Theatre

Of worship and combat

22dfr Biseshwar   | Photo Credit: 22dfr Biseshwar

Fighting has always been ostensibly governed by codes of conduct, be these the ethics of war or the rules of settling conflicts between individuals. This holds true even in today’s violent times. The difference though, seems to be that in the old days, intricate martial skills, no matter how lethal their potential, were developed as arts of body, mind and soul, while today the only motive seems to be to attack, harm and instil fear.

No wonder Gurumayum Biseshwor Sharma, a practitioner of Thang-Ta, the Manipuri martial art of sword and shield, says the discipline is treated both as a form of art and as a combat skill.

“These days we don’t need to fight. You can shoot a person with a gun,” he comments. “So we preserve it as an art. And we learn it for self-defence, not fighting.”

The various martial arts of India have over the years gained popularity not merely as skills in themselves but are also increasingly finding a place in theatre. Biseshwor’s father and guru, the renowned Manipur-based Gurumayum Gourakishor Sharma, has been visiting the Capital regularly since 1979, says Biseshwor, to instruct the students of the National School of Drama in this difficult discipline.

Gourakishor Sharma is a recipient of the Padma Shri and was named as one of the Sangeet Natak Akademi’s Tagore Ratnas in 2012.

These days Biseshwor takes the classes, and he is currently in New Delhi. Having worked with a batch of theatre students for a semester as part of their regular training during February, March and April, he is now busy setting up a fencing scene in a production they are working on. This is not traditional Thang-Ta, he admits freely, but tailored to the needs of the show. Adaptability is a quality this patient young man seems to have in abundance.

Besides his father, Biseshwor has learnt under other masters such as G. Sana Sharma, Padma Shri recipient N. Khelchandra Singh, K. Biren Singh and K. Sanathoiba Sharma.

The 1983-born Biseshwor has garnered accolades for himself too. He received the Manipur State Kala Akademi’s Young Talent Award for Thang-ta in 2011 when he was only 28.

When not conducting workshops or performing, Biseshwor teaches at the Huyen Lallong Manipur Thang-ta Cultural Association in Imphal East, the institute founded by his father in 1958. It caters to a large number of students, offering a seven-year course with hostel facilities.

The training includes participating in the rituals associated with Thang-Ta. “Before the performance we offer worship,” he explains. “First we bow to Guruji, then to God.” Traditionally, homage was paid to the gods Pakhangben and Laimingthou. Today, he says, “We bow to Krishna, but it can be any god you believe in.”

There is “no age limit” to train in the art, he maintains, though the starting age among children is usually between five and seven years. Both girls and boys take the course, and the tradition has always seen this gender equality, he says.

To sandwich seven years of learning – six days a week – into a three-month workshop for actors seems a tall order, but the young guru merely smiles.

The flexibility and zeal of drama students seem to appeal to him.

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Printable version | Dec 2, 2020 12:30:17 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/theatre/biseshwor-sharma-is-a-thangta-exponent/article7232002.ece

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