The Ashtapadi Festival of Dance
- Manjari Sinha
Pics: Dr. Susil Pani

November 3, 2011

Ashtapadi or the eight-stanza songs from Geet-Govinda, the immortal classic creation of the 16th century Sanskrit poet Jayadeva, have inspired the creative minds from the field of arts, specially music and dance for centuries. They have enriched the repertoire of Hindustani and Carnatic classical music and the various classical dance styles of our country from Odissi to Mohiniattam. These Ashtapadis have been the indispensable part of the Ashtayaam-Seva in our temples all over, especially the Jagannath Temple of Puri where the poet first sang these songs as devotional prayers and his wife danced for these songs as an offering to the presiding deity. The practice continues till date.

Many scholars have delved deep into the literary contents of this immortal epic. Dr Subas Pani is one such scholar, author and translator with research interests in Jagannath, Jayadeva and the Geeta Govinda. He wrote his doctoral thesis on ‘Rediscovering Jayadeva and Geeta Govinda in Context of the Historical and Cultural Heritage of Orissa.’ He has also composed music for ‘Sampoorna Geeta Govinda,’ a set of five albums released by the record company Sa Re Ga Ma, presenting for the first time the complete and unabridged version of the entire epic.

The ‘Ashtapadi Festival of Dance’ presented by the Geetagovinda Pratishthaana, Puducherry, at the Kamani auditorium, New Delhi on the 3rd and 4th of October 2011, was conceived by Dr. Subas Pani to offer the audience a complete experience of Jayadeva’s Geeta Govinda through sangeeta in its holistic connotation of “Geetam Vadyam tatha Nrityam, trayam sangeetamuchyate” as described in the musical treatise, with vocal rendition of songs enhanced by instrumental music and dance. The already composed ‘Sampoorna Geeta Govinda’ provided the base for an excellent musical score for the fresh dance interpretation through the new choreographic compositions by Aruna Mohanty and Sharmila Biswas.

This was in fact the 2nd Ashtapadi Festival inspired by the huge success of its first edition drawing full houses at Kamani during the Commonwealth Game’s ‘Delhi Celebrates’ program in 2010. The festival this year presented in collaboration with Orissa Dance Academy, Bhubaneswar and Odissi Vision and Movement Centre, Kolkata, featured forty chiseled artistes in solo, duet and group performances in a mesmerizing dance-drama format where the songs and shlokas were creatively linked through music and movements to maintain continuity of the narrative thread of Jayadeva’s immortal epic.

The Ashtapadi Festival took a flying start with ‘Shrita Kamala…,’ a stunning group choreography by Aruna Mohanty where for instance, the tableau of Surya’s chariot translating the words like ‘Dinamani mandala…’ and the ‘Kaliya-Daman’ episodes were a visual delight. “Sarasa Vasante…,” the second piece originally choreographed by Guru Gangadhar Pradhan, opened with a solo by Aruna and was later joined by the group. Ayona Bhaduri in her debut performance on “Rase Harimiha…” and Sharmila’s solo on “Sakhi he Kesi Mathanamudaram…” were superb. The sensitive abhinaya on “Stanavinihitamapi…” by Aruna and “Ratisukhsare” by Madhusmita led the evening to its climax in “Krishnaya tubhyam namah…” by the entire group.
The seven Ashtapadis presented next evening opened with “Ramate Yamuna pulinvane…” in a solo by Aruna where an ecstatic Radha soaked in sheer bliss as described by the Sutradhara, looks at Krishna. The other solos were “Radha vadana vikokana…” by Yudhishthir and “Kuru Yadunandana…” by Jahnabi along with the benedictory last stanza. Duets comprised “Manjutarakunjtala” and “kshanamadhuna…” by Ramesh and Madhusmita. The concluding group choreography on “Jaya Jagdeesha harey…” was a mesmerizing finale to the two-day festival.

Totally drenched in tunefulness, the live music deserves kudos with Guru Dhaneshwar Swain and Bijay Barik on mardala, Swapneshwar Chakraborty on sitar, Ramesh Chandra Das on violin, Srinibas Satpathy on flute and singers like Sukanto Kundu, Rupak Parida, Nazia Alam and Haripriya Swain. The stage and lighting were skillfully handled by Ramesh Chandra Jena and Niloy Sengupta. The remarkable success of the Ashtapadi Festival was the result of creative collaboration between Dr. Subas Pani and the senior Guru Late Gangadhar Pradhan, choreographer/dancers Sharmila Biswas, Aruna Mohanty and Meera Das. The professional quality of the production was definitely enhanced by the superb performance of each and every musician and dancer who worked tirelessly to ensure its resounding success.

Manjari Sinha has an MA in Sanskrit from Allahabad University, MA in Music from Vikram University, Ujjain; B.Ed. from Lucknow University; Sangeet Prabhakar in vocal, tabla, sitar and Kathak dance from Prayag Sangeet Samiti, Allahabad; and further training in sitar from guru Arvind Parikh in the lineage of Ustad Vilayat Khan. She contributes articles in English and Hindi on Music (Hindustani & Carnatic), Dance, Art & Culture for various leading music journals and periodicals. She gives lec-dems on Indian classical music and dance in India and abroad.