Based on the novel by Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay, local folk tales and real historical events and characters. Autumn 2024.
Stuti’s Vidarsana celebrated their festival of classical dance and dance theatre at Gyan Manch recently. The august presence of Birju Maharaj as the chief guest lent a different direction to the festival. It started in the afternoon and continued till night.
The disciples of Sushmita Chatterjee took part in Ritusamhar from Kalidas’ earlier works. Immaculately dressed according to the colours of the season, to the accompaniment of appropriate music, the students, who are budding Kathak dancers, showed potential.
The celebrations that mark the seasons were imaginatively included in the choreographic work, as for example, the inclusion of Durga worship along with its associated activities like dhunuchi nach to describe autumn was rather meaningful.
The colours of spring season bringing joy are a vivid example of beautiful choreography. The eye catching techniques of Kathak in the form of pirouettes, tukras,tehais and tatkars were used to advantage in Ritusamhar. The highlight of the festival was the presentation of ashta nayikas or eight classical heroines. The concept of these eight kind of heroines found in the Natya Shastra— the earliest extant treatise on Indian aesthetics— are based on the Indian theory of rasa or aesthetic flavour.
The author of Natya Shastra has described in detail the eight heroines in love. The abhisarika nayikais a woman who abandons her bashfulness to meet her lover. Manipuri dancer Priti Patel commenced with portraying an abhisarika nayika with the song “Chal Gaja Gamini”, when Radha stealthily leaves her home to meet Krishna.
She overcomes all odds to meet her lover. After having reached her destination in a joyful mood, fully bejewelled and bedecked, she decorates the bower with beautiful flowers and waits for her lover to arrive. As a vasakasajjika nayika, the matured artist and an accomplished Manipuri dancer, Patel portrayed the yearnings of a heroine for her love dalliance and created the desired sringara rasa. Kalamandalam Venkitt who specialises in sthree vesham— portrayal of female characters— took a passage from Nalacharitham to portray a prasita vartika nayika. As a Kathakali artist who has taken elaborate training in using each part of his body and facial muscles to emote, he essayed the minute feelings of the despondent lover.
He was equally at ease enacting the feelings of a crestfallen lover. The vipralabdha nayika is one, whose lover does not keep his promise even though he has sent a prior message of his arrival. He laments Naishadan evan thano causing lumps in the throats of his audience.
Odissi exponent Aloka Knungo took up the role of a viraha utkantha nayika— a heroine who is unable to bear the absence of her lover. She is pained because her lover does not turn up at the appointed hour.
She takes the help of the astapadi Sakhi he kesiMadanaudaram from Jayadeva’s Gita Govinda, to express her anguish and beseeches her companion to bring her lover to her presence. She reminisces the happy hours she had spent with him.
Saswati Sen, the most talented student of Birju Maharaj, gave an aesthetic delight in emoting the feelings of a khandita nayika— a nayika who has waited all night for her beloved, finds him at her door in the wee hours of dawn. The apologetic Krishna does little to pacify her. She says “You look sleepy Hari, your lips look kissed, you look dishevelled, leave my hand Hari, I don’t want you in this state.”
Her ability to internalise her pain gets transmitted to the audience, who lament in her anguish. But in her heart of hearts she wants him. The poet has very subtly made it clear to Radha that as the supernatural soul Madhava belongs to all his devotees. The symbolism was brought out in Sen’s abhinaya.
As a kalahantarita nayika,she managed to drive her lover away, on account of her intense jealousy, soon overtaken by remorse she takes on the role of swadhina vartika nayika, who knows that her lover is always with her, because of the favours she has given him and her pleasant personality. Sen chose the astapadi, where Radha tells Krishna, Kuru yadu nandana chandana shishira tarena karena payodhare.
She tells him to use his hands and make sandal paste patterns of leaves on her bosom, which would rival the auspicious vessel of the god of love. With kohl blacker than bees, she asks him to brighten both her love darting eyes and adorn her lotus like face with flowers, placing a mark of musk on her forehead and put flowers on her tresses. Radha, assured of her love, wishes to be full of Krishna. Here is an affirmation of sensuality at its best with the aim of attaining spirituality. Saswati Sen was at her best. Matured dancers brought the finer nuances of nayika bhavas. The long evening staged Devi, based on the novel Devi Chaudhurani by Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay. The novelist had raised several issues in his epoch making book, which needless to say had been banned by the British.
Broadly speaking Devi Chaudhurani dealt with feminine issues along with the evils and inequalities of the times. Characters were developed meticulously by the author.
Dealt together there were insurmountable challenges to put it up as a dance-theatre. Chattopadhyay had gradually built up the legend of Devi. There was mystery, fear and awe built around Devi— the female protagonist of the novel. It was a noble and ambitious attempt and left many lose ends by way of dramatic flaws. To cite an example, when Prafulla assumed the role of Devi, there was no mystery surrounding her. There was a feeling of abruptness. However, Susmita Chatterjee as Devi Chaudhurani made her mark. She left no room for doubt that she is an excellent Kathaka.