Blue-blooded Kathak scions perform to honour Acchan Maharaj

The Sabrang Utsav was held at Kamani Auditorium on earlier this month in Delhi. In contrast to the grey cold outside, there was an elaborate flower alpana and diyas lit inside. The event was organized by Kalahetu in memory of Jagannath Maharaj or Acchan Maharaj, the Kathak legend from the Lucknow gharana trained by two greats – his father Pt Kalika Prasad and uncle Bindadin Maharaj. Acchan Maharaj’s portrait was mounted on the stage, and his son, the legendary Birju Maharaj, was in attendance in the front row. The first performer of the evening was Mukesh Gangani of the Jaipur gharana. The better part of his performance I missed because I was a little late. Mukesh, in his final pieces, exhibited chakkars, agility and energy, ending his performance with tatkar and footwork, and finally making tinkling sounds with his ghungroos. Accompanying him were Mohit Gangani (tabla), Mahavir Gangani (pakhawaj and padhant), Dilip Parihar (vocals), Kamaal Ahmad (sarangi) and Saleem (sitar).

Durgesh Gangani (Pic: Inni Singh)

The second performance was by Durgesh Gangani, son of Pt Jagdish Gangani of the Jaipur gharana. Here, a special mention has to be made of Anubrata Chatterjee, a tabla maestro from the Farukhabad gharana who was with the live musicians and mesmerized the audience with his tablavadan. Durgesh entered making waves with his hands and feet. The first composition was Om Namah Shivaay. The dance depicted Ganga on Shiva’s head, his Nataraja form, the snakes wound around him, Shiva consuming the poison, his third eye and trishul, his dance with the damru, his steed, the bull Nandi, and the chandra on his forehead. It was a heady mix of abhinaya, nritta, music and rhythm.

His next presentation was the technical dance. He presented a thaat in teen taal with graceful stances, footwork, a tihai, paran and primelu with pace, a bandish, and finally tatkar, with the heels and the ghungroos creating tinkling sounds. He did a kavit on the leelas of Krishna, a composition of his grandfather, Pt Sunderlal Gangani. He depicted Krishna playing his flute under the kadamb tree, ‘Radha sang’, Kaliya daman, makhan chori, chhed-chhad and finally a paheli — ‘Sudarshan chakra basyo Hari ke kar mein, Bhavani Shankar deeno Hari’, the answer being ‘darshan’. He ended with a quick and concise representation of the dashavatar. He is a skilled dancer with stamina, pace, energy and technique. Accompanying him were Anubrata Chatterjee and Dwij Gandharva (tabla), Ramesh Parihar (vocals), Kamaal Ahmad (sarangi) and Pt Jagdish Gangani (padhant).

Vishal Gangani (Pic: Inni Singh)

The third to perform was Vishal Krishna of the Banaras gharana. Vishal is also from impressive Kathak lineage — his great-grandfather was Sukhdeo Maharaj, and the legendary Sitara Devi his grandmother. His very appearance on the stage and elaborate costuming makes you expect a lot. The performance started with Shubh Maharaj on the tabla playing a short, invigorating solo. After that, Vishal started with a composition that was an ode to Ganga maa. She resides on Shankar’s head, kripamayee, ‘Hari pada padya tarangini dhaval tarangini har har Gange’. Vishal is a very graceful dancer and his bhava is very expressive, an unusual trait among the male Kathak dancers. The technical dance had a paran, bandish with leaps and chakkars, primelu with pace and energy, tihai, and chakkardar paran. He did a rotation in a sitting position. His technique is faultless, and yet effortless and graceful. The following piece was a bhajan from Vrindavan — the mayur nritya in the raas leela begins with this pada, where Radha is wishing that there would be only one peacock with her, and that is Krishna. Radha is pleased when Krishna comes disguised as a peacock. Vishal’s bhava, his mayur nritya, everything was gripping. It’s as if he is meant to dance as Krishna. Finally, he did nritta on a thali, which is a feature of the tradition of his gharana. It was very rhythmic — he raised his feet on the rim of the plate, stomping with alternate feet and finally ending with a jump and a sam with a split. Apart from Shubh Maharaj, accompanying him were Ragini Maharaj (padhant), Brijesh Mishra (vocals) and Yar Mohammad (sitar).

Deepak Maharaj ji performed after him, but the performance came too late in the evening, and I could not stay for the delayed event.

Vishal Krishna (Pic: Inni Singh)

Later, I spoke to my favourite performer of the evening, Vishal. Talking about his performance that evening, he explained, “I started with an aradhana of Ma Ganga, the lyrics are ‘Devi sureshwari Bhagwati Gange’. After that, I presented tode, tukde, aamad, tihais, tatkar etc. in teen taal paramparik nritya, and some parans in the style of my grandmother Sitara Deviji, in the tradition of the Banaras gharana, which I have received like prasad. Then, I performed a bhajan, a pada that I got from the Brij nartaks of Mathura, in which the sentiment is that when Radha is in the forest with the peacocks, she begins to wish that there were only one peacock there with her, and that were Shri Krishna. The lyrics were ‘Aaj Gopal liye Brajpal’. I concluded with a thali tatkar.”

About his gurus, Vishal said, “I started dancing at the age of three under the tutelage of Sitara Deviji, my dadi-bhuaji. After that, I learnt from Pt Mohan Krishna, my father, then Pt Ravi Shankar ji, whom I’m also distantly related to and who has been Alaknanda ji’s shishya also. He is taking his lineage forward and is the fourth generation of the family to be doing so. He is following in the footsteps of Gopi Krishnaji, who is my uncle.”

About his abhinaya, which was especially expressive and impressive, he said, “Whatever I have learnt, I have learnt from dadiji — it is her bhava, which everyone has seen. These days, I keep going to (Birju) Maharaj ji also, and for some things, I also consult Madhavi didi (Madhavi Mudgal). Even though I’m very young, whenever there is bhava like this, I try and experiment… One watches the greats and keeps trying new things.”

When asked about the unusual and impressive thali nritya that he did, he said, “This started in our tradition only, years ago. Sitara Deviji’s older sister, Alaknanda Deviji, used to do this, and the foundation was laid by our great-grandfather, Acharya Sukhdeo Maharaj. He started teaching this to Alaknanda Devi to begin with, and then the parampara continued – Sitara Devi used to do it, my father did it, Gopiji used to perform this… Thali nritya I learnt from my father, and this is a speciality of our family’s parampara.”