To observe the 48th Ratha-Yatra of ISKCON, it organised its devotional Gundicha festival of dance for the fourth consecutive year, in honour of the yearly journey of Lord Jagannath, Baladev and Subhadra at TAI Brigade Parade Ground, Park Street. The place wore a festive appearance on all the 10 days of the duration of the yatra. A temple like temporary structure to house the lord and his siblings, with a dance area in front gave it a sacred appearance. Dance schools of Kolkata were invited to sing and dance in praise of lord Jagannath after his grand sandhya aarti (evening prayers). The themes taken by the dancers were about the times and lives of lord Krishna and his great deeds.

On the second day of the festival, Odissi dancer Arnab Bandopadhyay and his troupe performed to entertain the lord and his devotees. Starting from shanta karam bhujaga shayanamin raga Gurjartodi and taal Triputa and Ekataliand ending with Dasavatar— the performance conformed to the idea that dance is prayer. Since it was not performed in the proscenium stage, there was some amount of informality about the whole thing. Performers sat with rasikas and joined the group whenever they had to play their part. The dance area was utilised fully by the choreographer. Sometimes dancers gathered together resembling a bud, soon blossoming in various shapes and hues, covering up the entire space in beautiful forms, that are inherent to Odissi technique, with the typical three bends-waist and hip on one side, with the torso on the opposite and neck in line with the hip-square positions, moving the body forward and backward, resembling lord Jagannath, in a graceful manner. Vishnu’s serene appearance when he is in Ananthasayanam on Adi Sesha, with lotus on his navel— the husband of Lakshmi— attainable only by yogis through meditation, described in dance vocabulary took the gathered devotees to a higher level of ecstasy.

The Odia lyric Dekho go sakhiin taal Khemta and traditional music was gulped in, open mouthed. The pair enacting Radha and Krishna was adorable and aroused devotion with their sheer soft smile, delicate dancing and serenity. The accompanying group was equally good. The crowning glory of the programme was of course Dasavataror the 10 avatars, in raga Mohona, from Gita Govinda. In this, drama and dance went hand in hand. Probably, it is time for choreographers where they can be a little more creative in showing the half man half lion incarnation of the lord that is usually shown in all genres of Indian traditional dance.

In association with Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan Kolkata, Rasika Ranjana Sabha presented a two-day dance festival at Sree Thyagaraja Hall recently. Delhi based Bharatanatyam dancer Himanshu Srivastava— a senior disciple of Saroja Vaidyanathan and Rama Vaidyanathan— became an all time favourite of connoisseurs, with the performance of Adishankaracharya’s composition Kalabhairavashtakam, which sees the great lord Shiva in a fierce manifestation. It was an anjali (offering) in raga Misra Bahar, set to music by S Vasudevan, the dance of which was composed by the performer.

Shikhandi from Mahabharata, an important factor in defeating the Kaurava army by the Pandavas, has ever remained a popular theme for dancers. Retelling the story of Amba, who was abducted by Bhisma to marry his physically weak brother and her vow to revenge on Bhisma, which found fruition in her reincarnated form as Sikhandi– was expressed by Srivastava in the language of Bharatanatyam. The invincibility of Bhisma could only be possible with Arjuna keeping Shikhandi in front, while fighting Bhisma, who never took up arms against anyone other than a man. Good music was provided by vocalist Satish Venkatesh, mridangist Ramamurthi Kesavan, and flautist Rajat Prasanna.

Bharatanatyam dancer Sayani Chakraborty also a disciple of Rama Vaidyanathan was a fitting choice, amply made clear with her first presentation Ghana Shyam.

In this season of monsoon, Krishna is Ghana Shyam— synonym of dark clouds. Monsoon is a time for romance, joy and excitement for the lovelorn maidens, who wait eagerly for their eternal lover, like the longing of the parched earth for rain. Ghana Shyamwas the confluence of Bharatanatyam and Hindustani classical music, with a touch of Carnatic music— the brain child of the trio Sayani Chakraborty, Durba Singha Roychoudhury and Vandana Alase. Chakraborty danced solo, with the intricatejathi compositions of Shankar Narayanswamy. Sringar Alaripu played with the basic rhythm of “4”. There was much stress on the word sringar— love thoughts. The theme matched with the impending monsoon and concluded Chakraborty’s solo piece to a composition from Kalidasa’s Ritusamhara.

Aaj suni main hari awan ki awaz set to raga Megh, Mia Malhar and Jayjayanti— was expressive of the intensity of saint Meera’s love, waiting for the lord’s arrival. North met south with the arrangement of the composition in Hindustani classical music in the varnam format of Carnatic music including jathis, chittaswaramand aradhis set to adi taal.

A Padam by Swati Tirunal was the concluding piece. What can be the state of mind of the lover when after a long night’s wait she discovers, that he was in the company of another. Her trust is broken and she is left totally shattered. The piece choreographed by Rama Vaidyanathan gave Chakraborty enough scope for expressive dance. Tillana in raga Bihag rounded up Chakraborty’s presentation.

Both Srivastava and Chakraborty performed solo. Presently, solo performance is on the wane. But it is worthwhile to keep in mind that the starting point of Bharatnatyam, is in its solo dancing. Until and unless the performer has achieved perfection in the various nuances of the form, it would be impossible to venture into a solo performance. Solo dancing proves a dancer’s mettle. Group choreography is fine, but one must make sure that he or she has complete mastery over solo. Both of them are excellent solo dancers with a bright future.