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Delhi International Arts Festival
- Manjari Sinha
Photos courtesy: DIAF

January 12, 2023

"Culture is the wealth you pass on to future generations. It is our identity and is the only truly unifying force in this diverse world. It is our collective responsibility to invest in culture," believes Prathibha Prahlad, dancer, choreographer, author, and scholar who pioneered the Delhi International Arts Festival (DIAF) in the year 2007 in association with her own Prasiddha Foundation and the Forum for Art Beyond Border.

The annual DIAF held at Kartavya Path, Central Vista, India Gate, Delhi, pulled large crowds from the 16th to the 30th of December 2022. This was a very special 'Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav' edition of the DIAF with the tagline 'Where Bharat Meets India', meaning where the ancient spirit of Bharat meets the Republic of India. Prathibha calls it India's signature arts festival and shares the secret of this year's festive spirit and enthusiasm - "This year is special in many ways. This is the 75th year of India's independence, India is taking over the G-20 presidency, and also all of us coming out of the darkness of the Coronavirus lockdown to a new light and towards a new direction in India."

Thoughtfully conceptualized with the theme 'Azad Hind' in mind, DIAF offered several dynamic presentations by top artistes from across India and the world. The variety of presentations comprised music, dance, drama, literature, and film screening celebrating great epics and warriors who fought for our freedom, ecology and harmony with nature, embracing the world as one family, "Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam"!

The inaugural evening had 'La Carisalve' international music performance from the Dominican Republic, 'Jai Bharat', the multi-style dance production by the Kuchipudi Dance Academy, Delhi, 'Veer Abhimanyu' Hindi drama by Prizm Theatre and Indraprasth Lit-Fest at the IGNCA, with books introduction through the creative frame, along with discussions, seminars, and cultural programs.

Pavitra Bhat & troupe
Pavitra Bhat & troupe

'Warrior Women of Bharat' conceived by Prathibha, was an impressive dance theatre with choreographic design by Prathibha Prahlad, Shovana Narayan, and Anita Ratnam (already reviewed by this writer in Narthaki). 'Ekam Sat' by dancers Mithun Shyam, Rekha Raju, and Nidagh Karunad of Prasiddha repertory in the artistic direction of Prathibha Prahlad, 'Bhavayami Raghuramam' choreographed by Satyanarayana Raju, 'Hari Ho Gati Meri' by Gauri Diwakar, 'Sri Ramayan' by Pavitra Bhat and troupe, 'Tryambakam' and 'Abhimanyu Vadh' by Rasa United of Vanashree Rao (already reviewed), were some of the remarkable dance presentations. 'Spirit of India' was an awesome endeavour where nearly two hundred Folk and Tribal performers enthralled the audience with their vibrant and myriad hues all at once.

Walking with the Mahatma

Walking with the MahatmaWalking with the Mahatma
Walking with the Mahatma

'Walking With The Mahatma', the extraordinary dance production of Prathibha Prahlad underlined the most relevant messages of Mahatma Gandhi and his life in the most subtle and moving manner. The powerful concept, captivating choreography, and artistic direction by Prathibha interpreted all these through appropriate music and dance movements with an admirably minimalistic approach.

The Chhau dancers led by Kuleshwar Kumar created the whole imagery of Mahatma Gandhi's Champaran Yatra to Dandi March and his 'Sarva-Dharma-Samabhava', patriotic fervor of Vande Mataram through their seasoned body movements and Yoga Mudras, before Prathibha's amazing 'Aaharya-Abhinaya' in a striking black and white costume with Mahatma Gandhi's favorite Bhajan "Vaishnava jana toh tene kahiye, Je peer parai jane re..." captured the Karuna, the compassion of the Mahatma and leads the story further ahead.

The imaginative choreography by Pratibha was enhanced by thoughtfully composed music by Ananth Krishna. For instance, the lively Bhojpuri folk song "Bharat maai ke lalana..." for Bihar's Champaran sequence, the Western music and drums marching tune for the foreign oppression, the Gayatri Mantra with the serene Aalap in raga Bairagi on the sonorous sarangi and the temple bells for the background of Narasi Mehta's soulful Bhajan, Om Namah Shivaya and "Sarve Bhavantu Sukhinah" and the Shanti Mantra or "Piba re Rama rasam" in Ahir Bhairav for the tableaus of epic Ramayan being performed in quick succession by her Prasiddha repertory dancers Mithun Shyam, Kavya Kasinathan and Harshavardhan and the tri-colour saffron, white and green furling behind Prathibha with the original tune of the patriotic song "Shubhra sundar ati manohar shabda Vande Mataram". The last sequence with the assassinated Mahatma's "Hey Ram..." and the pathos filled exit left the audience awestruck, before their thunderous applause.

Harshavardhan, Kavya Kasinathan, Mithun Shyam
Harshavardhan, Kavya Kasinathan, Mithun Shyam

The closing ceremony had three noteworthy dance productions 'A Drop to The Ocean' - an alluring group choreography in Odissi by Meera Das, 'Jay Rama' - a delectable Odissi presentation by Ramli Ibrahim's Sutra Dance Company from Malaysia, and 'Bacchae', a ritualistic Indian Physical Theatre; apart from the rising artistes of tomorrow like Gauri Dwivedi - Odissi, Tanya Saxena - Bharatanatyam, Ayana Mukherjee - Kuchipudi and Odissi ensembles of Kavita Dwivedi and Jyoti Srivastava. 'Pratibha Sangam' showcased Indian classical performances by foreign nationals. Along with two huge stages at Kartavya Path, Central Vista the mammoth festival also used other venues like the Samvet auditorium and Amphitheatre of the IGNCA, Habitat Centre, Sahitya Akademi, and many schools for their school and college initiatives. Sponsored by wealthy well-wishers and collaborated by the Ministry of Culture, the DIAF reached new horizons this year.

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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