Pre thirtieth year celebration of Gaudiya Nritya Bharati
- Dr. Nita Vidyarthi
Photos: Asok Kumar Chattopadhyay
November 21, 2022
In the last few years, instead of proving ephemeral, the interest in both learning and watching as well as appreciating Gaudiya Nritya, accompanied by its music, shows every sign of growing in depth and is now spreading through the whole classical field. A Fullbright fellow, Dr. Mahua Mukherjee has been toiling hard for the last 40 years with her singer husband Amitava Mukherjee to revive this lost dance form that was popularized in 1995 by scholar Professor Bratindranath Mukherjee, her mentor.
Several second generation students of Mahua Mukherjee have not only gained a strong footing in the dance arena, but with professional interest established themselves as seasoned performers at home and abroad. Others have been pursuing the study of the theoretical aspects, undertaken research, obtained doctoral degrees and grown as successful scholars. Their dance institution Gaudiya Nritya Bharati will soon be stepping into its 31st year and celebrated their pre-thirtieth year recently together with their annual Gaudiya Dance Festival with three sister organizations through a novel offering of solo and group dances, including folk dances of Bangladesh, concluding with the soulful ekaharya dance-theatre Buddhacharit by Mahua Mukherjee at Sisir Manch, Kolkata.
A bonus was the 30 minutes opening documentary on Gaudiya Nritya titled Dance of the Gods by Films Division of India. The colour film directed by the renowned film personality Derek Bose with ace cameraman Soumendu Roy was a highly enriching and illuminating film with appropriate music, shot in beautiful locations in Bengal, highlighting the history of Bengal, its literature, architecture and the advent of Gaudiya Nritya. It also featured the people behind its growth with landmark events adorned with some stunning excerpts of performances by young Mahua Mukherjee. Selective good wishes and positive comments by Kathakali stalwart Guru Govindan Kutty and Guru Bipin Singh, doyen of Manipuri dance, effectively clarify some misconceptions about this dance form and watching it is highly recommended for this reason. It is a pity that the film has not been widely viewed.
The performance segment opened with the Universal Peace prayer "Om sarvey bhavantu sukhinah sarve santu niramaya" in Amitava Mukherjee's deep baritone voice, followed by a novel set of six dance performances in Mahua Mukherjee's choreography by the members of Gaudiya Nritya Bharati. It began with a somber ritualistic Mangalacharan "Om Madhu, Madhu, Madhu....Madhubarta Ritayatey" depicting everything in the universe to be reverberating with madhu (sweetness) by both the male and female dancers who conveyed the musical statement of the lyrics sung with elaborations by Amitava Mukherjee.
A showcase of Bhabapritananda Ojha's 'Chowtirishakshar Stabamala' (chant or stuti) of Goddess Kali was unique both in terms of the sahitya and the dance. Every line of the accompanying song began with one different alphabet of the 34 out of the garland of 50 Bengali alphabets. So the performance of the dancers clad in bright red began with Ka, the first one set to the song "Kali Katyayani", Kha, the second with "Khanjani... (manjira), Ga ... "Ganesh" the third and continued till the 34th one. Since the words are the inspirational basis of the work, the vocal side with a folksy hue predominates the rhythmic piece of the uncommon item. However, the crisp, sculpturesque movements of the five skilled senior dancers both captured and fed the composer Mahua Mukherjee's imagination.
Nabacharjapada nritya, the next piece presented by Mahua Mukherjee, the revivalist of Gaudiya Nritya, has a strong historical background and is an indispensable part of the history of Bengali literature. The original Charjapada is a collection of mystical poems, songs of realisation and were spontaneously composed verses written between the 8th and 12th century. It was rediscovered in the early twentieth century and brought to Bengal from the Court of Nepal and Torai by Sanskrit scholar Pandit Haraprasad Shastry. In his introduction to the "Charyacharya -vinishchaya", Pandit Haraprasad referred to the enigmatic language of its verses as "twilight language".
Waving Yak tails (chamar) with both hands, Mahua Mukherjee's impactful entrance with flashes of gruesome expression of the bloodshot eyed Goddess was a frightening detail of the Devi vandana set to raga Lalitamanjari, taal Daspahari in sharp, undiluted Gaudiya style doing full justice to every word of the composition. Though a dancer par excellence, the excellent singing by Amitava Mukherjee enhanced her hair raising unflinching dance.
This was followed by a vibrant well-coordinated group number "Jai ma Ambikey trilok palikey kingshuk malikey" composed by the 18th century poet Kavi Debendranath Majumdar Thakur. This Ambika Stuti is to please each of the nine different forms of Goddess Ambika who is worshipped for nine days, one different form each day out of the nine. Another uncommon solo item by the seasoned dancer Soumya Bhowmick, senior disciple of Mahua Mukherjee was Kartik Stab. The handsome warrior son of Parvati is usually not a dancer's favourite but Soumya communicated the meaning of the song or the stuti "Mahasena Kartikeya Agni Nandana" set to raga Ahir Bhairav and Douthuki taal through captivating elaborations and detailed expositions. The final performance of Gaudiya Nritya Bharati was the pure dance number Panchabhuta Alaapchari as a tribute to its composer Professor Manabendu Bandopadyay, Mahua Mukherjee's Sanskrit teacher.
Guest performances began with Bikramshila spearheaded and directed by Dr. Satabdi Acharya Chakravarty, a star disciple of Mahua Mukherjee. A stunning Nataraj frieze and the energetic Chandi Vandana "Mundamala Tantra" in Mishra raga and taal Guchha (Talamalika) saw dancing with a fine sense of balance on an inverted earthenware vessel. It ended with the reverberating sound of dhaak (a high grade big Bengal drum) and kasor (edged brass plates) used for worships blended the traditional and modern music composed by Ayan Mukherjee and Subhadip Chakravarty harmoniously. They concluded with an effectively interpreted Jogibhairav Stuti from Adi Shankaracharya's Kaalbhairav Ashtakam. A special mention for the costumes of the dancers.
Gaudiya Charukala Bharati
Dancers of Gaudiya Charukala Bharati guided by Soumya Bhowmick began with a well rehearsed set of pure dance item "Alaapchari" in Brahma taal tuned in the authentic Gaudiya raga Shudha Bongal. This was followed by the all-time favourite Shyama sangeet "Sadanandamoyee Kali Mahakaler Monmohini", a Kali Stuti penned by the renowned Kamalakanta Bhattacharya. The choreography of the Mahajanapada Nritya presented by two female dancers was rather vigorous.
Dancers of the institution Mitrayan, directed by their guru Banani Chakravarty, began with Bharatchandra Ray Gunakar's Ganesh Vandana in Jhaptaal set to Misra Bilawal. An enjoyable Shiva Tandava Nartan - a vibrant Rudra vandana was the solo Proloy Rudra Stuti penned by Barin Chattopadhyay and choreographed by Banani Chakravarty assisted by Anindita Chakravarty. The concluding traditional Durga stotra "Sarvamangala mangalye" was highly appreciated.
Deviating from the Gaudiya style came "Dai Nritya" - a delightful folk dance form from the Noakhali region of Bangladesh directed by Mohammed R. Islam and Ananya Ghosh. It was principally a youthful foot-tapping and thumping harvest dance possessed with carefree spirits sprinkled with a lot of artistic jumps, claps and characteristic movements with the accompaniment of the traditional drum dhaak and kasor. The Gambhira folk dance merging dialogues, songs and musical moods, complete with Hara-Parvati and the two sakhis Jaya and Vijaya was quite entertaining.
The three and a half hour evening closed with a captivating, soulful dance theatre to stimulate, move and inspire - Ashwaghosha's Buddhacharit performed by Mahua Mukherjee. An intensely charged theatrical imagery of the life of Gautam Buddha, "The Enlightened One", from Prince Siddharth, emanated forth through dance and interpreted in a textured context without tampering history. The stage space was used with three benches placed in the middle and on two sides, with lengths of cloth, some printed, some coloured, some ornate, some dazzling, used as aids to signify the different stages and situations of Buddhas life. A video projection of the theatrical imagery of the different phases of Lord Buddha's journey to enlightenment nourished the communication of the familiar story with the perfected movements of the Gaudiya style. Buddhacharit was a true abhinaya of carrying forward and accentuating the meaning of Ashwaghosha's work through postures, positions and motion instead of simply emoting through facial expressions and of course some soul-stirring songs like "Khachar pakhi" by Tagore and "Mon tui roili".
The dramatic text, the script, concept and direction was by the dancer and the graphics were by Amitava Mukherjee. The appropriate soundscape was created by Ayan Mukherjee and Subhadip Chakravarty with articulate narration by Prabir Bhattacharya (who also compered the program) and vocals by Amitava Mukherjee. The program was graced by Prof Kakoli Dhara Mondal of Kalyani University and Firdaus Kamrul Hasan, Assistant Professor, Santa Maria University, Dhaka.
Dr. Nita Vidyarthi is a veteran critic of performing arts and writes on dance, music and theatre in leading publications.