A festival celebrating Jayadeva’s Gita Govinda through dance takes place this weekend

Sri Gitagovinda Pratishtana of Puducherry, which has been making its presence felt in the Capital over the past few years with elaborate dance events dedicated to the 12th Century epic Gita Govinda of Jayadeva, is presenting its third such festival this weekend. The festival includes some of the best known names in various genres of classical Indian dance.

In India, curating a festival is often seen as simply selecting artistes or at most designing a theme, with the audience happily in suspense as to what aspect the performers choose to highlight. Here though, festival curator Dr. Subas Pani, noted Sanskrit scholar and musician, has chalked out a programme after discussions with the dancers.

The first day features Bharatanatyam by Sathyanarayana Raju and Odissi by Madhavi Mudgal.

The second evening begins with Kuchipudi by Srimayi Vempati;

Mohiniyattam by Deepti Omchery Bhalla brings the festival to a close.

Thirteen songs from the epic have been selected, ranging from the homage to Krishna as the Supreme Lord who took 10 incarnations, to various shades of Radha and Krishna’s longing for each other, and the sage advice of Radha’s sakhi. Dr. Pani is concerned with not only pronunciation and meaning of the Sanskrit verses, but with locating the original text without interpolations — which was the topic of his doctoral research. Fixing the text is important before setting the music, points out the scholar.

“Then there is the bhava (emotion). There is no scope for displaying your (musical) virtuosity, no scope for crescendo. People think crescendo brings bhava!” Also, most of the songs are dialogues, he emphasises. Take “Priye charusheele”: It is not like Romeo standing outside Juliet’s window declaring his love, he remarks. “What Krishna is saying is only for the ears of Radha. It is not to be heard by the Yamuna, not by the deer, not by the sakhi.” This intimacy must be reflected in the music composition and rendering, he feels. “Unfortunately, most of the time people go into crescendo!”

Describing the festival as “classic, recent and new choreography,” Pani explains, “The first two editions included new choreography, all in Odissi, with music I composed. I worked with Guru Gangadhar Pradhan and his disciples, but unfortunately he passed away after the first festival.” A significant element of this edition is the inclusion of dance forms other than Odissi. And while some of the songs have been staged before by the dancers or been adapted for solo presentation, others are completely new and music is by the curator.

In most such cases, he has given the dancers “research and interpretational inputs”, which involved long preparatory sessions. Ask him how long it took to prepare the festival with such an approach, what with busy schedules of dancers and musicians, and you realise for him it is a lifelong journey. “For me the involvement has been almost five decades now. I got introduced to it as a child,” he laughs.

“The warp and weft (of the poetic work) are bhakti (devotion) and shringar (love). Bhakti is predominant, but shringar is visible throughout. And then there is the hue of a fabric. That is madhurya. At no point can you compromise on madhurya. If you do, you have lost the Gita Govinda.” Above all, it should be remembered that Jayadeva sang the Gita Govinda for Lord Jagannath. “What drama he created is another issue,” says Pani. “But that is the current that runs through it.”

He quotes from one of the last lines of the epic: Krishnaika taanatmanah. “Jayadeva’s soul is vibrating in unison with Krishna, through music. So you have to understand what is the soul of Gita Govinda.”

Ashtapadi: A Festival of Dance — March 9 and 10, Kamani auditorium, 6.30 p.m. onwards. Entry free.