj ang' we came to learn then seeing Shambhu Maharaj enacting abhinaya to each word, Kaun? And he would ask with his eyes, Kaun? Gali found several interpretations: Parting in the hair, applying surma in the eye, showing the white of the eye and the black as gali, taking scent applying on the back of palm, inhaling and suggesting the fragrance going inward from nose, touching the black hair to suggest Shyam and so on.

Subhash Chandra

Subhash further showed that Maharaj would show the dead body on pyre and the fire lit, the smoke would rise and suggests seeing rising smoke which direction Shyam has gone. Taking ear ornaments, necklace, bangles from arm and putting them aside, drawing hand to ears to suggest did Shyam go from ears to heart? Subhash enacted this with such delicacy and nuances that the connoisseurs and dancers in the audience burst into loud applause. Subhash performed with such ease and grace that one marvelled at how he has imbibed this art of such subtlety in an effortless manner. In Gat bhav, drawing of sword, revolving in air and slowly placing it in scabbard was exquisite and he had to repeat it by demand of audience.

The bhajan 'Pragate Braj nandalal, sakal sukh nidhaniya' saw Subhash in his mood and with moving expressions he evoked the sense of bhakti with appropriate images and hastamudras. The eyes reflected the emotions which spoke directly to audience. This art of expression, abhinaya needs sadhana and penance of many years and also gift of abhinaya through mukhajabhinaya and understanding of the lyric. 'Ghuhgarali alake', dangling curly hair was suggested with fingers and slight movement of the neck. One can go on describing the expressions which played round his face.

In the second half of the programme Neelima explained what they were to present. How Subhash would present what he had studied and Neelima would present what she had studied under guidance of Rohini Bhate, which in essence would also reflect what Rohini had studied under Mohanrao Kallianpurkar.

After the prayer Krishna vandana, how Krishna held flute 'kara venu', 'divyang bhushanam,' various ornaments on divine body, phrases were enacted gracefully by both of them simultaneously. In abhinaya both displayed restraint and dignity. In nritta, to teen taal, the thaats performed by each one, had distinct imprints. Whereas Subhash would have broad movements, which are like what in Sanskrit is mentioned as sphuritanga, Rohini had developed becoming female persona simitanga, unlike sphuritanga, not broad movements, but the movements of the arms were made close to the body. The concluding sam with a pose raising arms looked exactly like the two large photographs of Mohanrao and Rohini placed on stage.

In Aamad how the hastak, hands were placed was noteworthy. The way nritta and nritya became one in aamad was typical of their performance. How they moved in front was also one noticed in terms of grace. Two parans were presented which were iconic. The padhanta was also full of emotions. The chamtakriti, surprise, was performing in chatusra gati, using tishra. Ganesh paran was performed together in madhya laya with two / three variations, with 'ang' of Kathak enhancing the beauty. Neelima presented the chhoti gat Rohini had choreographed for her for Khajuraho Dance Festival; rukhasar ki gat, placing palm on cheek and moving forward, ched chhad, and ang sanchalan were full of old world charm.

Neelima Adhye

In Gat based on Shankaracharya's Ardhanarishwara stotra 'Champeya guarardhra' Neelima showed how Rohini had introduced pure dance with tatkar and also after abhinaya how nritta embellished the entire shloka with Om Namah Shivaya. How Gauri's lasya was in contrast to Shiva's tandava, Parvati having silken garments, Shiva naked as digambaraya, how with third eye Shiva turned Kama into ashes et al were danced making the composition rich. Rohini's investing the stotra with such subtleties was excellent.

The finale with Bindadin Maharaj's bhajan 'Pragate brij Nandalal sakal sukh nidhaniya,' each one performed sitting on the platform. Rohini had introduced the sanchari for holding baby Krishna in her arms, one who as mother Yashoda she could see what he was to enact as Lord of the Universe, the finale as charioteer of Arjuna in the war. It displayed Rohini's imagination and an ability to extend the upaj ang of Kathak so meaningfully. The meaning of each word describing the beauty of Krishna was invested with newness.

It was most enjoyable experience aesthetically. The title Srotas was coming full circle: from Bindadin to Achhan Maharaj, from him to Shambhu Maharaj, and from them to Mohanrao and from Mohanrao to Subhash and Neelima (and other students of Rohini).

The musicians who used to accompany Rohini gave excellent support. Ajay on harmonium, Madhuri Joshi and Mayur Mahajan on vocal, Arvind Kumar Azad on tabla, Rudraksha Sakhrikar on sarangi, were able to highlight the performance and demonstration. The unbroken flow of the parampara was thus proof of the high quality of art, which needs the rasikas, people who appreciate. Today, Kathak has taken a different turn. Speed, interminable chakkars, and emphasis on nritta, sidelining abhinaya. Therefore such presentations need to be arranged to remind us what Kathak was like and with what 'sukun' leisurely pace it can be performed. Congratulations to both the artists for their sound understanding and ability to retain the precious legacy.

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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