The Sangeet Natak Akademi (Delhi) organised a five-day exhibition and documentation of Aahaarya Abhinaya (make-up traditions, costuming and turbans of Indian traditions) such as Theiyyam, Koodiyattam, Kathakali, Yakshagana, Ankiya Nat, Mutiyettu, Chhau, Bahuroopi and many more. This was its first-of-a-kind event and the set-up simply did not have display platforms but even encouraged pupils from various fields to interact with rtistes from diverse traditional performance fields. It even documented the step-by-step make-up systems and the wisdom behind the traditions.

Kolkata-based Natyashastra scholar Piyal Bhattacharya and a clutch of disciples from his Maarga Naatya team (Akash Mallick, Pinki Mondal, Sayak Mitra, Subhendu Ghosh, Chhandak Jana and Deep Ghosh) were invited for the display and documentation of Aaharya Abhinaya of the Natyashastra, as prescribed by Bharatamuni (200 BC). Bhattacharya showed how make-up used would be done during the Natyashastra era, with the help of natural ingredients like herbs, essential oils, natural pigments and preparing blends for individual tones for specific characters. His team also displayed and explained the craft of making ornaments and costumes of Maarga Naatya, as that also has been reconstructed following the prescription of Natyashastra.

On 28 July at the Akademi&’s Meghdoot II auditorium, the focus was on Subhendu as a Gandharva character whose complexion, according to Bharatmuni, was like the Padmaraaga mani (natural ruby), draped in clothes of safflower colour and sporting a veena in hand. Subhendu&’s face, therefore, was brought to the tone of a Gandharva with the application of haritaal (arsenic sulphide) along with daru harida (dried turmeric roots) and shuddha sinduram (purified vermilion), after applying a natural foundation prepared from shankha churna (conch-shell dust), mukta bhasma (pearl ash), hingulam (cinnabar powder), etc. Draped in a dhoti and a turban, a trained player of the Vipanchi veena, he carried the ancient nine-string harp. The day climaxed with a ramp walk where all the participants were to perform in random styles to ditto music. On mutiyettu music (recorded), Subhendu danced in the style of Maarga Naatya while playing the Vipanchi veena.

The second day saw the Maarga Naatya team placed amongst the spectators, breaching the conventional threshold of stage-audience demarcation with the transformation of Chhandak Jana into a Vidyaadhara (in shuddha vesha or white clothes, adorned in prescribed ornaments). Accomplished fashion designer and Maarga Natya trainee Chhandak wore a costume he made himself. As a part of developing closeness with the traditions of heritage Indian performance, SNA had a selfie corner where many clicked themselves with Vidyaadhara (Chhandak) and other traditional performers.

A small performance from Bhaanaka, a reconstruction of Bharata&’s naatya tradition, was staged on 30 July and for this Sutradhaara (Sayak) wore a costume of blue because Bharatmuni&’s Sutradhaara himself is the Infinite (Akula) Shiva, who is omniscient. Technically, Akula should be colourless or black. But in the traditional Indian system, “black” is depicted with the darkest blue to suggest that it is not dead. This vision has been suggested through phrases like “Nilastamashchalati” and this precisely is why Sutradhaara of Bhaanaka wears ornaments with human-skulls signifying the unaltered, harsh truth, and uncoloured tattva (reality). Conversely, the Nata (Akash) is the blissful daintiness (vilaas), emerging from the pulsation that reverberates from Akula Shiva, in this case Sutradhaara. That is why he wears ornaments with gold-leaf work. All these concepts were clarified by Deep on stage and in-camera for documentation.

This fourth day showcased the make-up session of another Sutradhaara (Sayak) with yoddhaa or warrior (Akash) and Nati (Pinki). The main attraction was, of course, the Nati. Her make-up foundation consisted of powdered cinnamon, arrowroot, nutmeg, coco and almond oil; her blush-on was based on powdered cinnamon, conch-shells, sandalwood, harital (arsenic sulphide), hingulam (cinnabar), roses and original gold-dust. Her lips were coloured with a special solution of lac, javitri (mace), camphor and khadira powder. Her feet were coloured with natural alaktaka prepared from beetroot juice and lac. The Patralekhaa and Lalaata tilaka she drew were finished with original 24-carret gold foil.

The Sutradhaara (Sayak) wore a shuddha vastra and entered the stage under a veil. Whereafter he started chanting the “Maheshvara sutra” from Paanini Vyaakarana. The yoddhaa (Akash) performed a short piece of mandala along with that chanting to demonstrate combat sequences. A short nritta was offered by the Nati (Pinki) with the Naishaadi Kapaalgeeti sung by Sutradhaara while playing the Ekatantri veena.

Later, an interactive session was organised for several school students, theatre practitioners and graduates from the National School of Drama at Meghdoot III auditorium. Deep explained the repertoire and system of Natyashastra&’s performance, Akash presented a short Nritta piece, “Madhyam-aasaarita”, to demonstrate the nature of Purva-ranga and how this nritta is used as the language for Naatya of Bharatamuni&’s tradition.

Subhendu played the Vipanchi veena and explained how the musical system of Bharata was dependent on that veena and how the primal sound from it was elucidated in the nine strings of the Vipanchi veena (since Vipanchi itself means expansion/vistaar).

On the final day, the traditional Aahaarya Abhinaya of the Indian system was made available for spectators, with a part of that the Maarga Naatya team engaged in transforming someone from the audience to try this complete process of natural make-up. Finally, with all the prescribed Naatyaabharana and Ekatantri veena in hand, one woman was transformed into Mirabai.

Bangla gaan

“Ei shotoker bangla gaan” turned out to be a unique programme organised by Aanandi, a forum that has been presenting Hindustani classical music concerts since 2000, led by Anjan Majumdar and some associates. The cozy environment of the Choudhury House was generously shared by Anirudhha Chowdhury on 23 July under the aegis of his organization, the founder of the Calcutta Performing Arts Foundation. 

It is a painful reality that new Bengali songs, which are continuously being created by extraordinary musicians, do not reach music lovers through the popular media any more. Moreover, the albums coming up from a singer or a composer go through great financial struggle due to the absolute lack of sponsors who are, rather, expected to choose albums based on excellence.

Evidently, the event was a challenge to address the current crisis faced by Bengali songs. Celeb singers and composers of contemporary Bengali melodies were invited to perform about four songs from their own published albums since 2000 till date, some of which saw supreme popularity during the golden FM days in the last decade.

The evening climaxed when Haimanti Shukla, the first lady of Bengali modern songs, performed after a grand felicitation. Bengalis have loved to hear her golden voice since the late 1970s. She popularised contemporary non-filmy songs all by herself among Bengalis living across the globe and mesmerised the audience with her hits from this century, wonderfully set to tune by Pandits Tejendra Narayan Majumdar and Rajeeb Chakraborty before concluding with two magical compositions by Pandit Ravi Shankar and Ustad Ali Akbar Khan from her album Geetobichitra.

Earlier, Shubhankar Bhaskar, a versatile singer inaugurated his part with a captivating melody “Aamar e byatha” — penned and composed by Anjan Majumdar — in his debut composer&’s album Aaloy Chhayay Boba Bangmoyotay. Bhashkar moved on to sing from his solo albums, which included “Bheja e Shrabon” and “Kemon kore lutiye achi” composed by Debashish Ganguly Tunai. Next was Tanika Bhattacharya. Listeners of the FM days will remember the wonderful “Bhalo nei Bhalobasa” from her debut album (composer, Tunai). Tanika had a discussion session with composer Biswarup Ghosh Dastidar while she sang one of his compositions, “Bristhi dhekeche math”. Her two other songs included “Tomake dilam” (composer, Srikanto Acharya). Her reply to the question regarding the possibility of performing a popular song of one singer by another vocalist was interesting and had very positive thinking. She emphasised that it would be experimental to perform a composer&’s song by various vocal artists, which, in turn, would actually spread that song to a greater extent.

Gautam Ghoshal, a terrific composer, singer and trainer of Bangla basic songs, enthralled listeners since his debut album Megh Pakhir Gaan. The evening reverberated with his performance and valuable comments on the current crisis of Bengal&’s music industry. He sang three of his own compositions but concluded with one of the recent compositions by Tunai originally recorded by Nachiketa Chakraborty. Probably this one corroborated Tanika&’s view on a song performed by various artists, albeit laced with their own originality.

Rageshri Das, a talented khayal singer, added a different flavour to the popular songs composed by several lyricists and composers along with a hit Shubhomita number. She concluded with “Kibhabe keno”, one of her unreleased songs created by Anjan Majumdar, who also accompanied her on the harmonium and is known to be a guru of Hindustani classical music.

Celeb singer Raghab Chattopadhyay came up on stage with his guitar and some very popular songs from various albums. Also groomed in classical music, his versatility added a different flavour to the programme. The entire show, which also involved pertinent discussions with the artist and relevant lyricist, composer and other musicians — was wonderfully coordinated.