Sva-Bhaav: A fresh look at the nayika depiction 
- Dr. Sunil Kothari 

 June 11, 2009 

Expressions in love… 

'In tearing hurry she rushes to the door, 
Gazes out, straining to see. 
Now she looks out, she turns around, 
Only to rush to the door, again, 
Body, mind melting with longing.' 

When we read these stanzas, an image of a nayika takes shape, remind us of miniature painting, to recall Brij poetry, Ritikala literature. Before us in a subdued lighting, dressed in white costume inspired by Rajput miniature painting stands Kathak dancer Rashmi Uppal. 

Kathak in recent years has been re-invented by the young generation of dancers. Trained earlier by Bharati Gupta at Kathak Kendra, Rashmi joined Aditi Mangladas's Drishtikon Dance Company repertory, receiving further lessons from Aditi, imbibing the sophistication, the art of presentation, reworking on traditional themes, taking help from her mentor Aditi, music composer Vidya Shah, husband Jaspreet Singh for lighting, and the seasoned musicians team of Drishtikon including Yogesh Gangani (tabla), Mahaveer Gangani (Pakhavaj), Rakesh Prasanna (flute and sarod), Samiullah Khan (vocal) and her contemporary Gauri Diwakar, another brilliant Kathak dancer, (who has received Yuva Puraskar Bismillah Khan Award from Sangeet Natak Akademi) for recitation. When the musicians appeared dressed in white with golden scarves, they looked like Gandharvas. Very pleasing and aesthetic part of the performance, adding visual appeal. 

Divided into three sections, the myriad moods of the nayika were explored in terms of music, dance and poetry. Traditional bandishes were juxtaposed with Hindi poetry of Mahadevi Verma, Dharmaveer Bharati and Jaishankar Prasad. And that made the difference as the nayikas as seen by these three poets added another dimension to a usual presentation. There was a refreshing approach in conception and execution, offering scope to individual musicians to show off on tabla, pakhavaj and sarod when the dancer changed costumes to suit the mood. A clever ploy not taxing the patience of the audience. 

Kathak technique was used in a variety of ways. The agony at times by tatkar, waving of hands, suggesting gathering of clouds, and pain during the separation, the chakkars, the hallmark of Kathak, the speed and coming pat on the sam, in concluding movements, won Rashmi rounds of applause. Yes, once only, perhaps in over enthusiasm, while sitting and reciting mnemonic syllables, Rashmi lapsed into ginati (counting) 'ek, do, teen, chaar'- and broke the illusion of a nayika interpreting mood through nritta, pure dance. And the magic spell broke. Some of us felt this naked display of Kathak technique was out of place. It had to be interwoven as other elements were.  

Unlike compositions of numbers in say Bharatanatyam and Odissi, in Kathak a dancer has freedom to improvise. And that gives her scope to explore nritta in a manner that gives Kathak a look of novelty. Rashmi has imbibed a lot of influences in a positive manner from Aditi Mangaldas. This is inevitable as they work together. However, the attempt makes one feel hopeful for the re-invention of tradition in the hands of young dancers. 

Take for instance the khandita nayika. She is angry at the truant lover's dallying with the other woman, arriving with tell-tale marks of having spent the night with her; the nayika as it were catches him red-handed and closes the door on him. The agony, anger is severe, heightened by red costume, red lighting and approximating the stanzas of Jaishankar Prasad, 'Is Jwala main jalan ki' is this fire of agony. The chakkars, the getting away from the lover's apologies, inability to overcome anger, jealousy and pride, she moves away from him, unable to bear his lies - all were displayed with consummate artistry.  

There is a temptation to have applause at the display of virtuosity, finish, mastery of tala, variations and command of technique. They could be hazardous, if not consciously thought out, to suit the mood of the theme. One would also grant the energy, the youthfulness, the impatience. Since all this added to the charm of the presentation and dancer's potential to take up challenges, one applauds Rashmi for her initiative. In a traditional composition 'Pyare ab to karat singar,'  the imageries were conveyed artistically with the nayika decorating herself, the joy conveyed through tatkar, the footwork, the various chaals, the gaits interspersed with dha taka dhunga, showing the two birds making love, or the bees hovering around the lotus. Attempt to express feelings using mnemonic syllables also added to explorations. 

Use of Kavit 'jhijhikat, mukh mode mode, chapala chali' was interesting, both in terms of fleeting expressions and use of nritta element, pure dance. The use of gat like gala bainya, embrace was imaginative and easily flowing from one to the other, it had delicacy and yet strength and power. Even using tanum, tanum for tarana like composition et al had musical texture. Vidya Shah has explored different elements where dance and music go hand in hand. Except at times Shamiullah Khan's vocal rendering was too loud. 

One would like to compliment Aditi for encouraging her repertory member to explore in solo form, various elements and thereby develop the solo form as well as the dancer's personality and ability to choreograph. The support came from so many sources, and the dancer was lucky to put up such a memorable performance. 

Seher, AK Electricals, Habitat World, Sharda Video Lab, BK Tyres and others supported the program generously. 

Dr. Sunil Kothari, dance historian, scholar, author, is a renowned dance critic, having written for The Times of India group of publications for more than 40 years. He is a regular contributor to Dance Magazine, New York. Dr. Kothari is a globetrotter, attending several national, international dance conferences and dance festivals. He has to his credit more than 14 definitive works on Indian classical dance forms. Kothari was a Fulbright Professor and has taught at the Dance Department, New York University; has lectured at several Universities in USA, UK, France, Australia, Indonesia and Japan. He has been Vice President of World Dance Alliance Asia Pacific (2000-2008) and is Vice President of World Dance Alliance Asia Pacific India chapter, based in New Delhi. A regular contributor to, Dr Kothari is honored by the President of India with the civil honor of Padma Shri and Sangeet Natak Akademi award.