Acclaimed Kathak exponent Pandita Uma Dogra gave a riveting performance

One almost missed watching Pandita Uma Dogra. The acclaimed Kathak exponent gave an un-ticketed dance recital in a cosy auditorium, tucked away in the heart of the city. Those who made it through word of mouth were perhaps also treated to their first real-life introduction to this classical dance form.

Upon returning from the concert, I found myself frantically reading up on Kathak on Wikipedia (a bit of an anti-climax for those who swear by authenticity). But, given the lack of exposure to the ancient arts in general, one is at least grateful for this initial nudge. Uma Dogra’s recital was a passionate effort to raise precisely this kind of awareness about the arts.

“It is a crying shame that ancient Indian culture receives such little patronage among its people. We need to endorse these art forms a whole lot more,” she declared at the start of her recital. She went on to applaud Mridula Rai, the proprietor of Shree Natya Niketan, a dance academy in the city, for arranging the event. Deservedly so, for the dance school arranged the evening with no external sponsorship.

Lecture demonstrations

The students of the school have also been initiated to the world of Kathak, Odissi and Mohaniattam by prominent teachers in the field. These students are being given a detailed introduction to these art forms through workshops conducted by artistes like Uma Dogra. And, the workshops will lead to Yatra, a multi- cultural programme, in the month of June.

It was clear that Pandita Dogra is more than just a fine Kathak exponent and teacher. This, right from her opening act with her invocation to Lord Ganesha. Ganesh Vandana was based on Rag Bhageshwari with Ms. Dogra seeking the blessings of the Elephant Lord. This, as she paid homage to his wisdom, and celebrated his rotund stomach, fan-like ears and long trunk.

And, with her Pure Shuddh Nritt, Dogra went on to reveal the different aspects of Kathak. From Uthan to Thaat, and Tatkar to Thihais, the audience remained just as captivated with the visual thrill of a sequence of chakkars, as with the lecture-demonstration on the dance form.

Depicting stories

“The word ‘Kathak’ has been derived from ‘Katha’, meaning story-telling,” said the danseuse. With her strong communication skills with the audience, the evening was a riveting ‘Katha’ on Kathak!

We soon found ourselves immersed in her eloquent narration of Dagar Beech Kaise, incorporated from the poetry of Dr. Dharamveer Bharathi. Through this Abhinaya piece, Ms. Dogra expressively and gracefully celebrated the profound love shared between Radha and Krishna. And, she ended her recital the best way possible. Catching two of her proficient students at the workshop entirely by surprise, she called them up on stage to join her in her next Thumri. Shri Nidhi and Shruthi,, were on stage with Ms. Dogra in no time at all.

Her young apprentices kept up with her till the very end of Baat Chalat Nai Chunri Rang Dari. And as the crowd rose to its feet, we were perhaps united by one central thought. That with the Guru sharing the same space as her Shisyas, there could be no better encouragement than this to keep the art alive.