ONLINE: A feast of expertise in various styles in Ranjana Gauhar’s Unbound Beats of India

Guru Ranjana Gauhar

Utsav Educational and Cultural Society and Ranjana’s Odissi Dance Academy presented the online festival Unbound Beats of India earlier this year on their Facebook page and on their YouTube channel. Odissi guru Ranjana Gauhar, the organizer, said that she wanted to give a platform to dancers even in these times of COVID restrictions, when there are few physical stages available. She also wanted to provide them with financial support. In her introduction, Ranjana ji said that during this pandemic, senior gurus have realized that they have a larger role to play – giving younger dancers a source of performance and income.

Odissi dancer Vrinda Chadha

The first day’s programme started with the very amicable smile of Sadhna Shrivastava, who was compering the event. The first dancer was Vrinda Chaddha, Odissi dancer and disciple of Guru Ranjana Gauhar. She presented ‘Vishveshwar darshan’, a composition of Maharaja Swati Tirunal, set to music by Saroj Mohanty and choreographed by Ranjana Gauhar. The composition describes how the bhakta wants to go for the lord’s darshan and attain mukti. As he follows the course of the river Ganga, he reaches the temple in Kashi. The composition about Shiva was in raag Asavari, taal Khemta. In her depiction, Vrinda showed girija pati, ardh chandra on his head, and the trinetra. She depicted the jata tied in a knot, Ganga flowing down from his locks, bhasmang, girija ardhangini, finally ending with stances for the attributes of Shiva, his neelkanth, locks and Ganga. Vrinda’s expressions were emotive, the movements of hands and feet were expansive and well-balanced. The chakkars in the end were executed with ease and grace. The highlights of Vrinda’s presentation were her precise technique and aesthetic abhinaya.    

Mayurbhanj Chhau dancer Rakesh Sai Babu and Bharatanatyam dancer Priya Srinivasan

The next performers were Priya Srinivasan and Rakesh Sai Babu, performing in Bharatanayam and Mayurbhanj Chhau. A remarkable aspect of this performance was how smoothly the two forms had been amalgamated in technique and abhinaya. They started with nritta in ‘Samagam’, dancing to beats, moving in opposite directions and matching their footwork, taking stances together. While Rakesh Sai Babu exhibited his leg lifts, leaps and pirouettes, Priya displayed her footwork and technique. Together, they performed to the same bols, synchronized and alternating. The musicians for Bharatanatyam were Sreerag Nair (vocals), Manohar Balatchandirane (mridaangam), Rajat Prasanna (flute), Priya Srinivasan (nattuvangam). The musicians for Mayurbhanj Chhau were Shashidhar Acharya and Shashi Mohanto (dhol and dhumsa), Yogesh Kumar Shankar (shehnai) and Dhiraj Kumar (flute).

The next piece they presented was about Shiva and Parvati — the composition was Adishankaracharya’s Shiva stotra — with Priya as Parvati and Rakesh as Shiva. One of the most attractive parts of the piece was the vocals and the music. The two started with nritta steps, taking postures, moving smoothly across each other, and then Rakesh depicted Shiva as nagendra haraye, the three eyes of Shiva, his body smeared with bhasma. They effortlessly coordinated their moves and the stances were taken very aesthetically, with very flexible moves. Finally, after a few leaps and leg lifts, the two became half and half, Shiva and Shakti. Finally, they portrayed Radha and Krishna in a very lyrical way, taking stances and weaving their love through abhinaya. 

Bharatanatyam dancer Ragini Chandrashekar

Next up was Bharatanatyam dancer Ragini Chandrashekhar, daughter and disciple of Guru Jamuna Krishnan. The first piece was a todaya mangalam, a kriti by Annamacharya in which the bhakta describes the beauty of Lord Vishnu in various avatars, and extols the splendour of Lord Venkatachalapati as Rama, Vishnu and Krishna. This was in raga mallika and tala mallika, with jathis by Karaikudi K. Sivakumar, and choreography by the late Guru Jamuna Krishnan. The verses are interspersed with nritta. Ragini’s technique is very crisp, with very neat footwork, expansive hastas, stretches and leaps. First, it is Lord Rama who is described as Janaki ramana, whose bhakta bows to his lotus feet. The valour of Lord Rama in vanquishing the demons was portrayed. Krishna is described as the vanquisher of the demon Mur, padmanabha, mukund madhav, narayan, param purush. Ragini’s gestures very aptly depicted the lord, with very expressive eyes. The third one was about worshipping Narayan as the Dashavidha avatar, depicting shankha chakra gada padma, the grandeur of Lord Venkatachalapati, and performing aarti, talking of the splendour of Venkatagirinayak, Gopal as aravind lochan, suravaravandita, ending with chakkars. The musicians were S. Shankar (nattuvangam), Sudha Raghuraman (vocals),  M.V. Chandershekar (mridangam), G. Raghuraman (flute) and Akkarai S. Subbalakshmi (violin).

Ragini’s technique and abhinaya are excellent but during her performance, we could not see a complete frame of her steadily for even a few seconds together. The camera shifted rapidly from a close-up of her eyes and expressions to her feet and her front and then her back. One could not get a complete picture of the dance at any point since the camera did not focus steadily on any one thing. 

You can watch the first day's performances by clicking here.

Odissi dancer Vinod Kevin Bachan

The second day started with a performance by Odissi dancer Vinod Kevin Bachan, disciple of Guru Ranjana Gauhar. Kevin started with an ode to Lord Shiva in raga mallika and tala mallika, with choreography by Ranjana Gauhar. He began by depicting, in expansive movements, the jata of Shiva and Ganga trickling down from them, followed by depicting Gauri as his consort, trinetra, an ode to Vishwanath and Vishweswari. He did nritta with trishul movements. He did expansive bends and leg lifts for namaha shivaye and damaru. In the attributes of Shiva and Parvati, he depicted the champa gaur shareer of Parvati and the karpor gaur shareer of Shiva. Gauri’s shareer is kumkum charchit, and Shiva’s shareer is chita bhasma charchit. Kevin depicted Ma Gauri with kankan and noopur, Shiva with naag; while Gauri wears the mandar mala, Shiva wears the kapal mala. Gauri is bedecked in a divyambar and Shiva in digambar. Kevin gave a scintillating performance in which Vishwanath and Vishweshwari were depicted in contrast through abhinaya, interspersed with slow, neat nritta, hastas and gestures.

His second piece was based on the episode from the Geeta when Lord Krishna, as the charioteer of Arjuna during the war of Kurukshetra, reveals his vishwaroop to him. This is in raag Malkauns and Ahir Bhairavi, ektaali, composed by Acharya Bankim Sethi. Kevin started with nritta, performing gestures for bansuri and charioteer. As Krishna is readying the rath for the war, Arjuna wears his armour and readies his bow and arrow. As he surveys the two sides, he is appalled by the sight of his own near and dear ones on both sides. Krishna then delivers the geetopadesh that Arjuna should surrender all his desires and apprehensions to him with complete faith in him. Krishna then shows him the vishwaroop, where all the elements and all of creation are within him. He ends with ‘yada yada hi dharmasya’: that all creation resides within him. Kevin ended his performance with the reclining pose of Vishnu with the padmanabha.

Bharatanatyam dancer Dakshina Vaidyanathan Baghel

The next dancer was Bharatanatyam dancer Dakshina Vaidyanathan Baghel. She presented the Triveni, the confluence of the three rivers – Ganga, Yamuna, Saraswati. River Ganga originates in the Gangotri glacier and is associated with Shiva as it flows down from his locks. River Yamuna originates from the glacier Yamunotri and is associated with Krishna since this was where he was born, and the shores of the Yamuna were his playground. It’s worshipped by the Vaishnavs. At the Triveni, these two rivers meet and beneath them flows the third river, Saraswati, and the confluence of these three is symbolic of the coming together of knowledge, arts and supreme consciousness. That is what the triveni symbolizes. Concept and choreography were by Dakshina. The music composition was by Dr. S. Vasudevan and the lyrics had been translated to Sanskrit by Dr. S. Vasudevan and Dr. Himanshu Srivastava.

She began in the mayura stance, showing the frolicking and flowing river. Moving in jumps, she depicted the rapid flow of a river. The nritta in the beginning showed the flow of the river from the heights to a calmer pace in the plains. The bols were accordingly ‘tanum ta tarange’. She went on to portray Ganga as Shankarashringarashikhari, showing the jata of Shiva and Ganga trickling down from it. After showing the Ganga flowing down from the heights of Gangotri, there was a pause in the music. For Yamuna, the nritta showed the flow with very precise footwork and smooth balancing acts. Yamuna was praised as the beloved of Krishna, Gokul unmadini. The portrayal was very effectively done by Dakshina as she effortlessly moved her foot back and forth. Yamuna has the same colour as Shyam and is the holy river of the Vaishnavs. In her nritta, the adavus with a squat were done very athletically, showing the confluence of Ganga and Yamuna, and Saraswati as flowing below them. Just as a river flows expansively, Dakshina’s nritta for the rivers spread all over the stage with amazing footwork. With a leap, she squatted to show the Triveni. A complete performance in terms of concept, lyrics, music and instrumentation. Dakshina’s technique in her nritta, her expressions and eye movements, footwork and hands moving effortlessly with perfection: it all won the hearts of the audience. If only the camera had focused more on the entire figure rather than concentrating on either footwork or face. 

Kathak dancer Vidha Lal

The final performer was Kathak dancer and choreographer Vidha Lal. The first piece she presented was ‘Ardhaang’, written by Baiju Banwara and composed by Guru Smt. Geetanjali Lal in 21 beats, in raag Bhimpalasi. It presents a confluence of purush and prakriti, Shiva and Shakti. Vidha depicted the attributes of Shiva – the moon as his ornament, the flowing jatas and the river running down them. She started with the stances of chandra bhal sees gang. With very expansive moves, Vidha went on to depict the various attributes, taking an ardh chakra thrice for kar pinaak. The dim dim of the damru was shown with rapid movements and jumping on one foot. It was a very aptly and soundly done piece. The musicians were Amjad Ali (vocals), Aman Ali (tabla), Ahsan Ali (sarangi), Salim Kumar (sitar) and Vidha Lal and Abhimanyu Lal (padhant).

Next, Vidha rendered a tarana in raga Darbari, teen taal, also composed by Guru Geetanjali Lal. Both pieces were Vidha’s choreographies. Vidha had a costume change from white to white and yellow. Rhythmically, it was a very well-rendered piece, with footwork and chakkars. Vidha’s footwork, hand movements, postures and mukhabhinaya were immaculate. The musicians for this were Brij Mohan Parihar (vocals), Amjad Chaudhry (tabla), Ajay Prasanna (flute), Viji Alfred (special effects) and Vidha and Abhimanyu Lal (padhant).

You can watch the second day's programme by clicking here.