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.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Evolution of Kathak Dance

As a kathak dancer I was always curious to know how this dance form evolved. When I started reading about it I found that it took centuries for Kathak to reach this present form of a graceful dance style. While I looked back into the history to find its journey through various stages, I found many interesting facts about this dance form which I thought to share with you all.

Kathak originated in Northern India. The word kathak is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘katha’ meaning a story. When a dancer depicts a katha [story] through his or her dance, he/she is called ‘kathakar’ [story teller]. Kathak is said to have originated from the travelling bards [kathakar] of Northen India. They used to wander around and recite or sing stories from epics and mythology such as ‘Shiv Vandana’ (prayer for Lord Shiva), ‘Saraswati vandana’ (prayer for goddess Saraswati) with the elements of dance. Over a period of time that dance style got the name ‘kathak’. These ‘kathakars’ communicated stories through hand movements, facial expressions, eye work and extensive and rhythmic foot work. The traditions of the ‘kathakars’ were hereditary and dance movements were passed from generation to generation.

During the Bhakti (devotion) movement, in around 15-16th century, the theme of Kathak dance was centred primarily around the Hindu God Krishna, his lover Radha and ‘gopis’ (village milkmaids). Kathak was used to narrate ‘raas-leela’(love story) from the lives of Lord Krishna and Radha. The love between Radha and Lord Krishna became a symbol for the love between human soul (aatma) i.e. Radha and the cosmic soul (paramaatma) i.e. Krishna. Kathak was also used to narrate the childhood stories of Lord Krishna(baal-leela). During this period, kathak was performed in the temples as a result of which folk elements began to influence it.

From 16th century onwards, during the Mughal era, the dancers were enticed from the temples to the courts through gifts and royal favours. The focus of kathak dance shifted from a religious art form to court entertainment. Instead of singing bhajans or ‘stuties’ [praise] for Hindu gods they were asked to sing praise for Mughal emperors. Some dancers refused to do so while some agreed to it to earn a better living. However, not all Mughal emperors demanded kathak dancers to perform for their entertainment. Some were true admirers of kathak dance style as well, such as the Nawab of Oudh, Wajid Ali Shah. He not only enjoyed giving patronage to dancers but also himself enjoyed dancing.  

Nawab Wajid Ali Shah

As the dance moved away from the temples to the courts it gathered many accretions of the themes on which the narrative dance could treat, resulting in a broader catchment of material, for ‘abhinaya’ (acting) pieces and less stylized and slightly informal presentation style, which often incorporated improvisation and suggestions from the court audience. Kathak dance form absorbed certain features of Persian dance and central Asian dance forms which were imported by the royal courts of the Mughal era. During the Mughal era, Anarkali costume was introduced. These Anarkali frock style costumes were worn by the Kathak dancers along with ‘pajami’ (a narrow pyjama), jacket, ‘dupatta’ (a long scarf) and a cap with feathers in front of it called ‘kalagi’. Dancers also started performing on Gazals and Sufi songs.

With the spread of British rule in India in the 19th century, kathak saw a sharp decline in its popularity, because the Victorian administrators publicly announced that it is a cheap form of entertainment, despite often privately enjoying the pleasures of the courtesans. To Victorian eyes kathak was only an entertainment, solely designed for the purpose of seduction. During these times of hardship, the devotees of Kathak continued their private tutoring and kept the kathak art alive. Kathak teachers also shifted to training boys to preserve the tradition.  

Kathak first received world’s attention in the early 20th century through Kalka Prasad Maharaj, whose sons Acchan, Lacchu and Shambhu Maharaj, went on carry forward the tradition for the next generation, both as renowned dancers in their own right and later as dance gurus. Today, kathak has regained its popularity and is now one of the main classical forms of dances in India. The present form of Kathak is a synthesis of all the input it has had in the past-- the court and the devotional romantic aspects comfortably mingle in elegance.    
Maharaj Kalka Prasad

Hope this blog enlightened you about the growth of Kathak dance form!

Thursday, June 4, 2020

The Sound Of Ghungroos

In my earlier blog I mentioned that “Sangeet Natya Academy” [the national academy of performing arts in India] recognizes 8 Indian dances as classical dances of India. They are Bharatnatyam from Tamil Nadu, Kathak from Uttar Pradesh, Kuchipudi from Andhra Pradesh, Odissi from Odisha, Sattriya from Assam, Manipuri from Manipur, and Kathakali and Mohiniyattam from Kerala. All these dances are culturally rich. They are traditionally regional and include their own music and recitation in local language or Sanskrit. They have their own different costumes, makeup and jewellery. Each of them proudly presents its own style and rhythm and they all are graceful and truly delightful for the spectators.

Irrespective of all their differences we can observe that they all have one thing in common and that is “Ghungroo”. “Ghungroo” are small metal bells, mostly made of brass, strung together to form a musical anklet. A string of ghungroo can range from 50 to greater than 200 bells knotted together. “Ghungroo” is also known as “ghunghru” or “ghungur” in Assamese and Bengali and “chilanka” or “silangai” in Malayalam and Tamil. “Ghungroos” are worn immediately above the ankle of the dancer. When a dancer starts learning dance, he or she may wear a string of 50 ghungroos but as he or she grows advance in technical ability and experience the number of “ghungroos” increases. The sound produced by the “ghungroo” varies depending upon the number of individual bells.

A renowned Indian classical Kathak exponent, V Anuradha Singh evolved “Ghungroo Vadan”, a music style which focuses solely on foot movements as percussive art. She developed “ghungroos” as a main musical instrument and performed in many music festivals.  

The “ghungroos” are considered very special and are regarded with great respect by the Indian classical dancers. Most of the classical dances tend to use complex leg movements that serve to highlight the dancing skills of the individual. All this will go unnoticed if there is nothing to accentuate these movements and that is why the practise of using “ghungroos” while performing a dance came into being. The sound of “ghungroos” keeps the dancer in tune to the music and helps him/her to stay in rhythm and this gives more life to his/her dancing and makes it more grand and graceful.

As a classical dancer I have always felt excited by the sound of “ghungroos”. I strongly believe that “ghungroos” play a key role in Indian classical dance forms. So, I felt that I should share some information about them with you all. Hope it enlightened you.