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An evening to remember

By Monica Chanda

A 5-day festival organised by Sangeet Natak Akademi (SNA), Ministry of Culture, celebrating lifetimes of learning, artistic experiences, realisations and Saadhnaa, was held at Kalakshetra, Guwahati from December 26-30. It is an honour to even be a witness to this grand audience where scholars and artistes, legends in their own lifetimes brought before the audience the peak of their artistic journeys.
What I appreciate heartily is the thoughtfulness with which the festival was designed and curated. The mornings were lit by seminar sessions ranging across drama, music, folk art, dance, puppetry and allied traditions, united by an overarching concern of what are we losing with the rapid change that is happening to our art forms across traditions.
Against talks of including the art forms into formal curriculum,the legendary singer Krishna Bisht reminded of the Guru-ShishyaParamapara that was devoted to the holistic growth of the Shishya, the student, enhanced through the stages of Diksha(initiation),Shiksha(training) and Pariksha(test), rendered wholesome through an oral transfer and a lengthy amount of time devoted to nourishing the practice.
When the Guru would start feeling that the disciple was slowly blossoming in artistic perfection, they would arrange for a close Sabha of formal performance of the students, inviting several experienced artistes to witness the same. Unlike the distance of the proscenium stage, the esteemed audience within the close-knit Sabhawould thereafter deliver their critical appraisal that would help the artiste to grow most dynamically. Alas! Here we are in a world of instant coffee and instant messages; can we bring ourselves back to appreciating the slow, the understated, the time meant for learning, for blossoming instead of accumulating achievements, be it in any field?
Our different performing traditions are marked by an intimate exchange with the audience. Parwati Dutta, founder of Mahagami, reminded us of the enchanting meditativeness of the Dhrupad tradition and NandiniRamani, the disciple of the greatest T. Balasaraswati, recaptured the highly imaginative spontaneity of Manodharma in Bharatanatyam.
On the other hand, folk performing traditions being intimately connected with the economy and life of the people have been, through various religious and social sanctions, protected through ages. But how do they remain as pure when the basic economy and livelihood of people have changed? Addressing the question, Dr Prakash Khandge and Prashanna Gogoi urged for intensive and creative initiatives that would preserve the folk art forms. If our own indigenous instruments like tangmuri of Meghalaya could be lent to various artistic initiatives, our state’s beautiful musical tradition growing out of a millennia of human consciousness combined would not have to suffer the fate of anonymity before our future generations.
Utpal Banerjee enlightened us of the history of puppetry and its present innovations in our country while PradipJyotiMahanta,through his deep research, explained the classical tradition of Bhaona in Assam.
True to its name, the evenings saw the “Sreshtha”, the best, the excellent of artists illuminating the stage through their performances. We had Agra Bazar staged with a crisp brilliance by Naya Theatre; the first time to be staged after its director, Padma Bhushan Habib Tanvir’s death and thus historically significant.
We had great musicalrenditions of Hindustani Classical (Pandit Ajay Chakrabarty)and Percussion ballet (YellaVenkateshwara Rao), contrasted with the earthly folk melodies of YogeshGadhvi. While Anita Sharma and RamakantaTalukdar rendered a beauteously powerful Kshatriya performance, Padma ShriBharatiShivaji took us to the greatest depths of human emotions through her expressive gestures. But the same stage also showed us a puppet show on Tagore’s play, “Chandalika” (Prabhitangshu). One of the oldest performing traditions of Assam, the Deodhwani, one revering the Serpent-Goddess Manasa and the other narrating a Mahabharata episode, was performed by octogenarian Dharmeshwar Nath Ojha. A Bodo dance, Bihu (PanjitChangmai) and an enchanting Ghazal rendition by Ahmed and Mohammed Hussain brought a beautiful conclusion to the festival.
The meaningful end was only the beginning of contemplating over how varied our artistic traditions truly are. Kudos to Shekhar Sen, chairman of SNA, and his entire team for bringing alive our artistic heritage in all its plurality. It is plurality that forms the truest psyche and essence of our country.

(The author is artistic director,
Gitanjali Dance Academy)

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