The Kathak Kendra festival saw enlightening papers and lectures on “Tradition and Creativity” by senior scholars and dancers

For bridging what has seemed the yawning gap between scholars of and practitioners of Kathak, the designing of the annual Kathak Kendra festival by the Kendra management, under Director Chetana Jyotishi Beohar, deserves praise; the festival included informed papers and lectures on “Tradition and Creativity” during the morning sessions, with reputed scholars and senior practitioners in different dance forms participating. What was heart warming was the lively participation of students who, overcoming initial timidity, fearlessly questioned the speakers in the open-house discussions.

Well known for his path-breaking work on “Dattilam” on sangeet in ancient India, scholar and researcher Mukund Lath, who has trained in music under legendary gurus, pointed out how today’s misguided thinking, highly influenced by the West, has developed rooted notions of creativity, artistic freedom and modernity as being totally divorced from and on the opposite side of tradition, which by its very nature was believed to bind or lock one into a frozen discipline. That parampara comprises a flow which without creative inputs would only become stagnant and extinct is not accepted. Unfortunately, in arts the practical side and the worldview that inspires its inner identity and thought processes have got separated. Prayog and its prescriptive manifestation in the Lakshana Sastras, like music and nritya, while connected have always sprouted different manifestations, each with its own Sampradaya conventions. In India’s art forms the aesthetic theory of ‘rasa’ is the binding factor. Art forms undergo periods of renaissance or rebirth, and modernity cannot be associated with any time or region. The speaker touched on the Natya Sastra dialogues among Shiva-Bharata-Tandu and Panini and Patanjali, and the later commentary by Abhinavagupta, which provides one with the real world view guiding our art forms.

Dr. Kapila Vatsyayan, bemoaning the gap between the practitioners of Kathak and the scholars, did not dwell on her circulated paper which clearly, without mentioning, suggested the dichotomy in thought of what constitutes the modern in the West and our classical arts, where “the artistic creation that is freed from distinctions of time or space and therefore from individual relationships and practical interests…” The ‘rasa’ or state of consciousness embodied in the poetry flowers through the artistic endeavour of the dancer and “bears fruit in the spectator”. Concerned with unfolding of the known, but dormant artistic endeavour, however, demands impersonality.

Talking of how the sea after enfolding into its bosom innumerable rivers still retains its salty identity, Urmilla Sharma, the scholar-disciple of the late Premlata Sharma, also gave the analogy of a tree rising as high as the depth of its roots. “Be rooted” and understand your tradition and its many manifestations in full. Only then will one find oneself in the tradition. The way she explained the etymology and connotation of words like “Sam+geet”, “Sam+yog” and “Iti-ha-aasa” was an eye-opener for the youngsters.

Madhavi Mudgal, with her deep roots in Hindustani music and laya (trained in Kathak earlier) gave an unpretentious review of what a form like Odissi (which owes its present manifestation to a post 1950s collective endeavour, with compulsions of history shaping its accompanying music) sees as its innovative manifestations. She felt that there were areas still evolving and not given a definitive stamp in tala and other aspects. Without any dogmatic statements she wondered about the limits of what could be allowed within the boundaries of classicism, which could not accommodate transplanting from outside — which would only distort and not nourish tradition.

Shovana Narayan talked of the inevitability of change and of sensibilities of the cultural climate one lives in that influence an art form. With examples through visuals, she showed changes in costume, presentation and movements, with performance space also bringing in its own changes in movement. Ultimately, how far one could transgress should be guided by the artist’s sense of responsibility. She quoted Mukund Lath’s lecture, which quoted the Natya Sastra statement that saw nritta as creating ‘shobha’ and beauty but not rasa — very different from the way abstract movement is used today to convey all kinds of messages and images and how even pure rhythm is not considered as devoid of its own ‘rasa’.

Geeta Chandran’s very lucid talk touched on the dance-music connectivity, and how certain compositions become synonyms and bywords for certain great dancers and musicians. Here countless repetition, anathema to modernists, was what gave meaningful layers to a piece of art making its cultural memory immortal. Why did artists create? Did the motivation come from peer pressure, from monetary needs, because artists are compelled by organisers and audience? Whatever the reason, the gestation period allowed for original work needed to be long — to enable deep research and introspection on how one’s vocabulary could best express what was needed. Years of training will shape a body’s movement inclinations, like her Bharatanatyam spine, which will determine all her creative endeavour. The sense of the organic whole being lost was clear from her singing ability, which showed how the dancer needed to know, above all, the music on which movement is built.

Ashok Vajpeyi, very eloquent and full of tongue-in-cheek observations, also came out with startlingly frank assessments of the abysmal state of music and poetry in Kathak today and how, in the absence of any reading habits, dancers were impoverished ideationally, for kavya or the poetic mind lay behind all creativity. Today’s Kathak was strong in abstraction but poor in abhinaya for this very reason. Great artists like Grotowski had discovered that “India alone developed poetics of human imagination and memory”. “To see, to know, to reflect and to remember had to be the byword for all art.”

(To be continued)

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