Art is about looking inwards

Guru Jitendra Maharaj of the Benaras gharana of Kathak was in Bangalore recently to receive the Attendance Lifetime Contribution Award from Ashish Mohan Khokar’s “Attendance” -- the year book of Indian Dance, Annual Awards 2019 hosted in collaboration with Nadam, Bangalore.

Guru Jitendra Maharaj is an artiste extraordinaire, hailing from the Banaras Gharana and a disciple of Guru Kishan Kumar Maharaj. He is an exemplary guru, choreographer, percussionist and propagator of Kathak in the temple tradition.

Art is about looking inwards

Guruji, what is the speciality of Banaras Gharana?

Let me first clarify that the concept of Gharana is a recent one. While introducing the artists to Maharajas, the patron would say he is from Jaipur, Lucknow etc and that’s how it began. For a style to be identified as a Gharana there has to be an iconic guru and a few extremely skilled students who have made their mark in the field. But today it is very hazy. Anyway, the characteristic feature of Banaras gharana is the Shuddha Nritta Bol and its chalan. Our style is still untouched and stays true to the pakhawaj bols unlike many other styles that have taken to the tabla bols completely. We have stuck on to the Chand Pravritti and study laykari very deeply. Especially in the dhrut laya. We work intricately in understanding doubling of speeds and different interpretative ways of arriving at the sam (culminating or arriving point of the rhythm meter). Our style also has an intensive association with Kavit (dance-based poetry) and layakari in it. We have to study the meaning, alphabetical rhymes, meter and the structure of it deeply to indulge in it artistically. It is a huge world in itself.

You have worked extensively on temple style of dance, could you elaborate on that?

I started learning dance at a very young age and ever since I have delved very deeply in contemplation. I always had questions about spirituality, meaning and purpose of dance. Researching on the dance form in the pre-Mughal period brought me to the Kathakaar tradition. I have arrived at an understanding of how the Kathas have influenced the dance form and how dance could have been used to convey the Katha in temple festivities since olden days. Understanding the evolving of the mudras, the texts and the spiritual power dance had, opened new vistas in my artistic journey. I could observe that like mortals exhale prana through the sensory organs, the brahman manifests prana through nature and hence the rain, thunder, breeze etc become so important to be observed in dance.

Art is about looking inwards

What are the observations you have about the youngsters who come to learn from you?

The current generation is very capable, but they need security and financial independence to learn dance. The government must have clear policies of how to make Indian traditional art compulsory along with primary education so that a lot of dancers find employment. Even for children by the time they reach middle school it will be clear if they love this art, if not they will be left with a deep understanding of this art form. The state must provide extended fellowships and scholarships to students who want to take dance full-time. If there is no financial dependency, Art will flourish. When a guru has enough of substance and depth, students are naturally drawn towards him. If taught with passion, youngsters will lap it up with interest. I must admit that when some of my students perform with perfection and clarity, I lose myself in their art. It is a blissful fulfilling moment.

What are the key things youngsters must focus on?

They must stop guru hopping. How much ever they try they cannot erase one style and rub the other onto themselves. It will show. When they perform a chakkar for example, if they adapt to one style, invariably at some point, the older style shows and their performance loses its identity. If they stay under one guru and develop their individual style, then their art will grow.

Every student must develop the habit of listening, watching and examining what they have learnt. They must try to analyse why a piece was choreographed in a certain way instead of trying to outsmart their gurus and experimenting with it right away. They must focus on controlling their bodies, mudras and bringing in poise. Doing a brisk fifty rounds of chakkars is not kathak! Tilting their heads, waving their hair and playing to the gallery, takes away the depth and grace from this art! Beauty is senseless without grace and melody in it. Even while doing the footwork, youngsters must realise that it is not about making noise. It must be musical and logically viable. One must study the role of the forefoot, the middle foot and the heels in creating different textures to the footwork. Lot of vilambit movements need to be presented too.

Art is about looking inwards

If students just crave the stage, they will remain mediocre. Riyaz and Sadhana must be so rigorous that audiences are drawn to the performances rather than forced to disappear. When simple movements are repeated a thousand times in rehearsal, they stop being mediocre and elevate to gracefulness. Along with these technicalities, if a student studies a lot, observes and searches for betterment of their art, they will eventually rise above the rest and carve a niche for themselves. I have seen my students Nalini Kamalini dance to a full auditoriums even at late night / odd hour shows too! Just focus on the art and stop being greedy about money and opportunities. Its okay to be poor for while, the pain induces better art and hunger for excellence in an artist. Fame and richness always follows excellence.

What is the practice routine you inculcate in your students?

When I was a student My gurus house was a meeting place for lot artists. There was a lot of interactions and art was like madness that spread across this community. Once a famous Mand singer called Mohan Lalji, asked my guruji to tell me how he practised and that is when I found out that my guru used to practise footwork on wet sand. I was totally amazed by that idea and I too did it like a tapas for many years. Though it initially hurt, eventually it gave me a lot of strength and stability. My guru would teach me anywhere and everywhere he felt like. He would suddenly ask me to repeat something he performed in a previous performance just from memory. It taught me to stay alert and be observant all the time.

I try to inculcate whatever is feasible with my students now, in this time and age. From my senior most students like Nalini and Kamalini to my youngest students have to put up with my outbursts of passion for teaching something new. They finish school or work and arrive to class and there have been instances where I have made them wear the ghunghuroo at 9 p.m. in the night and the Riyaz has gone on till 4 a.m.. After a certain time I don’t even have to try. The madness engulfs them and they themselves indulge in practising all the time. This is why my students can easily traverse through any taal and quickly adapt to new choreographies. I do not compromise on standards at any cost and I have been blessed with the wealth of some amazing students.

From an age bygone Jitendra Maharaj brings values and memories from his early years, a rarity in the field of culture these days

From an age bygone Jitendra Maharaj brings values and memories from his early years, a rarity in the field of culture these days  

Guruji, how do you get into a new choreography?

Every new work is a lot of investment. Financially, emotionally and artistically and every artist must bear with that expense if he wants to possess a good production in the end. In my most difficult times too, I have done everything I can to make things work and all of it has comeback multifold to me in the future. Its like a test one must pass. I first study the text, have my character arch, concept and visualisation very clear in my head. Once the structure is concrete, I sit with a music director and tablaji to develop the musical canvas. I extract all musical possibilities and exhaustively develop a melodic and rhythmic structure on which I can work. Once this is ready, then the floor work starts. I work on the space, coordinates and the movements and it is fine tuned infinite number of times before it sees the light of the day. I emphasise on multiple rehearsals even if it is a small presentation of five minutes. I have never and will never allow my students to take any audience lightly!

Congratulations on the award Maharaj!

South India has never failed to impress me. I love how culturally deep rooted culturally people in the south are. They seemed to be untouched by the dilution of the art as I see in the north. It is depressing to see the rolling on the floor and foolish dancing that happens on reality shows these days in the name of Kathak. There is also hope. I see some very talented youngsters practising and learning art with great commitment. I feel very humbled and grateful to have been Invited all the way here to be presented with this recognition for my work. I am just addicted to this art and it is a way of life for me. I never did it for any recognition, but I bow down to every recognition with great humility. It as an offering to my gurus, my parampara and Kathak itself! I just want good art to thrive and artistes to flourish. That is my prayer and that is my purpose too.

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Printable version | Jun 17, 2021 2:01:17 AM |

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