Notes from the guru

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Dance Deepika Reddy is ecstatic with Pandit Birju Maharaj's appreciation during their dance tour.

Meeting a legend Pandit Birju Maharaj with Deepika Reddy.
Meeting a legend Pandit Birju Maharaj with Deepika Reddy.

T he greatest compliment an artiste gets is from the guru; all other encomiums pale into insignificance. This is what Deepika Reddy felt when she came in contact with Pandit Birju Maharaj. Reliving her experience with the Kathak maestro, she says, “It was like a windfall when Maharaj's prime disciple Saswathi Sen called up, inviting me to bring in my genre along with six others for a group choreography — Kalidas's Rithusamhara, sculpted by the maestro himself. I took it as a privilege and a challenge. I worked hard, putting in my best efforts with good music comprising selective ragas and banked on my own dancing abilities and that of my two students. I was given the rithu (season) shishira where the original Kalidas verses were highly erotic to say the least. I had to be subtle in my depiction through Kuchipudi.”

Deepika was overwhelmed when she had to present her choreography as a preliminary exercise in New Delhi in front of the Maharaj. “He watched me and my two pupils intently taking in every bit of detail as we danced the shishira rithu for him. He patted my back at the end of it and shook his head in appreciation. I heaved a sigh of relief. But the best was yet to come. I went delirious with delight when I came to know that that he was indeed happy and told his disciples that my symbolic representation of the content of Kalidas' shishira was wonderful. A living legend, a master dancer par excellence had actually lauded my performance. What else did I need? Then everything fell into place. We packed our bags and set off on a dance tour abroad.”

Six styles

How were the six different dance styles coordinated to form a cohesive whole? “While Kuchipudi represented shishir rithu, varsha rithu was depicted in the Kathak format, sharad through Mohiniattam, Manipuri for hemantha, Bharatanatyam for greeshma and Odissi for vasantha rithus. Every season had a prelude wherein all styles came on stage simultaneously. The individual styles stood out yet merged —such was his magic,” she briefed about the presentation.

Being in the company of this guru was in itself a learning experience, says Deepika about the 30-day tour. “There was not a single day when he would not cheer us up with some anecdote from his life. For an artiste of his stature, he is humility personified. There was never a dull moment. Once, he brought tears to our eyes narrating his experiences abroad when his English communicative skills were deficient. His versatility was amazing. He would sketch every day and can play every musical instrument under the sun. I learnt what a guru-sishya parampara actually comes to be with the maestro. He was our preceptor and protector. He would volunteer to click our pictures against scenic backdrops for us to carry home. He made each one of us feel like an extended Rithusamhara family. Ironically, we felt homesick coming back home! I am looking forward to the next month when this performance will be showcased within the country beginning with Allahabad. I will be working with him. He is class apart and no wonder he is the Maharaj,” she signs off.




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