During the pandemic, when live performances came to a halt, Mahagami, the Aurangabad-based dance gurukul, reimagined ways to keep learners and artistes engaged. Along with organising online webinars and workshops, it also created new choreographies. Some of these works were staged at the 13th Sharngadeva Samaroh held recently at the gurukul.
The festival, which opened with the calming Buddhist mandala chanting by the monks of Drepung Gomang Monastery in Karnataka, and concluded with a soulful dhrupad concert by Pt. Nirmalya De, who presented a detailed alap, and the dhruvapada, ‘Pratham sur saadhe…’ in Rageshri as a sadra set to Jhaptaal and a Drut Sool taal bandish in Adana. He was accompanied on the pakhawaj by Pratap Awad and on the tanpura by Veronic.
The Odissi dance presentation ‘Arpan’ by the Mahagami ensemble had four segments. The music and choreography was by the versatile Parwati Dutta, the founder of the gurukul. It began with Shiva-stuti, ‘Veda-Sara-Shivastotram’ composed in raag Vibhas, along with ‘Amurta Akshara Thayee’ comprising abstract syllables and ‘Shabda-Swara-Paat’, innovatively incorporating the Sanskrit shloka recited in the metre of Misra Jati Chhand of seven beats.
The second piece was ‘Mudita’ based on Bauddha Darshan (Buddhist philosophy). In the Buddhist tradition, according to the second century Mahaprajna-Paramita Shastra, mudita refers to one of the four immeasurables (apramana) — maitri (loving-kindness), karuna (compassion), mudita (joy), and upeksha (equanimity).
Mudita is traditionally regarded as the most difficult to cultivate because it celebrates happiness and achievement in others even when we are facing tragedy ourselves.
The concept of mudita became crystal clear when Parwati shared her own experience and thoughts about the production. “The sudden pause in our lives during the lockdown forced us to adapt to new challenges. The vibrant artistic space suddenly became devoid of the collective resonance of ghunghroos and laughter. While initially, the stillness brought some positive creative stimulation, the frequent sirens of ambulances from the nearby hospital sent chills up my spine. Life seemed to move towards uncertainty. The idea of joy looked like a distant notion. It led me to re-look at mudita,” says Parwati.
The piece was based on raag Madhamad Sarang, which flourished like a pallavi in the emotions of selflessness and compassion.
The third piece ‘Pratibimba’ was based on the ‘darpani’ pose, which is one of the most important bhangis of Odissi. This sculpturesque posture can be seen on temple walls with the Shalabhanjikas holding the mirror. The choreographer reflects on what the woman is looking at. Is she simply admiring her own beauty or examining the connect between the physical and inner beauty.
The pallavi in raag Jog set to Ashta taal explored the different connotations of the darpan (mirror) and the pratibimb (reflection).
The concluding piece was based on ‘Om mani padme hum’, the six-syllabled Sanskrit mantra, particularly associated with Avalokiteshwara (the Bodhisattva of compassion), and a primary mantra of Tibetan Buddhism, where the lotus signifies purity and spiritual fruition and thus, awakening. Mani Padme is preceded by ‘Om’ and followed with ‘Hum’, both syllables widely known as divine sounds.
The soundscape for this piece was designed aesthetically by Parwati.
It opened with the lingering resonance of the Tibetan metal bowl, blending the deep low-pitch chanting of the monks and the kharaj-sadhana in the dhrupad tradition. A low-tone mardal and ukkuta (mnemonic) recitation provided a musical base for the dance, which was choreographed by Parwati, and in which she maintained the sacred geometry of Odissi, while observing minimalism in movements.
The dancers Vaibhavi Pathak, Aishwarya, Bhargavi, and Sheetal Bhamre did their guru proud with their performance. “The movement vocabulary is inspired by the Thangka and Ajanta paintings,” said Parwati.
The Delhi-based author writes on classical arts.