Manipuri dancer Warda Rihab from Bangladesh is quite comfortable straddling multiple cultural and national identities.
A Muslim Manipuri dancer from Bangladesh, Warda Rihab is quite fond of portraying the Hindu characters of Lord Siva and Radha. She gave ample evidence of this as she literally danced into the hearts of her audienceduring her last performance in Bhubaneswar.
“Dance is my religion”, she says and adds, “I wish to be remembered as an ambassador of Indian arts in Bangladesh and vice versa. For me, both are my beloved lands, where I feel at home”. Manipuri dance has its roots in religion; it revolves around the Vaishnavite philosophy. But it has nothing to do with the religion of the practitioner, explains Warda Rihab who studied this dance form with a scholarship offered by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR).
After completion of MBA from Dhaka University, she landed in Kolkata with the ICCR scholarship and studied at the Rabindra Bharati University, emerging as the University's Gold Medallist in Manipuri dance. “I also had the fortune of being trained under the great exponent Kalavati Devi and her daughter Bimbavati Devi at the famous Manipuri Nartanalaya in Kolkata founded by legendary guru Bipin Singh. I also had lessons in the Manipuri percussion of Pung and Manipuri martial dance of Thang-Ta. In fact, Kolkata has become my home away from home now. ,” she acknowledges.
Warda had early initiation into dance. “My parents say that I showed a natural inclination for dancing when I was just a toddler. I started with Chhayanaut followed by Manipuri in Dhaka.
The young and accomplished dancer informs with pride that Indian classical dances have a huge fan following Bangladesh. Manipuri is now especially popular among urban Bangladeshis; Odissi and Kathak are also gaining popularity. “After all, we share the same cultural roots and both the countries are not only neighbours but also belong to the same civilization”, she emphasises.
In view of the lack of encouragement in her country for dance as a career, Warda along with two of her dancer friends opened an institution for dance namely Dhriti that attempts to train students professionally. Sadhona, her recently formed dance company, encourages cross-cultural creativity and research in dance. “My debut production Hey Ananta Punya that was staged in Dhaka and Kolkata was an adaptation of Tagore's Notir Puja. It has elements of several Indian dance traditions,” she shared.
Bodhidro, her latest production deals with Buddhism. “I have attempted to introduce Charya Nritya through this dance-drama. Charya Nritya is an ancient Buddhist dance form that has been virtually unknown outside the circles of those who perform it. This ceremonial dance dates back over 1000 years. Priests in Kathmandu perform the dance as part of their rituals”, she explains.
Combining culture with commerce, the dancer has also set up a shop namely Shalonkara in her home city of Dhaka. “It is a one-stop destination for the dancers. It offers jewellery, costumes, publications and anything related to dance. I have plans to convert it into a resource and research centre of dance in Bangladesh”, she confides.