A Kathak guru who did not belong to a gharana

May 27, 2022 12:00 am | Updated 05:31 am IST

A recently released biography of Pt. Mohanrao Kallianpurkar highlights his efforts to develop an institutional pedagogy for the dance form

A collaborative work by Shama Bhate, Arshiya Sethi and Shilpa Bhide, Non-Gharanedaar Pt Mohanrao Kallianpurkar: The Paviour of Kathak ( Sterling Publishers) is a compelling biography that balances a lucid and engaging tale with in-depth research of the Kathak guru’s oeuvre. The biography records his contribution to the field, reclaiming the story from the shadows and marking it as a historic trajectory that witnessed the emergence of one of the pioneering non-gharanedaar Kathak artistes.

While the icons of various gharanas have been insiders to rich oral and anecdotal legacies, as an artiste who did not belong to a direct bloodline of Kathak performers and gurus, Mohanrao did not have that advantage. The book addresses this gap by chronicling his life, contribution to Kathak, and his perspectives on Kathak training. The book traces his life from his birth in south India, to his keen interest in a classical dance form of north India, his rigorous training with gurus and his remarkable contribution to the form.

The prologue opens with an absorbing anecdote from 1962, the year when the maestro received the Sangeet Natak Akademi award, which incidentally got exchanged with the award of another recipient — Pt. Ravi Shankar. Until then, only three Kathak artistes had received the award and all belonged to either the Jaipur or Lucknow gharanas. Mohanrao became the first non-gharanedaar Kathak artiste to receive the award.

Unique perspective

The maestro had trained with gurus of both the gharanas — Pt. Sundar Prasad of the Jaipur gharana, Pt. Bindadin Maharaj and Pt. Shambhu Maharaj of the Lucknow gharana. He learnt the intricacies of both the gharanas, enabling him to form a unique perspective on Kathak across gharanas.

The book also includes his writings about his gurus and insights into nritta techniques along with the syllabus he created for Marris College of Music, Lucknow. This was the first syllabus of Kathak developed for a university and became the blueprint for Kathak syllabi across several universities including the M.S. University, Vadodara, Banaras Hindu University, Khairagarh University, and Hyderabad University.

Developing institutional pedagogy remains one of his prime contributions to Kathak training. There are many other aspects of his art that were unparalleled, but remained unacknowledged. His life traversed the transition from colonial to post-colonial times and while he was grounded in traditional knowledge, he was open-minded and receptive. This set him apart in many ways. He was among the first classical dance gurus to work with a modern dancer as he helped Uttara Asha Coorlawala in her modern dance choreography ‘Ushas Sukta’. His modernity also reflected in the way he lived his life — in a two-career long-distance marriage, with a wife who was a doctor by profession.

He was a riveting performer and devoted to exploring and interpreting the aesthetic of the form in a variety of ways, making him a true paviour. An excerpt from the chapter ‘From Mohan to Mohanrao’ provides a vivid description of his artistic magnificence.

“Anybody who saw him dance was impressed by his tall form and calm, yet expressive eyes. His flowing and expansive movements seemed as if he was folding all the space around him into his embrace. He energised the stage with his long strides. His years of training in music rendered a rare musicality to his tatkar. His expressive eyes complemented every syllable of his padhant, communicating the aesthetic as well as the literary sense of his compositions to the listener. He seamlessly blended the virtuosity of Jaipur gharana with the flowing, almost lyrical movements of the Lucknow gharana, taking his performance to a level of classicism unseen in a non-gharanedaar dancer.”

The book includes the family tree of the artiste, a handwritten note of his meditations on life and several archival photographs. This timely biography adds a significant dimension to Kathak history with a unique collaborative authorship by Kathak dancers and scholars. Riveting storytelling and insightful research makes it a compelling read for the layperson, dance student as well as artistes and academicians.

The author is a Delhi based arts researcher and writer.

His life traversed the transition from colonial to post-colonial times and while he was grounded in traditional knowledge, he was open-minded and receptive. This set him apart in many ways

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