Dance

A colourful katha

Sonal Mansingh. Photo: R. Ragu  

Celebrated Odissi dancer, research-scholar, guru, are a few of the many labels one can use to describe Sonal Mansingh. She was first a Bharatanatyam dancer, having learnt under gurus Prof. U.S. Krishna Rao and Chandrabhaga Devi, Mylapore Gowriammal and others, before she took to Odissi under Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra.

Odissi was being re-constructed into a classical art form then, so Sonal was witness to the renaissance narrative. Later, she, along with eminent Oriya musicologist Jiwan Pani, revived Jayadeva’s original music for the Gita Govinda and added other old compositions to the Odissi repertoire.

Sonal is also a gifted communicator and a natural storyteller with a formidable background in languages, mythology and music. In the last few years, she has re-invented herself to present ‘Naatya Katha,’ a solo dance-theatre that combines story-telling, mime and music.

Her act is not set in stone — she is driven by her audience and seems to do it differently every time. In this instance, she kept the spotlight on Krishna leelas, interspersing it with her own Hindi couplets, Sanskrit verses from ‘Sri Krishna Karnamrutham’ (Leela Sukha), Hindi poetry by Surdas and Gujarati compositions by Narsinh Mehta. While it was entertaining at a macro level, there was a subtle sub-text of devotion running through that made ‘Krishna’ both enthralling and stirring at once.

Brajbhoomi comes alive with the news of the birth of a beautiful boy to Yashoda and Nanda. People throng their home in Gokul to catch a glimpse of the baby. As a toddler, he loves fresh butter and thinks nothing of stealing it from others. Caught one day with his hand in the pot by a gopi, Krishna comes up with an ingenuous explanation of looking for a calf in it, in ‘Kastvam baalaha...’ (Leela Sukha).

The imagery of the charming innocence carried into ‘Maiya mohe dau...’ (Surdas), when Krishna complains to his mother that his older brother is questioning his birth as the dark-complexioned Krishna cannot have been born to their fair-skinned parents. Krishna as the mischievous, brave boy challenging and fighting the poisonous serpent-king Kaliya, taken from Narsinh Mehta’s narratives, was delineated with humour and warmth including the dramatic ‘Tandava gati’ kavuthuvam finale when Krishna dances on Kaliya’s head.

An older, crafty Krishna seeks Radha and asks for her identity, Radha, not to be outdone, taunts him with a tongue-in-cheek monologue written by Sonal, ‘Nand gaon ka gwala: The cowherd from the village of Nand / Soorat se jo kaala: Who is very dark / Kare doodh makhan ki chori: Who steals milk and butter / Phuslave hai Brij ki gori: Who entices women of Brij/… Kya tum woh toh nahi: By chance is that you?’

The ‘Naatya Katha’ suddenly shifted gears from a delightful musical into an intense experience in the Krishna-Sudama episode. Pathos ruled in the telling of Sudama’s humility and devotion. He meets his childhood friend Krishna and goes back having forgotten to ask for any boons. But when he returns home, he finds that wealth has preceded him. He does not understand what happened, when his wife explains to him that, ‘Mahima Yeh Yadunaath ki: this is the greatness of Yadunaath/ Suno Pranapriya Naath: please listen dearest husband/ Amar Mitrataa Roop Hai Swayam Dwarakanaath: he is the very personification of eternal friendship//’

The katha, story, went beyond the kathakaar, the storyteller; Sonal’s absolute mastery over music, poetry and philosophy brought Krishna alive in glorious technicolour. She was accompanied by renowned artists: Bankim Sethi (vocal), Abrar Husain (sarod), Prakash Kumar Rout (flute), Pradeepta Kumar Mohara (pakhawaj) and Suvransu Sekhar Parida (light, sound).

The performance was part of Remembering Rukmini Devi Festival.

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Printable version | Apr 29, 2021 11:09:06 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/dance/sonal-mansingh-performed-at-kalakshetra-for-the-remembering-rukmini-devi-festival/article8309319.ece

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