Gauri Diwakar unites Shiva and Shakti, depth and technique, with powerful Kathak in Samaratri

‘Samaratri - Night of Divine Union’, a Gauri Diwakar production, was presented by the Aditi Mangaldas Dance Company – the Drishtikon Dance Foundation in Delhi on the 21st of February at the Stein Auditorium, IHC. Gauri is an established Kathak performer and choreographer known for thought-provoking productions and flawless technical expertise. She is a disciple of Smt. Sumita Chowdhary, Pandits Birju and Jai Kishan Maharaj and has worked extensively with Aditi Mangaldas. She is also the seniormost and oldest member of the Drishtikon repertory.

I had the privilege of watching a rehearsal of ‘Samaratri’ before its main premiere in 2019. At the time, Gauri had told me about the thought journey that led to the production: ‘When I was thinking of doing a production, I thought of something black. People don’t do much on anything black as it is not considered an auspicious colour. There is a lot of negativity associated with it. From black, my thoughts progressed to darkness, and then to night. Finally, I came to Shivratri, which happens to be my birthday (in the Hindu calendar). I could totally relate to the theme of Shivratri. And it also had all the elements I wanted to portray. From the Vigyan Bhairav, I picked up the phrase “kim rupam tattvato” from “kim rupam tattvato deva shabdarashikalamayam”. I did my research on these words and came up with texts. Parvati is asking Shiva, “kim rupam tattvato?” Most of my work had been on Krishna and Kabir and on Shiva too; I have done a lot of work on the raudra rupa of Shiva since childhood. But here, I wanted him to be more soft and sensuous. And then Shiva answers Parvati about “kim rupam tattvato”.’

I will detail here my account of the ‘Samaratri’ premiere in Delhi, interspersed with my interview with Gauri on the production before it premiered.

At the Delhi premiere, the musicians wore brown. Gauri began as Gauri or Parvati, seated. She was in a green costume, reclining and combing her hair. Parvati touches her tresses caressingly when she starts to put on her ornaments. And then, as she walks into the vatika, she feels the presence of Shiva everywhere, or his pair ki sarkan. She feels his touch in the blooming flowers, in the creepers and climbers around her. She ties her hair into a jooda with a knot and sticks a lotus in it, over which she sees Shiva coming as the bhanwara.

As she collects herself, Shiva in the prakriti around her derobes her – the bhavra is the damru, the bushes, the creepers and the prickly branches like snakes. Her hair is loosened, her sari gets stuck in the bushes, and Gauri ended the piece with Parvati being barely able to hold her choli as it is being untied. She can barely hold her sari to cover herself with. She covers both of Shiva’s eyes with her hands, since she is shy, but does not realize that he sees all of creation with his third eye. The vocals for this piece and the abhinaya were not for the weak-hearted. It was so sensual that it could give you goosebumps. And yet, the piety of the upcoming union of the jagat pita and mata were not compromised.

Gauri then depicted the attributes of Shiva. In answer to her ‘kim rupam tattvato?’ Shiva tells Parvati that he is everywhere. Parvati points to his attributes – damru, chandra, trishul, shoolina, mundamala dhari, Ganga in his jatas, baaghambar and the halahal that he consumed at the time of samudra manthan, and the ferocity of the bagh. Gauri used nritta extensively, using the dynamism of Kathak to show these attributes. She used powerful actions to show the smearing of the ash as Parvati tells Shiva you wear bhasma, and very delicate actions to depict the contrast when she says I wear chandan.

The contrast continues - you play the damru, and I the veena, you wear snakes and I the muktamal. Shiva tells Parvati that he exists in the feeling that precedes the embrace with a lover, that sensation of the crawling of ants on the body. The depiction was extremely sensuous. Finally, she depicted Shiva playing the mridangam and Parvati admiring him and herself playing the sitar. About this, Gauri said, ‘I had also to include all that is in the Kathak repertoire. This section was perfect to show gat nikas.

Now Shiva is telling her that he is present in the emotion that you feel before you embrace your lover, he is present in the five colours of a peacock feather. The five colours show the five elements. The rest was my imagination, how I wanted to show the five colours and the elements. Next he tells her that he is present in the crawling of an ant. Parvati is satisfied with the answers she gets to her questions. The bliss has been shown in both tandav and lasya.’

After the second piece, there was an interlude that featured a jugalbandi between the musicians. There was a costume change at this juncture. Gauri reappeared in a pastel pink costume. Both the colours complimented the image of the devi. The composition ‘Shivpriye tum thehro priti karne ke aviral kshan me’ was used here. Gauri depicted the spreading circles of a morpankh. Each time the circle expands and the feathers spread out, the colours and what they denote change. This morpankh, lying beside the devi, is Shiva. Gauri’s peacock dance was very aesthetically done, with leg lifts, wings spreading, and a very gracefully rendered mor ki gat.

Shiva says that she can find him in the crawling of the ants. This was a very evocative depiction, with Gauri moving her hands all over herself and then on her face, sensuously depicting the ants crawling all over her, from her hands to her face.

After an interlude of pakhawaj and harmonium came the final piece – ‘Dev dev mahadev’, followed by padhant. Strong, powerful movements of the damru were used here. The dance depicted the attributes of Shiva and Parvati – a ghungat ki gat, with Gauri gently and softly lifting her feet in the gat, showing his jata and her ghunghat, his damru, ardhchandra and snakes, baaghambar, Ganga and tripund. The two walk together as one, his Nandi and her lion, his tripund and her tilak, his janeyu and her breasts etc. The two opposites meet and the union of the mata and pita, Shiva and Shakti, the truth and its power, ensues.

Gauri said, ‘The music for “Kim tattva tvam” has been given by Dr. Sridhar Vasudevan, who is also a brilliant Bharatnatyam dancer, and the rest by Samiullah Khan from “Shivapriye” onwards. The raga is Janasammohini and taal roopak. This is the first time that I am changing the taal, inspired by Dr. Vasudevan. Then there is raag Hamir for “Shivapriye”, then raag Darbari and finally Anandabhairavi. The taal in the beginning is roopak and the rest is in teen taal. Yogesh Gangani ji is on a tabla that has a wider mouth. I am not using pakhawaj so that it does not get too loud. That’s because sometimes, people complain that the percussion is very loud, so this is an experiment. But for the Delhi show, pakhawaj was added with Ashish Gangani playing it. It added tremendously to the rhythm for the damru (vocals and harmonium by Samiullah Khan sahab). I have used sitar in this, but would like to use sarod and veena. Veena sounds good for a piece with depth. The title was suggested by Kedar Mishra ji, who is a scholar. Lights were executed by Milind Shrivastav, designed by Govind Yadav. Aditi didi mentored the production and was satisfied with the presentation. But the litmus test was the final performance. Didi said it is simple and strong.”

I asked how she choreographed the technical portions for a production like this. ‘Everything that we do should be there for a reason. If I am doing an uthaan, it is not because I want to do an uthaan. In the first portion, I have done everything anaaghat. Since everything in here is a question, so I have done everything anaghaat. All the technical pieces end with a sam, which is like a question. The second part has a gat which is very simple and khula hai. I had to do “aalingan se pehle ki anubhuti”. Aalingan main karti hoon par main haath nahi band karti. The hastas have to stop somewhere. “Alingan se pehle ki anubhooti” could be a prior milan which is etched on the memory, but it has to be before the actual embrace. This aspect will have to be researched because it is difficult to portray. So sometimes, I show sighs with a heaving chest and heartbeat.

Next was the piece in which we have the peacock, where I am showing the colours in the peacock feather. The comparison I drew was not from the colours. I have shown the five elements in the colours. I had to study this myself to make it clear to myself. Then Kamdev aims his arrows at Shiva and love is evoked within him. Shiva is struck in five places and then the relevance for the morpankh begins. The arrows for the five shots are morpankhas. Kamdev then shoots off an arrow for agni. There is a gat nikas ka palta which shows the aakash. After that is agni, and the question was, how do we connect the two. The mor, when it opens its feathers, it shows agni. And then the leg lift for Shiva.

Prithvi was shown by the peacock moving on the earth, which is a common gait in Kathak. For water, the element used was the jata with the water. For the air element, Shiva becomes the hawa that touches Parvati. At the end of the gat, for sound, the damru is Shiva, which is the naad brahma in this brahmand. At the end, he comes and sits beside her in the form of a morpankh. She says that the crawl of an ant on your body is Shiva. S. Vasudevan has given his inputs from the literature. According to him, Maa Parvati was an uttam nayika and will maintain her dignity. I was told by my mentor, when I went to Edinburgh, that every piece should have an intention and a reason: why this gat, why this tukda, why this footwork. And then everything cannot be floaty and gentle. So “Dev dev mahadev” had to be done as a pure nritta piece with both tandav and lasya elements, the first tukda in two aavartan and then the second in two aavartan and then three each of tandav and lasya. And then Parvati says that I am tript with your answers.

And then finally, with no footwork, I move straight, depicting the attributes of both Shiva and Parvati. I have used only the breath to show the halchal. It was chest and breath, trinetra and teeka, jata and kesh, Nandi and singh etc. Before I could put it in front of Aditi didi and then subsequently the audience, I had to first convince myself about the relevance of the production.”

Both costumes by Sandhya Raman, green and pink, were very beautiful, but I enjoyed seeing Gauri in her bodysuit and a long white kurta during the rehearsal in her studio, since that outfit did not mask any movement. The concept and choreography For 'Samaratri' were by Gauri, who was mentored by Aditi Mangaldas. The music was by Dr. S. Vasudevan and Janab Samiullah Khan (also vocals and harmonium), with tabla by Yogesh Gangani, pakhawaj (in Delhi) by Ashish Gangani and sitar by Umashankar Pd Singh. The text was sourced from 'Kumarasambhavam', Vigyan Bhairav Tantra and Aazad. Costumes were by Sandhya Raman, and light design by Govind Yadav and Milind Srivastava. Specially acknowledged were the Drishtikon Dance Foundation and Kedarnath Mishra.

Everything together – the concept, choreography etc. – gelled to create a production that was totally transcendent and very different from all the depictions we see of Shiva and Shakti. Notable in this were the music, the rhythmic and the percussion elements, the sitar, which gave the effects, and the singing by Samiullah Khan. The vocals were very important for each piece. Gauri has moulded herself into a very powerful dancer technically. Her nritta comes out very neat, with very well-defined movements. Her bhava, however, has evolved to another level, and she catches every little nuance of every little expression. And in this production, which relied so much on her bhava, she showed her prowess at it. Pranaam to the jagat mata and pita and the night of their union.

Pics: Anoop Arora