Mention Kathak and it conjures up a glittering swirl of energy from twinkle-toed artists as they cut a swathe across the aesthetic-conscious of the global community of art lovers. The genre is synonymous with the name of maestro Birju Maharaj. Along with his long-time disciple Saswati Sen, Maharaj is set to delight Chennai rasikas at Hamsadhwani (Dec 27), Narada Gana Sabha (Dec 28) and Vani Mahal (Dec 31). The highpoint will however be a vocal performance by the Kathak ustad.
What is on the anvil? “The Hamsadhwani programme will feature my dance,” says Saswati Sen who began learning at the age of six and has been performing for 30 years. “˜The items will include a piece on Meerabai, based o n Meera Bhajans rendered by Maharaj-ji. They speak of Meera’s love for Krishna, her sublimation and the Rana’s non-acceptance. Another section will have a taiyyari in two parts- Teental (16 beats) and Dhamal (14 beats). Maharaj-ji often gets inspired while singing and plays the tabla. He is also likely to enunciate the bols and play them in an amalgam of vocals and percussion.”
With the highlights being the interplay of rhythms and footwork and breathtaking chakkars (pirouettes), the performances promise to be show-stoppers. “We are really looking forward to this Season’s special” says Hamsadhwani secretary R. Sundar.
The icing on the cake, however, will be a Hindustani vocal recital by Birju Maharaj for Thyaga Brahma Gana Sabha at Vani Mahal. This full-scale vocal concert is a first for Chennai-ites. Vani Mahal’s secretary, Raghunathan says, “This is the first time we are featuring a Hindustani recital in our December Series.” Encompassing a wide repertoire, the virtuoso will present thumri, dadra, bhajan and holi with special emphasis on his grandfather Bindadin Maharaj’s compositions. “My grandfather was a sensitive, prolific lyricist and poet besides being regarded as the godfather of Kathak. Many pieces are in praise of Lord Krishna, the ishta deva of Kathak,” says Birju Maharaj. One of the most anticipated aspects of the Lucknow gharana is the abhinaya laced with fascinating one-of-a-kind sacharis. It is a constantly changing spectrum of expressions, with each line attracting several interpretations in thumri bhav. Maharaj will demonstrate the abhinaya at intervals.
“Music permeated the home atmosphere from an early age. I thoroughly enjoyed the singing of both my uncles, Shambhu Maharaj and Lacchu Maharaj and learnt from them as well as from my father, Acchan Maharaj. When I was 14, I became a teacher at Sangeet Bharati (Delhi) and also gravitated towards playing tabla and pakhawaj when the students danced.” Speaking of his gharana, he explains “The Lucknow Kathak music style made famous by Shambhu Maharaj focussed on presentation of thumri. In this school, the sahitya assumes great importance, making it distinct from the Benares style. I shall also present my own composition as I enjoy writing poetry and setting it to tune.”
What makes the December Season special to the visiting artistes? “The audience... Earlier, their exposure to Kathak was limited, but now, about 50 per cent of them are aware and reciprocate in terms of knowledge and appreciation. Also, having other artistes in the audience makes it an artistic challenge. We present new items.” Saswathi also looks forward to shopping, especially for ‘temple jewellery and the gorgeous Kanjeevarams that colour the Season!’