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The contribution of Kathak exponents Dr. Puru Dadheech and Vibha Dadheech
Photos courtesy: Pratyush Dadhich

July 4, 2020

In the world of classical Kathak, the names of Dr. Puru Dadheech and his wife Vibha Dadheech’s names are taken with great respect. Being self effacing by temperament and low profile, they were not known to other classical dance exponents and gurus. However, in Madhya Pradesh Kathak world they are legends.

Before Covid 19, in February in Mumbai, Dr. Sandhya Purecha, while celebrating centenary of Acharya Parvati Kumar, had arranged a special series of lectures by Dr. Puru Dadheech on Natyashastra and Kathak. This was for the first time ever that such a series was arranged at Bharata College, where a special course on classical Kathak and Natyashastra has been finalized and is offered as a course. I happened to attend Dr. Dadheech’s lectures and as we were staying in the same hotel, I sought appointment with him to learn more about his career and the course. Of course, I had known about the couple as both had performed at Kal Ke Kalakar festival at C. J. Hall in Mumbai for Sur Singar Samsad.

Dr.Puru Dadheech

Puru was born in Ujjain on 17th July 1939 in a traditional Brahmin family well versed in Puranas and mythologies. His forefathers have a shrine for Shrimad Bhagavata Purana in Ujjain and it is being looked after by Puru’s elder brother.

As a child, Puru was interested in painting. It so happened that during those years well know Kathak guru Durga Prasad visited Ujjain. Puru had drawn hasta mudras and wanted to show them for his approval. Looking at those figures, Durga Prasad advised him to study Vishnudharmottara Purana for the dictum: Vina  to nrittashastren  chitrasutram  sudurvidam, meaning without the knowledge of dance, it is not possible to be a good painter. He also advised him to study dance.

But Puru’s grandfather Onkarlal was a body builder, gymnast and was dead against his grandson taking to dance. However, young Puru managed to overcome that hurdle and started studying Kathak. Seeing his talent, Durga Prasad was very pleased. Even at the age of 14, for annual school performances, Puru used to choreograph small dance dramas as he knew mythological stories well. He had a strong background in Shastras.

Dr. Puru Dadheech & Vibha Dadheech at Kal Ke Kalakar festival, 1975

Seeing his progress in Kathak, whenever Durga Prasad went to Delhi, he took Puru along with him and advised him to study further from Narayan Prasad, Sunder Prasad and Shambhu Maharaj. Puru acknowledges that thanks to his guru Durga Prasad, he acquired sound training from the great stalwarts.

When working in college in Ujjain, because of his knowledge of Shastras, Puru was asked to prepare a syllabus for BA and MA degrees in Kathak. It was so well prepared by Puru that it was approved by Khairagarh University in 1961. Puru joined Bhatkhande College in Lucknow as assistant professor when his close friend Professor Mohan Rao Kallianpurkar retired in 1974. His progress was phenomenal and he became Professor in 1975, Principal in 1978 and retired in 1988. He then settled with his wife Vibha in Indore.

Vibharani Gupta was born to a noted freedom fighter Bhramar Gupta and Purna Gupta of Bilaspur on 12th March 1954. Her parents were keen followers of Gandhiji.  Their contribution in spreading Gandhian philosophy in Central India is considerable. Purna Gupta’s services as teacher were recognized in 1968 when she was rewarded with a medal from the President of India. Young Vibha had started learning Kathak from a tender age of 7 from Firtu Maharaj at Raigarh. Later on, her father took her to Shambhu Maharaj at whose residence she stayed for two years. Her expressions were much appreciated by Shambhu Maharaj. He used to play upon harmonium and teach Vibha and young son Krishna Mohan abhinaya. Of the various items Vibha studied, Madhurashtakam was favourite of Shambhu Maharaj and young Vibha was invariably asked to perform it in a majority of conferences.

As an accomplished dancer once at a Youth Festival where Dr Puru Dadheech was a judge for the competition, he saw Vibha. He advised her to join Bhatkhande College. She joined in the year 1975. They married in 1978. She received lot of knowledge of the Shastras from Dr. Dadheech. Later on under Professor Mohan Rao Kallianpurkar she registered for Ph.D at Khairagarh University on the topic of ‘Hastamudras in Kathak’ and also in more than 20 Shastra treatises. She also received Chakradhar Fellowship. Her books on Kathak received good response and the one on Hastamudras in Gat Nikas became very popular, besides her Nritya Nibandha.

Kathak Dance Syllabi

In 1980, the couple started a publication unit under title Bindu Prakashan. Their publication Kathak Nritya Shiksha Part I and Part II were most successful. I understand that it has run into several editions and is a de rigueur book for Kathak students.

Vibha also produced video book Nritya Sarvasva. The couple has produced a remarkable book in Hindi on Kathak Nritya Suman and Nritya Manjari focusing on Abhinaya Darpana. Dr. Puru Dadheech’s poetic version of Abhinaya Darpana in Hindi is parallel to Abhinaya Darpana’s Sanskrit shlokas explaining how to form hasta mudra and its viniyoga. Vibha has choreographed these shlokas which are taught to the students along with traditional Kathak knowledge. It is interesting to note that there are nine centres of Natawari institute in MP, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Telangana.  

I came to learn about their various projects which included online Diploma in Kathak Shastra, Advanced Diploma in Aprachalit Angs of Kathak, Diploma in Natyashastra with reference to Kathak, online courses on Sampurna Ramayana and their 18 books and several research works.

Diploma in Kathak Shastra consists of a series of lectures, the salient feature of it is of a lot of things mentioned in the Shastras but which are not used in Kathak. Keeping in view the technology of offering courses online, they have launched Kathak Shastra Part I and part II. 55 research scholars and students have joined this course from abroad and within India. This course is organized by Natanam studio owned by Dr. Piyush Raj and is curated by Dr. Dadheech’s son Dr. Pratyush Dadhich and Kathak exponent Dr. Sunil Sunkara.

Advanced Diploma in Aprachalit Angs of Kathak is offered from February 2020 under aegis of their Natwari Kathak Nritya Academy, Indore. It is a new course, first of its kind to revive a lot of old and extinct traditions, angs, postures, bandishes etc. To date, 75 students from across various countries have joined this course. They offer 6 videos which also includes ancient traditions of Pushpanjali and Naandi, plus traditional items in Aprachalit Angs of Kathak. Diploma in Natyashastra with reference to Kathak was first time curated by Dr. Sandhya Purecha and Dr. Sunil Sunkara for Bharata College of Fine Arts and Culture in Mumbai, before the aforesaid two courses. The entire Natyashastra with reference to Kathak was completed within 12 months in February 2020.

Sampurna Ramayana which starts from 5th July this year is another online course which revives the ancient tradition of Katha Kathan, under the aegis of Living Arts Academy of Performing Arts. Written by Dr. Puru Dadheech for a duration of one hour, it is based upon Tulsidas’s Ramayan rendered in ancient mode of traditional  Kathak.

Srijan ke Kshan

The couple has written 18 books and several research papers. The Uttar Pradesh Sanskrit Sansthan, Lucknow, has published in 12 parts Sanskrit Sahitya ka Brihan Itihas consisting of Nritya and Natya Adhyaya. In addition, Dr. Puru Dadheech has written Nritya and Natya adhyay in Jain Sahitya Mein Sangeet in Jain Antiquary. One more welcome venture to the credit of Dr. Puru Dadheech is video book, a set of 15 DVDs titled Nritya Sarvasva. It includes entire theory of Kathak dance for Kathak students up to MA level. It gives multiple examples with their texts which Dr. Dadheech has demonstrated while sitting. Finally, on Dr. Puru Dadheech’s 80th birthday, an audio CD with 4 hours of 25 tracks written by himself and composed by many artists includes basic sadra tracks to complex Dhrupad in Aprachalit Brahma and Manthika taals. It is titled Srijan ke Kshan.

Dr. Dadheech has been awarded SNA Award for Kathak and the Padma Shri by the President of India previous year.

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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