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A sacred ritual

Manjari Sinha |

In a special edition of their regular Baithak, titled Kathak Ke Vilakshan Guru, dedicated to Guru Munna Lal Shukla, the Saraswati Music College invited Pt Birju Maharaj to speak on "Ganda-Bandhan", an important ritual in the transmission of arts through the Guru-Shishya Parampara. Ganda-Bandhan literally means the tying of the sacred thread. This pious ritual that creates a sacred bond between Guru and Shishya has kept the sanctity of our age-old tradition of Guru-Shishya Parampara. Saswati Sen and Guru Munna Lal Shukla, the senior disciple of Pt Birju Maharaj, were present to interact with him. 

The Baithak opened with Guru Vandana, composed and soulfully sung by Hema Azeez in Raga Bhinna-Shadja followed by Sargam neatly performed by the young students of Ruchi Saini, the director and Kathak Guru at the Saraswati Music College. The tiny tots stole the hearts of Rasikas by taking turns to express their own meaning of "Udaan" and then performing it with simple Hastaka and Aamad, Tode, Tukde, Kavitta et al. Pt Birju Maharaj blessed the budding Kathak dancers and the Baithak proceeded towards the theme of the day. Saswati Sen first narrated her own experience of the transformation she felt as a disciple after Ganda-Bandhan and then requested Pt Birju Maharaj to deliberate upon the subject. 

Maharaj started with his childhood memories, like how as a toddler he would stealthily watch the students of his father Pt Achhan Maharaj doing Riyaaz in the "Talim-Khana", or the teaching room, and would imitate them. How he performed at the age of six in the Durbar of Nawab Rampur, who awarded him a monthly "Vajeefa" (scholarship) of Rs 11; and other anecdotes, just to establish the fact that a Guru keeps a watch on a probable disciple for a long time before he decides to accept him as a disciple and ties "Ganda", the sacred thread, like his own father and Guru did. Pt Birju Maharaj is also very earnest about Ganda-Bandhan and has only eight "Gandabandh Shagird" till date. 

He further explained that apart from flowers and incense, the pooja plate for the Ganda-Bandhan ceremony also has black gram and jaggery as Prasad. The raw gram symbolises the hard work this commitment demands and the jaggery, its sweet reward. After his profound discourse on Ganda-Bandhan, deliberating upon what kind of dedicated commitment the "sacred thread" stands for, he brought the Kathak Baithak to its closure, regaling the audience with some of his own poems and a couple of Bindadin compositions.  The  National Festival of Creative Arts, organised annually by Impresario India, presented its 18th edition this week at the Stein Auditorium of India Habitat Centre. The three-day festival opened with Chandra Upasana, a group choreography in Odissi by Guru Durga Charan Ranbir and his  disciples. In Hindu mythology, the Nakshastras are personified as daughters of Daksha, married to Chandra, the moon god. The choreography was conceived on concepts of Yoga and dance, including the Chandra-Namaskar. 

This was followed by Spark and Dark, a hand shadowgraphy by Amar Sen, founder of the Academy of Magical Arts and Research, Kolkata. This was a rare art form, where shadow images were created with bare hands. Banshi, next evening, was a blend of Bharatanatyam and Kathakali dance forms, choreographed by Rajdeep Banerjee from Parampara Dance Institute, which was based on Tagore songs with Carnatic music to express the connection between the divine and the devotee. This was followed by Kalaripayattu, an ancient form of martial art from Kerala by the Nithya Chaithanya Kalari. 

The concluding day showcased Natua Nach, the rare traditional folk form of West Bengal, directed by Biren Kalindi. It was not so much of a dance but an impressive display of vigorous, physical feats to the beating of drums. The primarily tribal form Natua is performed by spirited men with chalk-painted bodies. The powerful performance of Natua this evening was a dynamic mix of martial art and acrobatic movements, accompanied by the pulsating rhythm of the Dhamsa, a Kettle Drum and the Dhak. The energised audience were given a hilarious treat with humorous poems and satire by Hasya Kavi Surendra Sharma, who took the Creative Arts Festival to a perfect finale.