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Drishti Art Centre's Bharata Nritya Vaibhava

January 30, 2020

Drishti Art Centre was established in 2001 by Bharatanatyam exponent Anuradha Vikranth at Sahakar Nagar, Bengaluru to offer holistic training in Bharatanatyam. She has nearly 400 students taking training in the classical dance form. As a centre imparting training in dance, it has received the National Excellence Award 2019 by the National Press Council of India Newspapers Association of Karnataka. The Drishti Art Centre also offers training in yoga and music. They arrange a biennale event titled Nrityarpana.

The Drishti National Dance Festival is an annual event which Bengaluru rasikas look forward to attending. With a commendable background and experience of more than two decades, the present 15th National Dance Festival titled Bharata Nritya Vaibhava curated by Anuradha Vikranth featuring 15 dance styles, held on 11th January at Chowdiah Memorial Hall, was a spectacular event.

An interesting feature was Harikatha artiste Sharat Prabhath as Sutradhara, announcing the dance form, its links with the Margi and Desi dance forms, the artist performing and its salient features, himself singing at times, executing dance steps and moving away into the wings gracefully. The duration of each dance style presented was of 20 minutes to recorded music, barring live music for Yakshagana and Kathakali dance styles. That worked out well and the entire show which began at 5.30pm ended at 9.30pm. Excellent timing with quick exits and entries kept audience glued to their seats. One more welcome feature was absence of long speeches, barring introductory one by Dr. T. M. Manjunath, Chief Patron of Drishti and renowned agricultural scientist.

The Harikatha artiste, a descendent of Purandaradasa parampara, spoke about all pervading influence of Natyashastra, the commentary of Abhinavagupta, of four Vedas, and Natyaveda, uniting various dance forms. Sharat Prabhath, besides being a traditional Harikatha artiste, is studying Kathak under Rajendra Gangani and is proficient in storytelling. Expounding upon the connection between Margi and Desi, a brief video was screened in which Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam spoke about Bharatanritya as she has called her research and dance form. Outside the auditorium, artistes of Janmabhoomi Janapada Kalasangha, Karaswadi, Mandya, were performing folk dances, Janapada Vaibhava.

After that Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam's grand niece Mahati Kannan presented Bharatanritya dwelling upon Kalinganartana, subjugating Kaliya and dancing on his hood. Describing the creation of the universe, flying birds, elephants and waterfalls, she danced with abundance. Mahati is an exceptionally gifted and well trained dancer under direct supervision of Padma Subrahamanyam. Dance is in her blood. She executed Karanas and Angaharas in a seamless manner. She looked like a boneless wonder moving angas, upangas, pratyangas and various other movements with complete ease. She is a worthy legatee of Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam's legacy and will go a long way in spreading the art of Bharatanrityam.

It was followed with Bharatanatyam by Anuradha Vikranth. She used one of the kritis of Thyagaraja in Chittaranjani raga and elaborated upon the Naada, sound incorporating the dance of Shiva, with Karanas, playing upon damaru, sound emanating from mridangam and veena, instruments like flute and cymbals. She enacted the phrase 'Namami manasa, shirasa', bowing with heart and head and with sanchari showing Ravana playing upon veena to please Lord Shiva, even taking out his entrails for strings of veena. Anuradha packed in a lot of spontaneous improvisations for Naada tanum anisham, the jewel of sound from the body. The lighting was exquisite.

Referring to Odra Magadhi region and the dance styles prevalent there, linking up with Odissi dance Sharat Prabhath introduced Odissi group choreography by Sharmila Mukerjee, a disciple of Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra and her Sanjali dancers. Sharmila wove in the story of Amritmanthan, churning of ocean, emergence of Mahalakshmi, and displayed tableau like forms of Mahalakshmi seated on lotus, the Lord who is astride Garuda bird and she created a series of images of multi-armed Goddess Lakshmi, chanting Mahalakshmi Namostute. Her choreography stood out in terms of sculpturesque representation. The images of poetic epithets Padmasanasthite, Parabrahmasvarupini, Nanalankarabhushite, evoked instant appreciation. With five dancers performing with her, she ended with traditonal Moksha highlighting salient features of Odissi.

Sharat Prabhath continued connections with Odra Magadhi region mentioned in Natyashastra linking up with Sattriya dances of Assam. Anita Sharma, disciple of Guru Jatin Goswami, performed the prayer composed by Sankaradev describing the surrender by the devotee to the lotus feet of Lord Rama. The Sanskrit prayer, full of devotion succeeded in evoking the bhakti bhava. Performing with typical hastas as mentioned in Sri Hastamuktavali of Shubankar Kavi, Sattriya dances stand out as a distinct classical dance form of Assam. Anita Sharma is a versatile dancer. The nritta was sparkling with textural mnemonic syllables played on khol. Chanting 'Rama, Hari Rama' set to Shree, Gandhar, Purvi raga and eka tala, Anita enacted the incident of Sita swayamvara, Lord Rama lifting the bow, then she wove in the story of sethubandhana, and showed Rama in battle with Dashakantha Ravana and killing him. The devotee offers pranams to that Rama, Rajivalochana, whose eyes are beautiful like lotus, Raghukula prakashaka, the light of the Raghu vamsha, bhavabhanjana, releasing the devotees from the cycle of birth. It was heartening to see inclusion of Sattriya dances in the festival.

The story of Vishnu taking the form of Mohini to lure the demons away and distribute nectar to the devas was narrated by Sharat Prabhath. That charming form of enchantress which Lord Vishnu took, Sharat told the audience they will go to Kerala where Mohini would descend upon the earth. And lo and behold! More than ten Mohinis descended on stage, led by that beauteous dancer Gopika Varma, dazzling the mortal beings, who welcomed them with loud cheers. In Swathi Thirunal's melodious padam 'Aaj aaye Shyam mohan, Rasa mandal khelane', Lord Krishna arrives to play Rasalila with the gopis. The gopis danced with Gopika Varma who impersonated Lord Krishna. Krishna moved embracing the gopis, crisscrossing the circle, kissing one gopi after another, holding the arm of one, and drawing the other close to his chest, the magic of Rasalila was cast on the audience by those divine enchantresses, the Mohinis.

Slide show
Photos courtesy: Anuradha Vikranth

Sharat Prabhath woke up the audience from the maya of Mohinis leading audience to another facet of Kerala. He mentioned that Natyashastra texts like Dasharupaka mentions arts with element of entertainment. The display of martial art Kalaripayattu was a special treat. In Kerala not only the men folk but also the women folk are experts in this art. The art of combat is inspired by watching and observing nature. There are seven steps to seven chakras in our bodies, which is the ultimate form of Shakti. Ranjan Mullarat and Kalari Gurukulam female artists appeared on the stage, wielding swords and shields. The audience was thrilled, in particular, to watch the female dancers. While performing various ways of attacking the enemy with different weapons, and the enemy defending, the female artists during acrobatic feats, climbed on the shoulders creating physical pyramid. Seeing their sheer physical prowess the audience burst into applause. The Sutradhara was right, because with martial art, the element of entertainment was incorporated artistically.

In his next introduction, Sharat spoke of Harikatha as an art form, as mother of all arts. 'Katha kahe so Kathak kahave', one who tells a story is called Kathak. The popular dancing couple Hari and Chetana trained by Guru Maya Rao, began with Vallabhacharya's Sanskrit composition 'Kasturi tilakam lalata patele,' describing the beauty of Lord Krishna, with tilak mark of Kasturi on forehead, kaustubha mani on chest, who holds the flute in his hands, and has kankanams (bangles) on wrist, pearl nose ring, and is surrounded by gopis. 'O Krishna, release me from the cycle of birth and moksha,' goes the prayer. They excelled in pure dance with tatkar, footwork, and jugalbandhi with percussion, the ginati, employing mathematical counting and coming pat on the sam. Their chakkars were captivating. Their group of seven dancers displayed their taiyyari in intra forms of Kathak like tode, tukde and parans. Wearing well designed colourul costumes, as per the current trend, they added sparkle to the show with their scintillating dance.

Once again the audience was led to Odra Magadhi region. From Bihar, the Seraikella masked dances with their exquisite masks and dazzling Banarasi costumes were presented by Pandit Gopal Prasad Dubey. These are special dances nurtured by the royal family of Seraikella. The masks are a thing of beauty. With pastel colours, the artists design masks for Ratri, night and Crescent moon. Ratri appears with star studded black sari, and gently rocks the Ardhachandra, with buff colour mask, and silver coloured crescent on the back, to the tune of classical ragas and unusual talas. The entire body with angikabhinaya articulates the emotions. The mask when tilted a little, wears exquisite expression. Seriakella masks are visual poetry. The symbolical meanings of some choreographic numbers are full of philosophical interpretations. Gopal Prasad Dubey and his young dance partner left an indelible impression of gentle passing night.

Kaishiki vritti mentioned in the Natyashastra is seen in the dance form of Andhra Pradesh. Sharat Prabhath explained how Krishna when vanquishing demon Keshi moved gently and gracefully. The Kuchipudi dance style is imbued with that grace; its lilting movements, and the swift steps, face wearing quicksilver expressions enchant the audiences. Shama Krishna, disciple of Veena Murthy Vijay, has mastered the unique art of drawing the image of a lion, the vehicle of the goddess, Simhavahini, one astride the lion. While dancing and drawing the image of a lion with her feet to the typical Simhanandani tala, Chanchaputa, Chakrabandha, various elements of charis, Karanabhedas, recitation of mnemonics, Shama astounded the audience with her command over the idiom. At the end of the item, the canvass was raised to show the audience the image of the lion. No wonder, she received applause for her performance.

The North East region was remembered with the Gaudiya Vaishnavism which spread there, emphasizing the madhura bhakti as reflected in Manipuri dances. Well known for the divine Raslilas with colourful aharya, singing of kirtanas, and also ashtapadis from the Gita Govinda sung every morning in Shri Shri Govindaji's temple, Manipuri dance form has regional flavour. Manipuri singing is another regional classical musical form. Sinam Basu, the gifted young Manipuri male dancer presented ashtapadi Kuru Yadunandana choreographed by Tikken Singh. The restraint and delicate movements, angikabhinya, the hall mark of Manipuri dance were present in its exposition. Impersonating Radha, Sinam gently addresses Krishna after their union, to decorate her with flower marks, with sandal paste on her breasts, place flower in her hair which fell down during ratikrida (love play), girdle on her waist, do her hair, and so on. Sinam with expressions of lajja (bashfulness), portrayed the state of Radha delicately. As Krishna he obeyed Radha's command. Often the Sanskrit stanza sung in Manipuri style was repeated differently, but the abhinaya section was eloquent enough, not word to word corresponding with rendering of the text. I had seen Sinam performing this ashtapdi previous year in another dance festival in Bengaluru. This time he seemed to have improved a lot. The petal soft footwork, the suggestive hastas and mukhajabhinaya were highly enjoyable. His aharya consisted of the pugree, head gear and yet he transcended gender when enacting role of Radha. Indeed a difficult task, but he succeeded in projecting it artistically. Ending with Haricharana smarane, thinking of Hari, he placed his two palms on his heart and closed his eyes conveying the symbolic union of two divine beings.

Sharat eloquently sang praises of Karnataka region. The live music with Bhagavata singing in typical high pitch Yakshagana style of music, the chenda playing as accompaniment to dramatic vachikabhinaya, electrified the auditorium. Surya N Rao in role of Pakshiraj Jatayu was seen sitting on the floor, and then unfolded the story of Ravana kidnapping Sita, Jatayu's challenge to mighty Ravana. Sita's helpless state and cries for help, the duel between Jatayu and Ravana, Jatayu in anger shouting at Ravana, 'I will give my life to protect Sita' and Ravana cutting off wings of Jatayu, evoked with great imagination, the illusion of other characters' presence, even when none of the characters except, Jatayu was present. Crying 'Rama Rama' for giving his life for Sita, with excellent vachikabhinaya and music, the illusion was created. Surya Rao has a majestic stage presence. Waving his two wings in space as Pakshiraj, his aharya and abhinaya, were spell binding. It was a tour de force performance. I am an admirer of Surya Rao as a versatile artist, equally at ease in different dance styles, be it streevesham in Kuchipudi in role of Satyabhama or his own creation of Ravana in various styles.

Attakkalari Centre for Movement Arts presented Indian contemporary dance titled 'Celebrations.' Sharat spoke about what Natyashastra mentions about freedom that artists have to create new movements, extending the vocabulary of dance and theatre. It was important to make the festival an inclusive festival, with Indian contemporary dance. The well trained male and female dancers performed with sound technique to express the joyous celebrations through dance, movements which had roots in martial art of Kalaripayattu and other similar forms. The equal ease with which the female dancers lifted the male dancers while performing drew appreciation for their energy and concept of women empowerment. The acrobatic elements merged in a seamless manner, including rolling on floor and getting up with great agility. The twelve artists trained by Jayachandran Palazhy did him proud with their presentation.

The finale was dramatically enacted. Sharat Prabhath came from the audience singing and referring to the Mahabharata story that the Kathakali artistes were to perform. The entrance of characters with tiranokku, from behind the curtain for Bhima with green make up for sattvika character in full aharya and crown was most impressive, as was Dushasana's entrance with his larger than life character, frightening make up, red beard, protruding teeth, black eyes for evil characters and attahasya challenging Bhima for a duel. The running through the stage in nature of audience participation was cleverly performed, the dancers with their billowing costumes and large crowns. Bhima with tremendous confidence and awareness of his own strength challenges Dushasana who tries to overpower Bhima, throwing large stones on him, which Bhima wards off in a trice. Dushasana does not succeed in hurting Bhima and runs away. In the next scene, Bhima is sitting on the floor and is seen eating with great relish. Dushasana approaches him and with one stroke of the mace Bhima dismisses him. It creates humour and also evokes laughter. In their battle, Bhima wins. Vishnu Vellekad, Kalamandalam Ananthu and group from Kerala performed in keeping with the high standards of Kathakali.

Rounding up, Sharat Prabhath spoke of the unity of art and connections of all styles with Marga and Desi. He recited the shloka in which the Lord says to Narada: 'Na ham vasami Vaikunthe, na cha yoginam hridaye ravau, mad bhakta yatra gayanti tatra tishthami Narada!' I do not habit Vaikunth, nor in the hearts of Yogis, but where my Bhaktas are singing, I stay there, O Narada!' Said poetically about all these dance styles as a tribute to all artistes, who made the evening so engrossing, was a Herculean task of curating and a mega effort on the part of Anuradha Vikranth. They say in Sanskrit for those who arrange Yagna: 'Yojakasta durlabhah' - rare are the organizers who arrange such wonders!

A feast for the eyes and ears, the 15th edition of Drishti Art Foundation's National Dance Festival was highly enjoyable.

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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