Festivity ‘Arpan,’ presented on Mahalaya, was made memorable by the recitals of Girija Devi, Aruna Mohanty and Gokul Das and party. Nita Vidyarthi

With the end of Pitarpaksh and beginning of Devipaksh , Mahalaya (which means homecoming for Goddess Durga) ushers in the worship of the Mother Goddess in Bengal as Devi Durga - ‘Mahishasuramardini,’ and also the beginning of Navaratri. The rituals, the joy and festivities of Durga Puja are marked by a variety of entertainment such as music sessions that are not necessarily devotional and also dance-dramas, some of which have high merit.

‘Arpan’ was presented by the premier music institution, ITC Sangeet Research Academy (SRA) and Eastern Zonal Cultural Centre. ‘Arpan,’ the offering, in its third year was ‘Maa’ rechristened and is not a religious festival. It is regularly presented on the day of Mahalaya .

The fare this year at the G.D. Birla Sabhagar, Kolkata, was special with Girija Devi performing for the first time and the renowned Odissi dancer, Aruna Mohanty, presenting, also for the first time, a specially choreographed piece for Durga Puja. The beating of the drums of Bengal, dhaak and dhol, is an integral part of the Durga and Kali pujas and the Bengali psyche.

The ‘Devi Vandana’ (‘Mangalacharan’) by Pt. Ajoy Chakravarty and the presentation by Gokul Das and party, ushered in the auspicious evening. Even though the dhaakis (the drummers) appeared pseudo-trained, their expertise in rhythms was astounding. Gokul Das is at present the best dhaak player and has accompanied Ustad Zakir Hussain on a number of trips to the U.S.

With his brother Prabhat Das (dhol player), youngest son Nepal on the kasi -a brass plate struck in rhythm with a rod, keeping the time - and fellow players, Gokul entertained with an assortment of tala-patterns in a striking khandajati, enjoyed especially by the trained ear.

The ceremonial lighting of the lamp was by Abul Kher of Bengal Foundation Dhaka, Bangladesh. He was followed by Pt. Ajoy Chakravarty and SRA director, Mr. Ravi Mathur, who inaugurated the evening’s show promising a movement to popularise Hindustani classical music in India and Bangladesh through festivals such as the four-day one to be held between November 29 to December 2 at the Army Stadium, Dhaka, and the one in February, 2013, in Kolkata, claimed by Kher to be the largest in Asia.

Known for her sensitive abhinaya, Aruna Mohanty is one of the most dynamic Odissi dancers. Her analytical and dialectical presentation of ‘Shakti’ as the woman power was through three pieces, Chandi, Radha and Sita. It was not Aruna’s choreographic novelty or delightful performance that captivated the audience. It was the power of the dance form, the execution of the sophisticated bhangis, delightful bhramaris, hastas and padabhedas married to the well-researched sahitya and the captivating abhinaya that appealed, while revealing her intellect and virtuosity.

Powerful portrayal

Shakti as Durga or Chandi, was powerfully portrayed embracing Devi Shukta, the choreography combining Malesree, a folk style of Western Odisha, with the famous ‘Ayi Giri Nandini’ into a memorable composition. The ultimate significance of annihilation of evil was wonderfully communicated by a stunning performance.

As Radha, Aruna presented the ultimate bliss of love with the Ashtapadi, ‘Harirabhisari Bahati Madhu Pabaney’ leading to ‘Madhave Ma Kuru Manani Manamaye’ weaving ‘Dasavatar’ into a rare composition with the impressive ‘Sajal Nalinadala Shital Shayaney,’ establishing once again that she is a distinguished dancer of high calibre.

With great poise and versatility, Aruna as Sita depicted the tolerant and dignified woman protesting domination and hierarchy and with ‘Bhumishukta’ goes back to the Mother’s womb - the Earth. ‘Mu Janaknandini, Matir Kanya,’ was a poignant yet firm declaration through the refined subtlety of facial expressions and graceful movements. Her perfect friezes and live music, made for an unforgettable performance. The three items were in raga and tala Malika with vocal support by Rupak Kumar Panda, mardala by Bijaya Kumar Barik, violin by Suramani Ramesh Chandra Das and flute by Soumya Ranjan Joshi. The music was composed by Bijaya Kumar Jena.

It is always a privilege to hear the acclaimed Girija Devi, a faculty member of the SRA and one of the last masters of the Purab Ang gayaki, whose singing and vocal quality have not been dulled with age. In keeping with the spirit of Durga Puja, she began with a khayal, ‘Durgay Jagatmatey Devi Daya Karo’ in raag Durga, delighting the listeners with sparkling taans as the phrases of the raga developed. Her magnificent singing and voice control in the gradual rise, note by note of the musical pattern in ‘Gori Teri Nain Kajar Bin Karey,’ a lovely Thumri number in raag Piloo, had the classicism of music and the tenderness of the lyrics.

A rare treat, which the singer presented for the first time at a concert in her long illustrious career, was a bhajan with an earthy flavour, ‘Bhawan Kaha Maiya Bhawana Kaha Chandrabadana Mrigalochani Maiya Bhawana Kaha,’ sung by the innocent village women on the advent of Navaratri asking Durga Mata where she comes from and where she lives.

The mesmerising recital that was supported by Sanjay Adhikari on the tabla, Rupasree Bhattacharya (harmonium), Sarwar Hussain (sarangi), Sucheta Ganguly and Aparajitalahiri (tanpura and vocals). A tabla solo by the talented SRA scholar, Yashwant Vaishnav, accompanied by the faculty member Allarakha Kalawant on the sarangi was enjoyable.