A heady concoction

Blending Kathak and Sufism...Manjari Chaturvedi performing in New Delhi.

Blending Kathak and Sufism...Manjari Chaturvedi performing in New Delhi.  

THE INDIAN Council of Cultural Relations brought recently a week-long festival of `Traditions of Sufism' prevalent in the different parts of the world. There was Ibn Arbi music group from Morocco, Jabari music group from Iran, Solah Ibn Elbadia music group from Sudan, Baul singers from Bangladesh, Al-Tannaura music and dance group from Egypt along with the Sindhi Sufi lore by Langas and Mangarias of Rajasthan, qawwalis by Nasir Ahmed Warsi from Hyderabad, Jaki Ali and Jaki Ali from Ajmer Sharif and Sufi Kathak by Manjari Chaturvedi.

Manjari mesmerised the audience dancing to the Sufi compositions of Bulle Shah, Kabir and Hazrat Amir Khusrau rendered soulfully by the Langa Manganiar singers of Rajasthan and qawwals of Dargah Ajmer Sharif respectively. She thoughtfully improvised during the complex and highly emotive qawwali of Hazrat Amir Khusrao decorating herself as an `abhisarika going to meet her beloved' right from the initial aalap of `apani chabi banayke... '. Her enchanting stage presence enhanced by a tasteful dress inspired by the traditional Awadhi culture, her intense and sensitive `abhinaya' interspersed with the brilliant technique of Kathak with aamad tukara to the crisp footwork stole the show.

Manjari has blazed a trail by giving the age-old Kathak a new dimension of devotional, philosophical and rich textural hue by taking it out of its narrow confines to the boundless bliss of complete surrender to the glory and love of the Almighty, which is the essence of Sufism. The finesse in her Kathak and the impact of Sufi thought and music is a consequence of the cultural impact of Lucknow, where she has grown up and has learnt the Lucknow Gharana Kathak from Guru Arjun Misra. The detailing of `abhinaya' in her style is due to her association with Kalanidhi Narayan. She has so far given over a hundred performances of her Sufi Kathak at national and international festivals.

But there are also murmurs of scepticism overheard like `what is Sufi about her Kathak?'

Answering the query, she says, "a name is needed to identify anything, may be this is the reason why the media gave this name to my Kathak. Without distorting the basic elements of this classical dance form, I have rediscovered Kathak by incorporating the mystique of Sufism, the moving meditation of the whirling dervishes and thereby blending both the Hindu and Muslim divine traditions, which depict the separation and the union of Atma and Parmatma. I improvise on the devotional qawwali based on compositions of Sufi saints and also on the Punjabi, Sindhi folklore of Bulle Shah, Kabir's couplets sung by the Rajasthani folk artists. "The thought (of my dance) itself is Sufi because it is formless. We make a form and then break it because the form is not important. The kind of music I use for my Kathak falls into the category of folk. I have tried to put together the classical dance form like Kathak to express serious thoughts through the non-serious music. There was a time when Kathak itself was a folk form used to tell the mythological stories. I am using Kathak in the same way to express my inner most feelings. The only thing I do is to bring them to a classical framework. I sit together with them and compose in particular ragas."


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