Nalanda's National Dance Seminar
- Ashish Mohan Khokar, Bangalore

September 23, 2010

Nalanda in Mumbai is India's ONLY dance training institution where academics are of equal importance. While many institutions teach dance and train in some or the other style, Nalanda additionally allows pedagogy and Ph.d in dance, hence the only one of its kind in India. It is not part of a routine university teaching either. It is in a class by itself, a true learning place, hence aptly called Nalanda. It is affiliated to and under partnership of the Mumbai University, thus according it a unique status, heightened by the fact that it is the only dance institution getting funding from the Science Ministry, since its methodology of teaching dance is scientific. Its founder-director Dr. Kanak Rele, is a pioneering scholar-aesthete and thinker-dancer, guru, teacher, researcher, institution-builder, all rolled into one. No wonder when she calls gurus and dancers, critics and editors, all turn up!

It was a momentous occasion, as after the 1958 seminar in Delhi, a national seminar on 6 main styles was held in Mumbai from Sept. 17-19, 2010. Gurus CV Chandrasekhar, Birju Maharaj, Kanak Rele, Raja - Radha Reddy, Kumkum Mohanty and Darshana Jhaveri came to show and exchange with all present, their art and lifetime tapasya. Each senior guru regaled the assembled lot of students, critics, general dance buffs and staff of Nalanda in their own inimitable manner.

The inaugural day showcased dance films and ĎA Century of Indian Dance' made by yours truly was premiered. It had come hot from the editing studio and thus a few frames need enhancement, but all said, it was a feast to see 100 years of our dance in 20 minutes. From rare documents on devadasis from the 1890 Madras Census, to Mahari dances and modern masters Uday Shankar, Astad Deboo, Attakkalari all were there. Add Ram Gopal, Alarmel Valli, Birju Maharaj, Ted Shawn, Anna Pavlova, Sitara Devi, Chandralekha, Kamala...the list was mind blowing! The music was mesmerizing and the Nalanda Principal said jokingly, "This alone can earn you a mini Ph.D!" Dr. Kanak Rele praised late Mohan Khokar's seminal work in dance documentation and pioneering role in undertaking dance research.

The films shown from Nalanda's own archives are amazing in its scope and content. Where else can one see a vintage Kamala in her high-waisted costume doing filmy Bharatanatyam to Vedantam Satyanarayanan doing stree vesham in Kuchipudi for which he is world renowned? To see the great Kathakali master Ramankutty Nair or Orissi's grand-master Kelubabu perform, is a momentous feast. Some of the recordings are gifted by Doordarshan and suffer from horrible stage sets that DD specialises in! But if one peels the skin and eats the fruit, then the taste is good. Nalanda is documenting dance seriously. It's the 25th year of its Research Wing alone.

The day-long seminar next day began in earnest with Guru Chandrasekhar showing how even at 75, he can still do a 45 minute varnam. The idea was not to impress but to show that with proper foundation and continuous regimen of practice, one can keep both the body and spirit intact. As he started late owing to organizational delays, he could not show his works through films, fully. Accompanied by Haridas on the vocals, dance and life-partner Jaya on cymbals and ace Balu on mridangam, Guru CV Chandrasekhar showed what training and solid foundation in Bharatanatyam is all about. His session was fulsome and meaningful. He was introduced by Subhas Chandran, ex NCPA.

CV Chandrasekhar
Kanak Rele

Dr. Kanak Rele took to the stage next and she is a power house of a multi-tasking artiste. Just minutes ago she was receiving the Secretary, Dept. of Culture, Shri. Jawhar Sircar, who is an active and bright artocrat looking for creative, out of box solutions. And minutes later she was on stage, all dressed up! Rele was assisted in her presentation by two talents, Madhuri and Megha, both showcasing the exemplary kinetics of the Mohini style, as devised by the serious pedagogic work done over decades by Dr. Kanak Rele and rarely seen before. The amount they bend one has never seen in any Mohiniattam dancer before, especially the oscillating movement. Dr Rele's abhinaya is elastic and full of life. She was introduced by George Paul from Thrissur.

Doyen of Kathak, Guru Birju Maharaj, still recuperating from an eye surgery, was a delight from the minute this giant of Kathak took to the stage. There is Kathak in his mere talk! He stated, laya is in everything and he proved it with demonstration, ably supplemented by his senior most disciple, the redoubtable Saswati Sen, whose abhinaya ability shone and her strong aesthetics came through. Guru Birju Maharaj spoke of times when just seeing the entry of his father Pt. Achchan Maharaj in the Nawab of Rampur's court, a visitor said, "Bhai, if in his adaab there's so much dance, in his dance how much adaab would be there?" In Maharaj-ji's rendition, time stood still and all present were fully mesmerized. He is a complete artiste and a great one at that as he is full in each department of dance. Ravindra Mishra was sincere and sensible in his introduction.

Birju Maharaj
Kumkum Mohanty

Next day opened with senior Orissi talent Kumkum Mohanty, whose loose ghungroos showed they were not much in use of late but in her dance she showed how strong her grasp of her guru Kelubabu's style is. She is of the same vintage as Sanjukta Panigrahi, the star student of Kelubabu and Kumkum also is an academically minded dancer. In her items, there was depth and substance and she was like old, mature seasoned voice of dance. Leela Venkataraman ably gave a detailed account of the early history of Orissi and how through the 4 items Kumkum had chosen, an aspect of growth of that period came through. First-rate introduction and presentation, though the singers were squeaking/shrieking instead of singing!

The King of Kuchipudi, with his queen, strode in next and showcased what this introducer was stating: purush-prakriti; lasya-tandava; raja and rani of Kuchipudi. Kausalya Reddy in command, with Bhaskar Rao on mridangam and Sangita singing mellifluously, the whole presentation showcased what I was also saying in my introduction about how a melam, a group tradition had to be curtailed to fit the proscenium stage. If in Orissi, from nothing something had to be built and created, then in Kuchipudi from much (a group Yakshagana tradition) something compact, a twosome or solo format had to be created and this was the last 60 years of the history of the form.

Raja-Radha Reddy
Darshana Jhaveri

Darshana Jhaveri (of Jhaveri sisters fame) brought about the beauty and elfin charm of Manipuri through a languorous, stood-in-time dance style. Darshana referred to her guru Bipin Singh, who had left his native Manipur to seek fortunes first in the glamour of Mumbai and then in Calcutta, teaching to urbanites desirous of learning an alien dance form. Her presentation was more like a college level lec-dem format. Nothing new was stated; only the old got reinstated. Gyaneswari as the male dancer showed interesting jumps and skirting while the singer was so involved in her rendition as Radha that she started crying on stage! This is true bhakti rasa dance. Dr. Rele introduced Darshana, in a personalized manner, having known her from school days.

The Seminar had no frame for interaction. By definition, it becomes one dimensional. The organizers may feel that senseless questions may be asked by students, but it is still a learning process. The opportunity to host so many dance gurus and talents was awesome and those not included or invited, truly missed a feast. One went away craving for more and that rarely happens in seminars or dance festivals. The staff stand complimented and Dr. Rele, celebrated for achieving yet another milestone.

Ashish Mohan Khokar travels all over India and brings to note dancers of merit, through his writings, columns and yearbook, attendance. India's reputed and widely-read dance critic, his words help dancers and audiences understand and appreciate the art of dance and the actual performance, better. For detailed bio see and