Sradhyanjali: A tribute to Pt. Birju Maharaj through dance
- Nita Vidyarthi

March 7, 2014

To pay tribute and respect by performing in the presence of the living legend Pandit Birju Maharaj on his 75th birthday and felicitate the Kathak maestro, the torch bearer of his great legacy of the illustrious Bindadin-Kalka Prasad gharana was not only a rare opportunity for the 15 odd senior dancers and groups of Kolkata but also for those who watched it at Rabindra Sadan, Kolkata. Kathak dancers and those from other classical disciplines were present on a single platform to create the harmony in vibrant versatility of the Indian classical heritage to reflect the inspiration of the great master’s extraordinary contribution to dance.

Bhanusingher Padavali
They offered their pranams by performing in front of him and thus saluting him. The glorious evening organised by Nrityangan Kathak Kendra and assisted by Padatik was in two parts. The first part saw the choreographers’ presentations and the second the felicitation program. The long nearly five hour program began with Ganesh Vandana, an Odissi performance by Srijan Chhanda led by Rajib Bhattacharya, followed by Jailal Academy's Shiva Stotram and skilful nritta in the seven-matra rupak taal with intricate patterns under the guidance of the brilliant Kathak dancer Kajal Misra. Uday Shankar Professor Amita Dutta’s choreography of the song Aaj sakhi muhu muhu from Tagore’s dance drama Bhanusingher Padavali in the Kathak idiom aimed at integrally linking knowledge translation, creativity and classicism. The solo ‘Tridhara’ by the well- known Kathakali dancer Kalamandalam Venkitt depicting the hunter, pregnant deer and tiger was highly appreciated even though he was not in full Kathakali costume. The brilliant Odissi dancer Aloka Kanungo along with her group Shinjan  Nrityalaya presented an enjoyable abhinaya item Arey re nandara suta.

Sandip Mallik, a talented young Kathak dancer played with the classical rhythms fusing it with Western dance moves in his work ‘Alingan’ (embrace). Senior Kathak dancers, Luna Poddar in the item ‘Chhandagati’ and Madhumita Roy (demonstration of tabla bolbani through footwork) paid tribute to their guru with their groups displaying their strong grip on rhythms. Asimbandhu Bhattacharjee's ‘Nabachhanda’ also displayed nine colours - the taals of Kathak. Paramita Maitra and members of Nrityangan Kathak Kendra, the host organization, handled the taal Dhamar well, incorporating both the tandava and lasya elements.

Dona Ganguly’s ‘Nabadurga’ in Odissi by her students of Diksha Manjari was a colourful display of the dance form and attractive too. Kalamandalam Kolkata known for its skilled and trained dancers gave a riveting ‘Tillana Archana’ choreographed wonderfully by Guru Thankamani Kutty. The students of North East from Padatik did not lag behind in spirit. Gaudiya Nritya by Mahua Mukherjee’s group from Gaudiya Nritya Bharati and Ramaprasad Banik’s presentation were also a part of the homage.

Little Baidurja Chatterjee presented a solo from Tagore’s Kabuliwala to usher in the second half of the program after which the felicitation of Birju Maharaj followed. The much awaited moment was Birju Maharaj's appearance on stage without formal costume, ghungroo or make-up and mesmerizing wizardry on his favourite Taalo ka Raja teentaal. Complex emotions were conveyed in his abhinaya Saiya chhoro mohe maike jana hain through his limbs and eyes. The body’s spark represented by crossed hands, a smooth glide through a series of poses so subtly distinguished from one another that movement, from one moment to the next created an  exhilaration in the audience. The maestro known for his marvellous thumri renditions joined Debashish Sarkar in the singing. Saswati Sen, the star disciple of Maharaj and a wonderful dancer in her own right, before joining in a duet with her guru presented a compelling nritta. The program to pay tribute to a great guru was undoubtedly novel.

Dr. Nita Vidyarthi is a critic of performing arts, specialising in dance, dance theatre and expressions and is a regular contributor to The Hindu, and the Statesman Kolkata. She is trained in Kathak, Bharatanatyam and Manipuri as well as vocal, semi-classical music and Rabindra Sangeet. A Science communicator, Ph.D. in Polymer Science, Commonwealth Scholar and a retired Professor of Chemistry, Nita devotes most of her time to dance and theatre writing.