Truly an utsav of dance styles

Saare Jahan Se Achha is a two-day festival hosted by Utsav, Ranjana Gauhar’s Odissi academy, and it really is an utsav of dance forms from all over India. It was hosted at the IHC in Delhi on the 17th and 18th of August. On giving a platform to all these dancers from various disciplines and forms, she said, “It’s a beautiful and fulfilling experience to see our younger generations involved and immersed in classical dance with so much dedication. To create a platform for them at Utsav is like giving back to the society what I received all my life. I feel I am just doing what I should be doing.”
Group choreography – Odissi by Utsav


On the first day, the 17th, the first performance was a group choreography by the disciples of Ranjanaji, titled Matsyavatar. Matsya or meen, the fish, is one of the ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu. The matsya preserves the environment and the texts from destruction. The performance started with Lord Vishnu depicted with shankha and chakra, and the incarnation as the matsya. For this particular stance and scene, lighting made patterns on the dancers. Sandeep Dutta always does a commendable job with the lights.
Further, as the Lord is worshipped as the Adinarayana, in a group choreography by the dancers, the story of Brahma writing the Vedas was depicted. He is served by his subjects, who are stringing flowers for him, or making chandan to adorn the Him. These Vedas are then stolen by the demon Shakasura. The Lord appears as the matsya or fish to save the Vedas from the demon. He appears as a small fish to Satyavrat, who is a religious and kind king. The Lord comes and says, “Sharanagat hoon, save me.” The little fish was enacted by Anika Tandon, who had the grace and expressions to depict the little fish despite her young age. The ‘meen’ grows rapidly, and the king and the people look on. They keep bringing more water to accommodate it, and finally, the matsya appears as the chaturbhuj Narayan, and there is an epiphany that on the seventh day, as the world drowns in a flood, the matsya will be the saviour. The Lord fights the demon, and brings back the Vedas safely with the recitation of the sloka, ‘Yada yada hi dharmasya’, and the stuti ‘Keshavadhrit meenashareeram jaya jagadeesha hare’. 

The dancers posed in the four-armed posture of Lord Vishnu, with the matsya in the foreground. The group’s coordination and rhythm in the nritta and nritya were very graceful and enthralling, with a special mention of Vrinda Chadha, Ranjanaji’s senior disciple. The fighting scenes were in Chhau. Ranjanaji has truly mastered the art of choreographing and depicting tales. The dancers were - Dhinabandu Dalai, Aditya Srivastava, Simar Sokhi, Anica Tondon, Kyra Mehra, Vritti Tondon and Vinod Kevin Bachan.
Kathak by Sarita Kalela

The next dancer was Sarita Kalela, a ganda bandhan disciple of Uma Dogra, a renowned Kathak dancer. She has been awarded the Shringarmani. The first piece was a thumri – ‘Na maro Shyam pichkari’. The gopi is pleading with Krishna not to smear her with colour on Holi since her in-laws will talk badly of her. It is in the tradition of Vrindavan Holi, with chhed-chhad (flirtation). In the piece, Sarita’s abhinaya as the gopi was quite toned down, and with very expressive eyes. This was followed by a tarana in teen taal. The nritta was executed using gat, footwork and chakkars. The technique was good, but the audio for the piece did not have the required volume.
Bharatnatyam by Shubha Dhananjay
This was followed by Bharatnatyam by Shubha Dhananjay from Bangalore. Shubha is a versatile artist, performer, guru and choreographer. She has performed on prestigious platforms across the country, with innovative choreographies. She trains deserving artists from rural areas. Here, she commenced her performance with a Nataraja padam, which describes the divine dance of the Lord in the temple of Chidambaram. Lord Shiva has no aadi or ant, beginning or end. The moon resides on his forehead, he was the one who drank the poison from the amrit manthan. The composition was by Papanasam Shivam in raagam Purvakalyani. Shubha tried to execute the piece with a lot of movement, leg lifts and balancing, but every dancer has a bad day, and she very gracefully apologized for her stiffness and balance issues.

The next piece was a Subramaniam rhythm, set to Raah Bihag in aaditalam. The tale says that sparks flew from the third eye of Shiva and settled on the flowers in a pond, turning into six babies. Goddess Parvati collects them all and makes them into one child, albeit with six heads. That’s how Lord Kartikeya was born, known also as the son of Agni. He rides a peacock. In the sanchari, his brother Ganesha, helps him in the Valli kalyanam. Shubha could  present the abhinaya for this piece with better balance and gestures.
Maya and Mudra Dhananjay
Maya and Mudra Dhananjay, Shubha’s daughters, presented Kathak. They are Shubha’s disciples, and have performed extensively all over the world. They’ve been learning Kathak from Guru Geetanjali Lal. Their first piece was an invocation to Lord Shiva in raag Malkauns set to ektaal, a composition of the late Dr Maya Rao. It describes the attributes of Lord Shiva, the chandra (moon), trishul, trinetra (third eye), pinakdhari, bhasma-bhushit (covered in ash), gangadhar (He who wears the Ganga), damaru (drum), rishabh vahan (He who rides the bull), bhootnath (Lord of the ghosts), wearing a rundamaal (garland of skulls). The interpretive dance was executed with a lot of grace and poise by both the girls, taking stances to depict the attributes. Next, they presented a bandish, choreographed by Guru Geetanjali Lal - ‘Bijuri chamke barse meha’ (lightning strikes, clouds pour). The thunderous sky heralds the monsoon, and the mood for romance or shringara. The melodious call of the nightingale is the high point of the season. The swings have been hung from the trees, the peacocks are dancing, the koel sings on the trees, while Radha and Krishna run to meet each other in the nikunj. It was executed well by both the dancers in both the nritta and nritya. Again, their grace and exactness of movement were apparent.

The tarana is a fast-paced nritta piece which involves a lot of body work, footwork and technical expertise. This one was choreographed by Guru Geetanjali Lal in raag Bageshwari, set to teen taal. The duo used chakkars, footwork, tukde and tihais to execute the nritta. At times, they fell out of sync, but on the whole, a good performance from very promising dancers, who are learning two diverse forms of dance, Bharatnatyam and Kathak.
Sattriya by Sharodi Saikiya
Sharodi Saikiya presented Sattariya on the next day. Sharodi has performed extensively, and is the prime disciple of late Shri Raseswar Saikia Barbayan. She has also been trained in Kathak and Manipuri and has been awarded by the SNA. She performed to a Krishna Vandana composed on the basis of Na-Dhameli with instruments like the khol and cymbals. The first composition salutes Krishna, the son of Devaki and Vasudev, who has feet like lotuses, eyes like lotuses, a lotus garland, he who is the killer of demons. The bhaktas seek his compassion and crave for the dust of his lotus feet.  The music had the lilting melody of northeast Indian music, with the dancers accompanying Sharodi swirling to the khol and manjira. Accompanying her were Dwijen Burman and Debojit Dutta on cymbals, Banamali Baruah and Sanjeev Kachari on khol.

The next piece was a composition by Shri Madhav Dev. Krishna steals butter from the gopis’ house, and they come to complain about it to Yashoda, who then punishes Krishna by boxing his ears and reprimanding him. But little Krishna apologises to her and the discord between the mother and the son is amicably settled. The movements of the dancers were slow and fluid, and the abhinaya understated.
Odissi by Rajashri Praharaj

The next dancer for the evening was Rajashri Praharaj, performing Odissi. She’s an accomplished artist and a disciple of Shri Ratikant Mohapatra. She has also had the opportunity to learn from the legendary guru Kelucharan Mohapatra. She has performed extensively all over the world and is a senior member of the faculty at Srjan in Bhubaneswar. She’s been awarded the Shringara Mani, and the Bismillah Khan Yuva Puraskar by the Sangeet Natak Akademi. She began her performance with an invocation of Lord Ganesha, Vinayak Smarnam. He is worshipped by his devotees fervently. The Lord , son of Goddess Gauri, is known by his twelve names - ekdant (one-toothed), vakratund (He who has a twisted trunk), krishnapingaksh, gajapateye (the elephant god), lambodar, vikat, vighnarajan, dhumravarna, bhalchandra, vinayak, ganapati, gajanana. The choreography was by Shri Ratikant Mohapatra and music by Vinod Panda. In ‘Om Gam Ganapatye Namah’, she depicted the ears, trunk and the mouse as the steed. Rajashri’s gestures, stances and interpretive dance had a completeness and exactitude about it. Her hands, footwork, chauka, leaps, agility, balance and leg swings, all made the performance a visual treat, especially the last stance of the trunk of the lord.

The next piece was a pallavi, a nritta piece, an elaboration of music, chemistry of rhythm, dance and movement. It was in an unconventional taal, in 15 beats, called Pancham Savari. This is rarely used in Odissi. The composition was in raag Chandrakauns, taal pancham savari, with the rhythm of 4, 3, 4, 4. The music was by Pradeep K Das, and choreography by Ratikant Mohapatra, a totally riveting and mesmerizing performance.
Mohiniattam by Momm Ganguly and Manjula Murthy
There are a few performances which are so graceful in movement that they leave an imprint on your mind. The following performance in Mohiniattam was a feast for all connoisseurs of classical dance.

The disciples of Guru Bharti Shivaji, Momm Ganguly and Manjula Murthy, performed this piece. Bharti Shivaji has been awarded the Padma Shri. She is an author, guru and choreographer, and has played a pivotal role in reconstructing the dance format and expanding the idiom. Momm Ganguly is a performer par excellence, with supple body movements. Manjuly Murthy, initially a disciple of Kalamandalam Kutiamma, was then tutored by Guru Bharti Shivaji. She has won the Sangeet Natak Akademi Ustad Bismillah Khan Yuva Puraskar.

The performance began with an ashtapadi, which is performed in the Guruvayur temple as the kottipadi seva. Bharti Shivaji has incorporated the ashtapadi into the repertoire in Mohiniattam. The sakhi is persuading Radha to go and meet Krishna, who is anxiously expecting her on the banks of the river Yamuna. The composition was in raag Kedar Gowla, and Shreeraga. The abhinaya by Manjula as the sakhi and Momm as Radha had a great deal of finesse. ‘Dheer sameere Yamuna teere’ – Radha is reminiscing about the previous meeting with Krishna and their love, or rati sukhsar, and is awaiting his coming. The depiction by the two dancers of the love between the two was done with a lot of subtlety. The sakhi takes her to Krishna forcibly. The interspersed nritta had wonderfully coordinated swaying of the torso and feet movement, with the idiyakka playing.

The next composition was about the seven steps that lead to the altar of the Lord. The dance gradually increases in tempo to a crescendo. It signifies the rhythmic ensemble tradition of Kerala in ragam Natakuranji, set to taal Mallika. Again, the nritta was astounding, captivating. The two dancers, while talking about the performance, said that they are thankful to their guru, whom they have been following for many years, and to Ranjanaji for giving them this opportunity. “The technique for the dance is as soft and gentle as in Mohiniattam, but more elaborate in the neck and torso. It is more profound than the other techniques of Mohiniattam, and more elaborate than the other schools, which have only a few adavus. You find a lot of variety in the movement, since our guru has taken from other dance forms of Kerala, so it becomes more intricate and pronounced. The abhinaya is also more profound. Kerala has a rich dramatic tradition, but our guru has mellowed it down and made it suitable for lasya and gentle movements.”
The evening concluded with a performance by the artists of Jawahar Lal Nehru Manipuri Dance Academy

Note: This article first appeared in

Pics: Anoop Arora