Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Veeranatyam- The Dance of the Brave



Dance is the most interesting form of performing arts that has been encouraged since centuries in India. Each state in India has its own rich culture. Andhra Pradesh is a state in the south -eastern coastal region of India and natives of this wonderful state have introduced a wide range of performing arts, including dance, drama and music to the world. Kuchipudi is amongst the best dances in the world that has emerged from Andhra Pradesh. Besides Kuchipudi many interesting folk dances such as Burrakatha, Butta Bommalu, Dappu, Tappeta Gullu, Veeranatyam etc. emerged in this state. Going deeper in the history I found many interesting facts about one such dance from Andhra Pradesh—the Veeranatyam, which I would like to sharing in this blog.

Veeranatyam is one of the oldest forms of folk dance of Andhara Pradesh. The word Veeranatyam is made of two words-- Veera means brave and Natyam means dance. Thus, as the name suggests, Veeranatyam means the dance of the brave. It is also known as Veerangam and Veerabhadra Nrityam. This dance has deep religious significance. It started as a ritual that was performed in Shiva (Shaivite) temples in the honour of Lord Shiva (the Hindu God). It is a popular dance form in the East and West Godavari which includes Kurnool, Warangal, Ananthapur and Kammam districts in Andhra Pradesh.

There is an interesting mythological story behind this dance. Once Lord Shiva’s wife Sati Devi was humiliated at a function, which made Lord Shiva furious. Lord Shiva, who is also known as the God of destruction, picked out a relic out of his ‘Jatajuta’ (hairs) which created Veerabhadra. He is believed to have portrayed out his extreme anger by performing a vigorous dance; which justifies the name Veeranatyam. It was the dance of destruction. The angry Lord Shiva in the ferocity of rage tarnished the ‘Dakshayagna Vatika ’where this function was held.

The followers of Veerabhadra are best known for performing this style of dance, in particular Veeramusti community in the state of Andhra Pradesh. This dance is performed in three stages. At first, the dancers hold the ‘Veerabhadra Pallen’ which is an enormous plate carrying a fired-up camphor. The dancers carry this huge plate from palms to the elbows. The dance goes on vigorously to the tempo of several percussion instruments until the fire extinguished. Part of this ceremony consists of the ‘Khadgalu’ recital where a pujari (priest) brandishes a long sword representing that of Veerabhadra. In the second stage, the dancer holds a long and sanctified pole smeared with Vibhuti’ (scared ash) which represents the deity’s ‘Dhwaja Sthamba’ with bells tied to the top. In the third stage, the dancers dance with spears and tridents pierced in to their tongue, hands and ankles which are known as ‘Narasam’. The dancers are clad in knee -length coloured ‘dhoti’ and waist sashes and their whole body is smeared with ‘Vibhuti’ (sacred ash). Musical and rhythmic instruments such as Dolu, Soolam, Thasha, Thambura and Veernam (war drum) are used during the dance performances. 

In recent times, Veeranatyam is not only performed in several religious processions by the followers of Veerabhadra (also known as Veeramusti community in Andhra Pradesh) but also it has now taken a shape of a performing art of its own.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Kathak and Flamenco – A story of separated sisters

As a classical dancer I am always keen to read about different types of dances. Recently, I read about Flamenco and found many interesting facts about this dance form which I thought to share with you all. Flamenco is a highly expressive Spanish dance form.  It is associated with Andalusian Roma [gypsies]. These nomads are supposed to have travelled from Rajasthan (a State in India) through Romania, Hungary and Central Europe and finally landed in Andalusia. In Spain they encountered the rich cultures of the Sephardic Jews and the Moors. Their centuries long cultural intermingling produced the unique art form known as Flamenco. Flamenco dance is made up of four elements. They are: ‘Cante’-voice, ‘Baile’-dance, ‘Toque’-guitar and ‘Jaleo’-which roughly translated means ‘hell-raising’ and involves the handclapping, foot stomping and shouts of encouragement.

Flamenco dancers, known as “Bailaores” [male] and “Bailaoras” [female], are passionate and serious. Typically in Flamenco dance, for the first few minutes of a song, a dancer will often stand motionless and free of expression. But as the dancer begins to feel the music, he or she might begin a steady beat of loud hand clapping and then as the emotion builds, the dancer will begin a passionate dance which often involves fierce stomping, sometimes made louder with percussion attachments on the shoes and the graceful arm movements. Sometimes castanets are held in the hands for clicking and sometimes for visual impact folding fans are used.

The fastest flamenco dancer ever recorded danced 1,274 taps in one minute but the art of Flamenco dance is often not easy to master. Besides learning intricate steps and movements, the dancer needs to learn how to nonverbally communicate with a musician or a singer. The dancer also learns how to display his or her innermost emotions and feelings to the audience.  The typical flamenco outfit is called the ‘Traje de Flamenca’. Dresses are said to have a guitar shaped body, to enhance a woman’s figure. Heels are an essential and range from 4-7 cm in height.          

As a kathak [Indian classical dance form] dancer, I found  that Flamenco and Kathak  have many remarkable similarities . While Kathak originated from the nomadic storytellers who used to perform in village courtyards and Hindu temples, Flamenco originated from gypsy culture of people and was often performed in gypsy family courtyards and bars. Later, Kathak moved to the courts of Mughal emperors and Nawabs and Flamenco moved to the cafes owned by non gypsies. Now both dances are internationally recognized and are national dances. The two common religion influences both dances share are Indian and Muslim. The base and fundamental element of both kathak and flamenco are footwork. The kathak dancer dances barefoot but has the ghunghroos [bells] that make the rhythmic sound, while the flamenco dancer wears heeled shoes that make the rhythmic sound . Kathak and Flamenco dancers both need excellent rhythm. Some techniques and body movements such as hands, arms, feet , whole body movements, turns and positions are similar in both the dances. Both dances are characterised quickly timed turns that stop dramatically and suddenly. Facial expression, the gaze of the dancer and emotional portrayal are highly important in both the dances. In both dance forms the dancer and the musicians have very strong and coordinated relationship. The dancer and the musicians always create a rhythm together-- there is a unity between music and dance.



So, we can conclude that although Kathak and Flamenco both originate from different countries –India and Spain, respectively, but some commonly shared features can be observed in both the dances.

Kathak and Flamenco are excellent examples of how dance can connect two different nations, cultures and people together.

Sunday, July 5, 2020

An Interview with my Guru- Mukta Joshi ji

Today [5th July 2020] is ‘Guru Purnima’ (Full moon day dedicated to all Guru’s). The word Guru is derived from two Sanskrit words ‘Gu’ meaning ‘darkness ‘or ignorance and ‘Ru’ meaning removal. Hence a Guru is one who removes darkness from our life. In Indian classical dance, we follow ‘Guru Shishya Parampara’ (Master and disciple tradition). On this auspicious day of ‘Guru Purnima’ all the Indian classical dancers offer puja (worship) to their gurus and seek their blessings. On this special occasion of ‘Guru Purnima’ I want to dedicate my blog to my dance Guru Mukta Joshi ji.

My guru Mukta Joshi ji is a leading exponent of Indian classical dance form Kathak (Jaipur style). She is a famous Kathak dance guru and choreographer and the founder of ‘Nrityadhara Kathak Research Institute’. She has performed in dance festivals held in various countries across the globe like USA, Korea, Vietnam, Mauritius, China etc. She has received several awards.

I am sharing with you some excerpts of the interview my Guru Mukta Joshi ji gave me about her dance journey and vision for the future:

Q- When did you start learning Kathak? What inspired you to learn Kathak?

A- I started learning Kathak when I was in grade 10. My sister is a singer and my father played sitar and violin. So, I was exposed to classical music since an early age which led me to developing an interest in Indian Classical programs. Since I had an interest in Kathak dance form I decided to learn Kathak.

Q- Please tell me about your ‘gurus’ under whose guidance you have learnt this dance form?

A- I took my initial lessons of kathak from my first guru Dr. K Rajkumar and in 1988 I completed ‘Nrityalankar’ titled degree exam of Gandharva Mandal Miraj under his guidance. However, I slowly realised that his style was masculine and was not quite comfortable with my thinking. So, I consulted him and joined Dr. Padmashri Roshan Kumari ji. Till today, under her guidance I am taking lessons of pure Jaipur style of Kathak. 

Q- Can you tell me more about your ‘guru’ Dr. Roshan Kumari ji?

A- My guru Dr. Roshan Kumari ji is India’s leading exponent of Kathak dance of the Jaipur gharana. Her gurus were Shri K.S. Moray, Pandit Sunder Prasad, Gulam Hussain Khan of Patiala and Hanuman Prasad. On 24th March 1984, Dr Roshan Kumari was awarded the Padmashree title by the President of India. In the XXII All India Music conference held in 1963, the Prayagraj Sangeet Samiti, Allahabad awarded the title of ‘Nritya-Shiromani’ to her. She is also running a kathak dance Academy called ‘Nritya Kala Kendra’ in Mumbai since 1971. 

 Q- According to you why should one learn Kathak?

A- Our forefathers developed Indian dance culture after many years of deep study, but the objective of learning Kathak is not just limited to preserving the Indian culture. Kathak dance is a form of worship that provides us with mental peace. It is a devotion towards God. Kathak has the strength of making the dancer forget his/her body movements and engage in spiritual bliss. While doing fast movements and footwork in Kathak, the dancer gains a better control over his body which also helps to enrich self-confidence. 

Q- When did you decide to start your own institute of Kathak- ‘Nrityadhara’?

A- I founded ‘Nrityadhara’ in 1988. ‘Nrityadhara’ is an institute dedicated to the Indian classical dance Kathak and to the folk culture of India. I founded this institute with the aim of promoting dance, music and performing arts. 

Q- Can you tell me more about the activities conducted by ‘Nrityadhara’?

A- ‘Nrityadhara’ conducts several activities for promotion of Kathak dance and Indian music such as lectures, demonstrations, annual workshops and stage performances of senior and experienced artists. Besides, ‘Nrityadhara’ organises stage programmes for budding dancers to build their confidence. Every year the ‘Guru Poornima Utsav’ is celebrated by ‘Nrityadhara’ in which even the younger dancers are encouraged to present their dances. The aim of ‘Nrityadhara’ is to promote Indian classical and folk tradition not only by representing it but also by studying it from different angles. For achieving this purpose ‘Nrityadhara’ registered with the government by the name of ‘Nrityadhara’ Kathak Research Institute’ in the year 2002.

Q- Do you have any message for younger artists?

A- Under the overwhelming influence of modernisation and westernisation all Indian classical art forms are fighting for survival. Kathak is no exception. It is the duty of every Kathak practitioner to re-establish the glory of this ancient classical dance. I aim to involve more and more young minds and talents to spread awareness about Kathak through practice and performance. 

Monday, June 29, 2020

A true patron of Kathak – Nawab Wajid Ali Shah

Wajid Ali Shah was the tenth and last king of Awadh (a state in pre republic India). He was a poet, playwright, dancer and a great patron of arts. It was during his rule [1822-1887] that Kathak regained its glory. Many scholars credit him for the revival of Kathak dance and securing its status as one of the major classical Indian dance styles. In the ancient times kathak was performed at temples [during Bhakti (devotion) movement] but gradually the Kathak dancers, in search of better prospects and living, left the temples and entered into the royal courts. Many emperors and rulers contributed to the growth and development of Kathak but it was under the guidance and patronage of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah that Kathak achieved its greater dimensions. As I mentioned in my earlier blog Wajid Ali Shah not only enjoyed giving patronage to dancers but also himself enjoyed dancing, he learnt kathak under the guidance of Guru Thakur prasad and Durga Prasad. Wajid Ali Shah started two distinct forms of dance called Raas and Rahas.

Raas was a form of dance in which many gopis (village maids) danced with one Krishna (a Hindu God). It was a purely religious form of dance that used to start with the singing of Dhrupad (a style of raga).

On the other hand, Rahas was like a dance drama comprising dancing, acting and music with different scenes. Rahas was based on the moves of kathak in which Wajid Ali Shah himself danced with the women of his court. It is believed that Nawab Wajid Ali Shah created thirty-six different types of Rahas, choreographed in Kathak style. Kathak dance attained new heights of glory and popularity under his patronage.

Due to the efforts of Guru Thakur Prasad, the Lucknow gharana of Kathak came into existence under Wajid Ali Shah’s patronage. This style of dancing became known for its elegance (nazakat) and finesse (nafasat). Thakur Prasadji’s sons Bindadin Maharaj and Kalkadin Maharaj also graced the court of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah. Artistically designed dance compositions, graceful and elegant dance movements, emotive vocal compositions like thumris, dadras, horis along with abhinaya [expression acting] and creative improvisations are the main characteristics of this style. Nawab Wajid Ali Shah not only used Kathak movements in Rahas [dance drama] but also declared Kathak as the official court dance which made this dance popular among the people.