Sangeet Natak Akademi — India’s national academy for music, dance and drama, and an autonomous body of the ministry of culture, Government of India — hosted Shreshtha Bharat Sanskriti Samagam at Bhubaneswar with the active support of the Odia Language, Literature and Culture Department, Government of Odisha and Odisha Sangeet Natak Akademi.

This five-day series was a unique festival — the first of its kind to be followed by five other such endeavours in all corners of India leaving out the big cities — in which the best practitioners and scholars in the fields of music, dance, drama, folk, tribal arts, puppetry and allied traditions, participated.

The mission was to strengthen and propagate all that is living and life-sustaining in India’s culture. The festival was held at Rabindra Mandap and Bhanja Kala Mandap in Bhubaneswar.

The morning sessions hosted seminars in all genres of Indian art while the evenings were taken up for performances. The first artist of the first day was Hindustani vocalist Rashid Khan, a student of Nissar Hussain Khan of Rampur Sahaswan gharana under whom he trained for 20 years.

Accompanied by two stalwarts, Yogesh Shamsi on the tabla and Jyothi Goho on the harmonium among others, he started with the monsoon raga Megh known for its Kafi thaat.

The raga made the audience sail through the sky as in Kalidas’ Meghdoot. In the rendition of ni-pa-re notes, meeds used caused aesthetic bliss. He ended with Bade Ghulam Ali’s famous thumri, Yaad Piya ki aaye, which he performs quite often.

A jugalbandi between Carnatic music flautist Shashank Subramaniyam and Hindustani classical flautist, Rakesh Chaurasia, mesmerised the audience. The notes and the intricacies of raga Kalyani in Carnatic and raga Yaman in the Hindustani genre was much appreciated.

Shashank — a SNA awardee of 2017 — has learnt his art from father, Subramaniyam, among others. He has developed a style of his own and played his gamakas seamlessly, which never failed to amaze rasikas. Chaurasia, a disciple and nephew of Hariprasad Chaurasia, did well and never failed in the aesthetic understanding of the raga in his rendition.

TH Vinayakram, a leading percussionist in Carnatic music played the ghatam very enthusiastically. Ghatam, which was only a second line percussion instrument, has now come to occupy centre stage and the credit goes to maestro Vikku Vinayakram. He virtually played all the rhythmic patterns of the mridangam on his ghatam.

The second evening saw the performance of the very powerful Kathaka Vishal Krishna of the Banaras gharana, a Bismillah Khan Yuva Puraskar Awardee. He began with paying naman to Ganga and seeking protection and prosperity.

With the Kathak idiom firmly in his grip, he performed teen taal ki bol, rendering a joda with the na dhin dhin na tabla bol, switching to Gopi Krishna’s andaz soon after. He performed what he had learnt from the master of his gharana, Pandit Sukhdev Maharaja as well as his father Pandit Mohan Krishna.

He took up a paran learnt from his grandmother Sitara Devi, which she used to call “machine gun ki awaz” while performing with Pandit Kishan Maharaj on the tabla. He glided through the stage smoothly before he started a Radha Krishna Gath — an endearing bhajan where Radha is in a forest of peacocks wishing Krishna to come in the form of one.

Vishal ended with a tatkar, which sounded like a gentle breeze producing the soft sound of chiming bells. He was supported by Vivek Mishra on tabla, Kunal Patil on pakhawaj, vocalist Prateep Banerjee and Sandeep Niyogi on sitar.

The number one duo in the field of Kuchipudi, Raja Reddy and Radha Reddy who are samrats of tandav/lasya, purush/prakriti and Shiva/Parvaty took the stage next. The veterans started with paying obeisance to Gaja Mukha Vigna Vinayaka, moving their limbs with grace typical to their genre. The couple underwent a total transformation resembling deities in heaven urging Ganapathy to create no obstruction while their dance yagna was going on.

They cajole and coax his spiritualism, requesting to bless them with kindness, since he is kripa sindhu. It was in raga Nat and Hamsadhwani.

Natavara Taruni in raga Malika and taal Adi was a Krishna bhakta Oothukaadu Venkata Subbaiyar composition, who made good use of sahitya, swaram and jathi to explain the manifold activities of Krishna, who is known for his raslila as well as for imparting the knowledge of the Bhagavat Gita to Arjuna in Kurukshetra.

The first part of Natavara Taruni included Lalita Labangalata from Jayadeva’s Gita Govinda, which is a piece of great lyrical beauty. Radha Reddy as Radha was the epitome of grace who by the power of her dance was a yuvathi. And Raja Reddy was the indulgent Krishna bestowing his divine love to Radha. The senior duo left the stage, making way for Yamini Reddy and Atisha Pratap Singh to dance the divine raslila as Radha and Krishna.

The second half was when Krishna as Gitamrita Rasika drove Arjuna to the battlefield and delivered his Gita upadesam. Radha Reddy in the role of Arjuna performed brilliantly and the role of Krishna as the dispenser of profound truths by Raja Reddy was unbelievable. It was Kuchipudi at its best.

After relating a breath-taking mythological story about Narayana Tirtha’s composition of Tarangam, he also said that the Sanskrit poet Kalidasa had visited the Telugu land in the second century BCE and was mesmerised by the Yakshagana and temple dancing of the place. He seems to have expressed that the Natyam of the Kuchipudi form was unified and universal in bringing enlightenment.

It was then the turn of Yamini Reddy to dance a matchless Tarangam of Narayana Tirtha in raga Mohana and Adi tala. It was a choreographic work of sorts where the bhakta rendered beautiful and complicated rhythmical pieces on the rim of a brass plate, watched benevolently and approvingly by Krishna and Radha.

Kaushalya Reddy as a nattuvanar was matchless. She is a rare breed. Support given by vocalist Deevi Ravikant, violinist VSK Annadurai, flautist B Prakash and mridangist Banna Bhaskar Rao played important roles in bringing success to the presentation.