A spirited Rabindra Nritya presentation by Guru Valmiki Banerjee’s disciples marked the launch of the English translation of his book on the subject
Tagore moaned, “I am hopelessly born in the age of the busy printing press — a belated Kalidasa.” He added later, addressing Poetry, “and you my love are utterly modern.” The meaning is clear. The poet deplored the fate of poetry “banished into the greyness of the tuneless papers”. For the poet, his poetry had to be recited and sung. When Tagore says in Gitanjali “thou are the Sky and thou are the nest as well” or “in the playhouse of infinite forms I have had my play and here have I caught sight of him that is formless,” the reader has to read the poetry over and over again to try and catch the mysticism of Tagore’s philosophy.
If cold print for the poet could not reveal the sublime beauty of his lyrics, what about the printed word trying to catch the spirit of Tagore’s approach to dance? The evening at Epicentre, Gurgaon, jointly mounted by the Council of Indian Women in association with Sarbojan Pooja Committee of Gurgaon, saw the book release of “Rabindra Natyam” by Guru Valmiki Banerjee, followed by a presentation of “Bhanu Singher Padabali” in Maithali, the dance directed by the author and rendered by a group of his disciples.
A highly committed dancer/guru, Valmiki Banerjee has been involved with Rabindra Natyam for well over half a century. A great lover of classical dances like Manipuri, Kathakali and Bharatanatyam, and folk dances, Tagore’s dance visualisation with mixing and matching of styles was his own, and while he had had no formal training as a dancer, he had his own perspective on dance, which the Santiniketan productions exemplified. He believed that rhythm was a universal phenomenon of Nature and Man, and that every atom in the Universe vibrates to the rhythmic shadow of dance — “Visva-tanute anute anute kape nrtyera chaya.”
Neatly got up, the English translation of Banerjee’s Bengali original is by Dr. Ratri Ray and Nandini Eswer. The author categorises Tagore’s dance drama as “puppet dance drama, creative dance drama, modern dance drama, lyrical drama and pastoral”. He theorises on technique of body movement and lists out points in consonance with the Natya Shastra, Tagore’s idea of Nayika Bhed, the various emotions dealt with, the use of feet and hands and his use of tala, laya and chhanda. And even goes into details of costume. Banerjee’s own training under Kalachand Singh (Manipurii), Sohan Lal (Kathak), Guru Gopinath and Tahangamani (Kathakali), Prabhat Misra (Kathak), Mukundadas Bhattacharjee (folk culture of Bengal), and a host of others gave him an eclectic dance background. A list of Rabindra Natyam mnemonics makes interesting reading — for the sounds used are very onomatopoeic, like “Thara thara bhara bhara”, “Jhini jhini kinkini”, “Jharo-jharo guru guru”, “kalakala chala chala” and so on.
With all that is said about the ‘shastra’ in Rabindra Nritya, the dance, with its predominantly lasya movements, has a light feel with the weight of classical grammar not visibly felt.
“Bhanusingher Padavali” is one of the poet’s earlier works and seems highly influenced by the Vaishnava padavalis.
Unlike Tagore’s other dance drama compositions where the hero and heroine are human characters — common man as in “Chandalika”, and princes as in “Chitrangada” — “Bhanusingher Padavali” is an exception for it deals with the love of Radha and Krishna. Conceived as separate lyrics not arranged in a dramatic mode, these songs have to be selectively strung together to form a dance narrative. The songs are on love, and the classical heroines like basaka-sajjika, utkanthita, abhisarika, khandita are portrayed showing love in separation and in the joy of union. One lyric even compares Death with Lord Krishna “Maran re, tuhu mama syama saman” (Death, you are like my beloved Krishna).
The production had the traditional five fold salutation and homage to the Pancha-Bhutas – Ksiti (Earth), Ap (Water), Teja (Fire), Marut (Air) and Vyoma (Ether). Valmiki is a very conservative guru it would seem, and his Rabindra Nritya does not depart from the old style he learnt, even for a moment. So, predictably, there were no surprises in the dance drama treatment. The bunch of enthusiastic disciples gave a very involved presentation, with a most ebullient Krishna (a little too much expression on face though, bordering on exaggeration), particularly in the cheerharan scene and sequences with Radha. Tagore’s love for Nature and its moods being responded to by man was all too evident in songs like “Shamana gagane ghor ghana ghata”.
Somehow the passages in Maithili providing the connectivity in the narrative with the original Bengali songs of Tagore following, at times did not blend smoothly. And too many ragas, for this critic, gave a restless feel to the music. And what with the loud sitar tones and other instruments, it was more like the Bharatiya Kala Kendra type of music rather than Rabindra Sangeet. For lovers of Rabindra Nritya and young enthusiasts, Valmiki’s book provides a welcome introduction.