Khajuraho Festival of Dances - 2003  
by Manjari Sinha, Gurgaon  

March 25, 2003

The patronage of Chandela Dynasty during the 10th and the 11th centuries, led to the historical construction of the famous Khajuraho temples in the flat plateau of the Vindya mountains. The romantic classical art of these temples with the aesthetically carved love images of Sur-sundaries on its walls, portraying unity of the physical and the spiritual have enchanted art lovers from all over the world and so has the Khajuraho Festival of Dances.  

All classical dances in India grew in the temples and flourished there for centuries. The temples were not only religious places but also centres of arts where the interdependence of culture, architecture, dance, music and poetry manifested itself in all its multiplicities and grandeur. The Khajuraho dance festival brings dances to their original divine home for a whole one week, with their multiple styles. The juxtaposition of the dancers with the ancient temple background is a means of spiritual communion, which is experienced not only by the performers but by the audience as well. The top most artists of each and every classical dance style have performed there during the last 27 years.  

The 28th Khajuraho Dance Festival was organised by Madhya Pradesh Kala Parishad, a cultural wing of the Madhya Pradesh Government, Department of Culture, from 25th February to 3rd March 2003. This year the festival showcased only the young artists, most of them performing there for the first time, like Anandi Ramachandran - Odissi, Vyjayanti Kashi - Kuchipudi, Vani Bhalla and Jayaprada Menon - Mohiniattam, Vasanti Shridhar - Bharatanatyam, Shila Mehta, Puja Mani, Prajakta Raj and Shervari Jemenis - Kathak.  
The festival started with a brilliant Kathak recital by Prerna Shrimali, a disciple of Guru Shri Kundan Lal Gangani of Jaipur Gharana. She started off with Shivmanas Puja based on the Sanskrit shloka by Shankaracharya, describing the various attributes of Lord Shiva. The Dhrupad in chautal ‘Banshidhar Pinakdhar’ presented a beautiful contrast in the lasya and tandava ang of Kathak, depicting Krishna’s lasya and Shiva’s tandava, with a series of parallel adjectives. The pure dance sequence presented the traditional thata, aamad, paran, kavitta and gatbhav of kesh-shringar, bajuband and payal before she went on for a vibrant holi. Prerna’s crisp footwork and delicate abhinaya mesmerized the audience.   
Prerna Shrimali
Priyadarshini Govind was the next artist of the inaugural evening. She started with an invocation to Lord Ganesh in Arabhi and Lord Shiva ‘Shiv Sambho-Swayambho’ in raag Revati. Nitya-kalyani in Raagmalika Tal-malika was a captivating combination of pure dance and abhinaya sequences. The ashtapadi ‘Kuru Yadunandan’ from Jaideva’s Geet Govind and shlokas from Krishna Karnamrita, were her abhinaya items before she went to Tillana in raag Kadana Kutuhalam. Priyadarshini translated her name through her beautiful Bharatanatyam performance concluding with Vande-Mataram in raag Desh. 

Odissi by Anandi Ramachandran of Mumbai and Kuchipudi by Vyjayanti Kashi of Bangalore were the attraction of the next evening. It was interesting to watch Ardha-narishwar in their respective styles. Anandi further danced to an Ashtapadi depicting abhisarika-nayika, going to meet her beloved against all odds, a Pallavi and an Oriya pad concluding her recital with Moksha. A talented disciple of Guru Kelucharan Mahapatra, Anandi’s inherent grace and sensitivity are her greatest assets.  

Vyjayanti started with a nandi shloka and proceeded to Ardha-narishwar. She chose Usha Parinayam for her abhinaya piece; dancing on the edge of a thali she presented a tarangam. Vedantam Radheshyam conducted the dance and the accompanied orchestra with great verve and involvement. 
Mohiniattam was presented by Vani Bhalla and Jayaprada Menon in solo and duet forms the next evening. Both the dancers have imbibed the lyrical quality of their guru Bharati Shivaji. Accompaniment on mridangam and edakka was appropriate but the veena got out of tune. Shila Mehta from Mumbai, Puja Mani from Delhi, Prajakta and Sharvari from Pune established immediate rapport with the audience in their Kathak recitals. 

One of the most promising dancers was Vasanti Shridhar. Her flawless Bharatanatyam spoke highly not only of her talent but also of her dedication and hard work. 

Vani Bhalla
Shakuntala in Kutiyattam style was a rare attraction of this year’s Khajuraho Dance Festival. Believed to be the only surviving link with the ancient Sanskrit Theatre, Kutiyattam is a blend of elements of Sanskrit drama, theatre, religious and other traditions unique to Kerala. Recently the UNESCO has declared Kutiyattam to be a ‘masterpiece of the oral and intangible heritage of humanity’. A highly developed technique of hastaabhinaya (hand gestures), netraabhinaya (eye expressions) and breath control, are used to enact Satvikaabhinaya (physical manifestations of feelings and emotions), which is the most important factor in Kutiyattam. 

 The young and talented performing artists of Ammanur Chachu Chakyar Smaraka Gurkulam, Kerala, presented ‘Shakuntala’- the first act of Abhijyanashakuntalam of the great Sanskrit poet Kalidasa under the able direction of Shri G Venu. Kalidasa was being presented in the Kutiyattam style for the first time and so were the talented young artists of Natana Kairali, who enchanted the art lovers with their enthralling performance.  

There was another first timer, in Ramli Ibrahim of Sutra Dance Theatre Company who along with his talented troupe of Odissi dancers came all the way from Malaysia to perform at the Khajuraho Dance Festival. His amazing Shivastak - the Shiv Tandava solo and other group choreographies were marked for their sheer brilliance.  

The Festival concluded with yet another first time experiment of a unique presentation by Astad Deboo’s contemporary dance along with the ‘Thang Ta’ martial dance artists of Manipur.  It was a brilliant performance. The Khajuraho Dance Festival this year was telecast live by DD Bharati on all the seven days, which has also never been done before. With no sponsors to support, the festival carried on its glorious tradition and presented the best of upcoming talents in various classical dance styles, artists from overseas and a unique amalgam of contemporary modern dance with the martial art of Manipur. Kudos to Madhya Pradesh Kala Parishad.

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.