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'A Moment in Time with Legends of Indian Art' - Book launch with Nrityanjali
- Manjari Sinha
Photos courtesy: Manisha Gawade

June 6, 2022

'A Moment in Time with Legends of Indian Art', a book by Alka Raghuvanshi was released on her first death anniversary, the 26th of May, in a big way, by her younger sister Manisha Gawade in association with Shubhi Prakashan, at the Habitat Centre, Delhi. Published by Shubhi Publications, the book is an amalgamation of interviews with multifarious legends from the world of art including Indian classical dance, Hindustani and Carnatic classical music, painting, sculpture and theatre. It is, in fact, a historic documentation of legends of Indian Art, representatives of a special era in the history of India's artistic heritage.

A Moment in Time with Legends of Indian Art - Book launch
The book launch

The book was launched by Kumar Tuhin, Director General ICCR, Sunit Tandon, Director Habitat Centre and senior members of the art fraternity including publisher Sanjay Arya, Gurus Radha Reddy and Kausalya Reddy, artiste Ranbir Kaleka, Bollywood actor Rajesh Tailang, Odissi Guru Sharon Lowen, Ustad Wasifuddin Dagar, Radhika Chopra, Suhasini Shah, Kumud Sharma and the host, artiste and curator Manisha Gawade. Each and everyone spoke highly about Alka, whose passing away on this day last year, came as a shock to the arts fraternity.

A senior columnist, author, critic and art curator, Alka has written prolifically for nearly four decades. Author and editor of over 26 books including 'Garhwal Himalayas-Chorus of Solitude' to 'Smoking Beauties' a first-ever Indian publication on the heritage of steam engines in the country that she commissioned and edited. Alka also initiated and edited a seven-part series of books 'Classical Dances of India', one each by the top performers of the seven classical dance forms.

The book 'A Moment in Time with Legends of Indian Art' contains interviews of M.F. Hussain, Manjit Bawa, Krishen Khanna, J. Swaminathan, Satish Gujral, Pt. Birju Maharaj, Yamini Krishnamurty, Kelucharan Mohapatra, Ebrahim Alkazi, Sheila Bhatia, B.V. Karanth, Manohar Singh, Uttara Baokar, M.S. Subbulakshmi, Pt. Ravi Shankar, Ali Akbar Khan, Krishan Maharaj, Bhimsen Joshi, Malikarjun Mansoor, Balamuralikrishna, Hari Prasad Chaurasia, Girija Devi, Bismillah Khan, Ram Narayan, Pt. Jasraj and Ustad Amjad Ali Khan.

The evening opened with bhajan by Meeta Pandit, the talented representative of Gwalior Gharana. The first Bhajan "Radhe-Shyam Krishna-Murari Kanhaiya" had the flavour of a Purab Ang Thumri in Khamaj sung with a chaanchar theka on tabla by Shambhunath Bhattacharya. She concluded with the famous Meera bhajan "Mharo pranam banke bihari ji..." in the sonorous swaras of the timely raga Yaman. She rendered both the bhajans eloquently but one wished the sequence were reversed because the Yaman bhajan had the devotional serenity of the evening raga and sounded like a Chhota Khayal and the other had the sweetness of Thumri / Dadra concluding also with a laggi on tabla.

Students of Ranjana Gauhar
Students of Ranjana Gauhar

This was followed by the book launch and audio-visual clips of Alka interviewing Pt. Birju Maharaj and Ustad Amjad Ali Khan gave the viewers a savouring of the interviews they were going to read in the book that was just released. There was also a video clip of Kathak dancer Shovana Narayan who could not attend this function. This was followed by live performances in Odissi, Kuchipudi and Kathak as a Nrityanjali, a dance tribute to Alka Raghuvanshi. Sadhna Shrivastav, as usual, anchored the proceedings with Úlan. By the time the dance performances took place, it was quite late in the evening, hence the dancers presented short items only. The Nrityanjali opened with 'Dashavatara' from Jayadeva's Geeta Govinda presented in Odissi dance style by the students of Ranjana Gauhar. The choreography of Guru Mayadhar Raut in Ragamalika set to Jhampa taal was presented immaculately by the group of well-trained Odissi dancers.

Rashmi Vaidyalingam
Rashmi Vaidyalingam

Next was Rashmi Vaidyalingam, the versatile Kuchipudi exponent, a disciple of Gurus Raja-Radha Reddy and a practising advocate, who presented "Yevvade...", a padam in ragam Shankarabharanam set to misrachapu talam. In this padam, the heroine was a parakiya nayika who is married to one man but is in love with another. The Nayika recalls her romantic liaisons with Krishna, which she considers so dear to her that she can't even reveal it to her friend, the Sakhi. Instead, she pretends not to recognise Krishna and gets angry over this unknown young man, lest her friend guesses the truth. Rashmi very imaginatively incorporated the vachika abhinaya tradition of Kuchipudi as a preface to the padam, when with the musical background of just the drone of a tanpura she enters the garden (stage) to look for her lover. She speaks to herself, "Oh what a lovely garden is this with multi-hued flowers." She plucks one flower, smells it and puts it in her hair before the actual padam starts. Then she spots her lover and indicates with eye and hand gestures, "Not now, just wait". On the other hand, pretends as if she doesn't recognise this man and asks her Sakhi, "Who is this gentleman?" It was an interesting item with fascinating abhinaya skills of the dancer that established an instant rapport with the audience.

Shinjini Kulkarni
Shinjini Kulkarni

Nrityanjali concluded with Kathak by Shinjini Kulkarni, the granddaughter of Pt. Birju Maharaj who belongs to the 9th generation of the Kalka Bindadin lineage of Lucknow Gharana. She presented the Ardhanareeshwara invocation "Ardhaang bhasm-bhabhoot sohe, Ardha Mohini roop hai", written, composed and sung by Pt. Birju Maharaj. With her tall figure, long arms and mobile visage which registered bhavas effortlessly, Shinjini at once drew attention. As Ardhanareeshwara combining both male and female bodies, Shinjini enacted these two personas with consummate artistry. The music composed by Birju Maharaj was interspersed with Tode-Tukde, Paran and Chakkardar Tihais and his vocal rendering did the rest to enhance the performance of the graceful dancer.

Manjari Sinha
Manjari Sinha has an M.A. in Sanskrit and Music, and trained in vocal, tabla, sitar and Kathak dance. She has regular columns in national dailies as a music and dance critic.

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