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The 36th Grand Kathak Mahotsav- 2024, Delhi Edition

The 36th Kathak Mahotsav, organised by Kathak Kendra, New Delhi, is a constituent unit of Sangeet Natak Akademi, Govt. Of India, was held on the 29th, 30th, and 31st January 2024. Kathak Mahotsav is the most awaited Indian Classical Dance Festival in India. This year’s festival was even more exhilarating as it happened after a gap of 6 long years.   

Along with the scintillating performances in the Kamani auditorium in the evening, the festival had morning sessions, which comprised a dual event of a Talk Show as well as a Seminar woven along with it. The Talk Show had Exponents of Kathak and tangents of it, to speak on the teachings of Immortal Gurus of Kathak, like that of Pt. Birju Maharaj, Pt. Durga Lal, Guru Kundan Lal Gangani, Guru Jitendra Maharaj, and Pandit Tirath Ram Azad, and their personal experiences of Guru-Shishya Parampara with them. The Seminars were about some interesting discussions on topics like “Ang Saundarya”, “Bandish” and “Kathak Mein Navineekaran”. Experienced and leading Kathak exponents, along with the moderators, threw some magnanimous light on these topics, which was enlightening and inspiring for the Kathak aspirants.  

Another beautiful highlight of this festival was the exhibition gallery in the foyer of the Kamani Auditorium. Being the foyer of such a humongous Festival in India, it was surely decorated magnificently, with pictures of leading Kathak artists of today and tomorrow being put up in such an interesting “wind-chime manner” frame. This interesting gallery was made to re-live in the era of the stalwarts Pt. Birju Maharaj Ji, Guru Kundan Lal Gangani, Pandit Durga Lal, Guru Jitendra Maharaj, and Tirath Ram Azad, by showcasing their personal items, like their iconic costumes, their books, and their instruments.  Kathak Mahotsav, happening after 6 years, had just amped up to the completely next level of aesthetics and organised a showcase, with the handlings of Smt. Uma Dogra as the Chairperson of Kathak Kendra and Smt. Pranaame Bhagwati as the Director, along with the whole staff. 

Day 1, 29th January, 2024 

Talk Show and Seminar 10 am onwards 

It was the very first event of the 36th Kathak Mahotsav by Kathak Kendra, New Delhi. The day was initiated with the lighting of the Lamp by Shri Raju Das, Ms. Saswati Sen, Ms. Kumkum Dhar, Ms. Sushmita Ghosh, Ms. Gauri Sharma Tripathi, Ms. Uma Dogra and Ms. Pranaame Bhagwati. It was then followed by the address speeches by Ms. Uma Dogra and Ms. Pranaame Bhagwati. The Talk Show began with Ms. Saswati Sen giving an insight into how Maharaj Ji took a perception and converted it into a blissful composition. She spoke about how he made Kathak reach end to end, by making the concept of “workshop” popular. And with that, he enlightened, one and all, on how one should be involved in the dance, that is, not only for the Abhinay section but very specifically for the Nritta section as well. Guru Munna Lal Shukla was brought closer to people through the words of Ms. Sushmita Ghosh. The stalwart’s beautiful attention to aesthetics, be it in the matter of the dance, or the costume, or even the notation was transported to people. He would insist his disciples to think of dance not just as an artform, but to consider it as a medium to fill up the pitcher of their inner soul.  It was followed by a Seminar on “Ang Saundarya”, delivered by Dr. Kumkum Dhar and Ms. Durga Arya Kruger. Dr. Kumkum Dhar mentioned beauty, as a subjective concept and she quoted a beautiful line “The body belongs to dance, not for the human”, she quoted many scholars on Saundarya and said, that beauty in dance movements is then reflected when they look satisfying and there is a flow that of a river. To this, Ms. Durga Arya Kruger added that, in dance, beauty is magnified in Vilambit laya, where one sees the pauses in the plays in the dance. This whole talk show and the seminar were moderated by Ms. Gauri Sharma Tripathi. 

 Evening Concert 29th January, 2024 

The 36th Kathak Mahotsav was inaugurated with a lamp lighting by Ms. Manjushree Chatterjee, Ms. Padmasharma, Ms. Nalini Asthana, Ms. Kamalini Asthana, Ms. Bharti Shivaji, Ms. Geeta Chandran, Ms. Uma Dogra and Ms. Pranaame Bhagwati, followed by address speeches by Ms. Uma Dogra and Ms. Pranaame Bhagwati. The concert began with Kolkata’s Sourav Roy’s performance, where he began with an invocatory composition of Adi Shankaracharya, on the concept of Ardhanareshwara. He moved on, to present the time cycle of 14 beats and concluded the performance with Teentaal drut laya. Then came on stage, a Kathak duo of Piyush Chauhan and Preeti Sharma of Delhi, where they invoked Lord Shiva with a traditional composition “ Bhasm Bhooshan”. They succeeded it with Teen Taal and began with a Delhi Gharana Kaaeda. After some scintillating compositions, Preeti Sharma presented a lyrical composition “Lachaka Lachaka chaal”. They signed it off beautifully with Jugalbandi and some breathless compositions in drut laya. 

After the duo, came the marvelous group choreography by Ms. Gauri Shrama Tripathi from London. This choreography began with a “Keertan, of syllables, resonating “Dhett Tam”. This led to an elaborated presentation of the traditional “Daksh Yagn”, leading to a spiritual composition, exemplifying thought and worship with the works of Bulleshah and Kabir, and finally concluding with a Tarana. Day one was concluded with Germany’s, Ms. Durga Arya Kruger’s solo performance. She initiated with “Gaja Mukh Vadana”, A Ganesh Stuti, which took its turn to beautiful compositions in Teentaal, and pacing till the end for a marvelous Thumri “Maaeri Manmohan Mann Bhaaye”. 

Day 2, 30th January, 2024 

Day 2 began with a little lighter note, with an impromptu sharing of beautiful little episodes of Guru-Shishya by the present stalwarts in the auditorium reminiscing about their Gurus. After this the Lamp was lit by Ms. Prerani Shrimali, Ms. Mangala Bhatt, Ms. Uma Dogra, and Ms. Pranaame Bhagwati. The Talk Show on Guru Kundan Lal Gangani was sprouted by Ms. Prerana Shrimali, his senior disciple. As she shared how she first met her Guru when she was only 6 yrs old, she on the way of the whole presentation, kept Guruji alive with his mentionings of the perception of teaching, about how deeply serious he was of imparting the knowledge of Kathak, starting from Rajasthan and eventually spreading it all over, and insisting that how dance should be so balanced. She also enlivened the audience with the beautiful bol of a unique taal by Guruji, inspired by the sound of the “Dhol” instrument. 

The audience was able to fondly remember Pt. Durga Lal through the words of Ms. Mangala Bhatt, who had then taken over the mic to speak about Pandit Ji. She exemplified the true meaning of how a dazzling performer is a very involved Guru, and very particular about his classes and teachings. Everything was conveyed with beautiful little cherishing episodes from the life of Pandit Ji at Kathak Kendra and around the globe experiences with different artists and scholars present in the auditorium, like Shri Fateh Singh Gangani, and Shri Ravindra Mishra. The Seminar on “Bandish” was followed by this. It was begun by Dr. Urmila Nagar. She mentioned some very traditional names of compositions like “Mohra or Mukhda”, that is, the syllables that show the beginning face of a performance, then “Farsh Bandhi”, explaining it, as a Kathak artist wanders through meticulous footwork for the initiation. It was further taken up by Ms. Geetanjali Lal, who began by sharing some memorable episodes of the magnanimous brothers Pt. Devi Lal and Pt. Durga Lal. She mentioned that she remembers them as the “Tornado Duo”, as they would blow anyone away with their performance. Guru Geetanjali Lal, before becoming a leading exponent and a Guru of her times, has been an avid learner of many streams, apart from dance, like Tabla, Santoor, Hindustani classical singing, and theatre. She said that learning such beautiful art forms helped her create beautiful structures for Kathak compositions, most aesthetically. To create a “Tihaai” out of an “ongoing Tihai” was what she blossomed it out to the yearning audience. She recited some traditional syllables created by Pt. Durga Lal, Pt. Devi Lal, Pt. Birju Maharaj and by herself. It was moderated by Ms. Uma Dogra  

The evening commenced with the lighting of the lamp by Shri Sanjay Seth, Shri Wasifuddin Dagar, Ms. Madhvi Mudgal, Ms. Prerana Shrimali, and Ms. Saswati Sen, and it was followed by the address speeches by Ms. Uma Dogra, Shri Anish, Ms. Pranaame Bhagwati, and Shri Sanjay Seth. 

The evening was lit up with the showcase of performances. Ms. Monisa Nayak was the first one to invoke the evening with a Ganesh Stuti in the Dhrupad style of singling. She then showcased the compositions in Taal Dhamaar and concluded her performance with a Tarana in raag Bhairavi. This was followed by a fantastic duo performance by Shri Maulik Shah and Smt. Ishira Parikh of Ahmedabad. With the concept of duo, they presented the compositions of a duo taal, that is in Rudra Taal, as well as in Jhaptaal, most interestingly, and concluded with an intricate Tihaai that followed the time cycle of both, 10 and 11 beats. Then came to stage, a bright group choreography by Pandit Jai Kishan Maharaj, elaboratively depicting the season of new, the season of love, and the season of monsoon. Brilliant music complimented the well thoughtful choreographic patterns and formats. The second day of Mahotsav concluded with Ms. Maneesha Sathe’s. From Pune, solo performance. She began with a Shiva Dhrupad, where she showed Lord Shiva in Tanda, and Goddess Parvati in Lasya and they were accompanied by Lord Ganesha on mridang. She moved further with Ganesh taal, a time cycle of 21 beats, and stretched towards the end with a beautiful Bhajan on Lord Krishna composed by Shri Padmakar Barve. 



 Day 3, 31st January, 2024 

The final day of Kathak Mahotsav began with the final morning session of the festival. The morning began with the lamp lighting ceremony by Ms. Nalini Asthana, Ms. Kamalini Asthana, Shri Maulik Shah, Ms. Ishira Parikh, Dr. Ravi Sharma, Ms. Madhu Natraj, Ms. Uma Dogra and Ms. Pranaame Bhagwati, followed by welcome address by Ms. Uma Dogra and Ms. Pranaame Bhagwati. The final morning’s Talk Show saw and heard Pandit Jitendra Maharaj through the cherishing Guru-Shishya tales by his senior disciples, Nalini and Kamalini Asthana. Their words resonated beautifully, the days of the past, of how Guruji was residing in the arts hub, surrounded by other artists’ residences, like that of Pt. Devi Lal, Pt. Durga Lal, Shri Rajan Mishra and Shri Sajan Mishra, and many others. They remind everyone that they were taught with a lot of patience and that stage was their biggest learning space, than the classroom. Soon after, Dr. Ravi Sharma presented the works of his father, the legendary, Pandit Tirath Ram Azad. He mentioned some very important facts about his life. One is that he was brilliantly fluent in Urdu and had magnificent Urdu handwriting, to which he used to make Urdu posters during the Indian Independence revolt, and used to use “Azad” as his pen name or “chhadam naam”. Pandit Tirath Ram Azad, apart from being a brilliant performer, was also a big contributor to textbooks, for the field of Kathak. To name a few books his, “Kathak Praveshika”, Kathak Shringar” and Kathak Darpan”. The morning session then saw its way toward the seminar on “Kathak mein Naveenikaran”. Ms. Madhu Natraj began by, appreciating the art form of Kathak as it embraced changes like no other art form, through time. She rightly said, that bringing innovation to the art form is needed for its survival and self-expression, as one could innovate with the form and content. Shri Maulik Shah specifies three aspects that affect innovation, which are “Time, Space and knowledge”. To this Ms. Ishira Parikh added that innovation is to liberate oneself, within the frame, bringing newness without breaking away from the tradition. The whole session was maderated by Ms. Leena Malakar. 

Then came the final evening of performances of the 36th Kathak Mahotsav. The evening was welcomed with the lighting of the lamp by Ms. Pratibha Prahlad, Ms. Ranjana Gauhar, Shri Akram Khan, Shri Amarendra Khatua, Ms. Uma Dogra and Ms. Pranaame Bhagwati. It was followed by the final address speeches by Ms. Uma Dogra and Ms. Pranaame Bhagwati. 

The final day of performances began with the performance of Ms. Sangita Chaterjee of Delhi. She remembered Lord Ganesha, through the words “Vighnaharan Gajavadana Vinayak”. She further put up some beautiful compositions in the time-cycle of 15 beats, Taal Pancham Sawari. Sangita Chatterjee concluded her performance with a suave thumri, composed by Wajid Ali Shah “Babul Mora Naiyhar Chhoote Jaaye”. The evening moves on to a duet performance of Hari and Chethana. They begin filling up the stage with a “Purva Rang” and slowly pace to a composition based on Lord Krishna, “Shri Krishnakarunaamrit”. Then comes in flow is the TeenTaal, with its compositions. Hari and Chethana’s performance then finishes with a Shivanjali. Then, enters the stage, Shri Abhimanyu Lal of Delhi, with a Dhrupad composition, in praise of Lord Shiva. He weaves the performance further with intricate “Upaj” in Teentaal and some scintillating compositions in the same time cycle, which leads to a catching end of Jugalbandi. The festival is concluded with the beautiful group choreographies by Ms. Nirupama and Shri Rajendra from Bangalore. They initiate with presenting an invocatory benediction to Lord Shiva, through Bhakti Geet, “jai jai jai Shiv Shankar”, in raag hindol, composed by Ustad Faiyaz Khan. The dancers further prance with tales of Krishna, with the verses from Shri KrishnaKaranamrit, bringing a colourful end to the whole festival with the composition called “Bahurang”. As the name suggests, the dancers fill the stage as a canvas, with the colours of life, bringing out the sole purpose of art, to bring enlightenment and joy. 


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