News & Notes

Sarangadeva Samaroh: Festival & Seminar

The annual Sarangadeva Samaroh, was held between 19 -22 January 2024, showcasing music and dance performances by renowned artists as well as enriching seminars, in-depth research paper presentations, and workshops with a focus on Sarangadeva’s Sangita Ratnakara and other texts on Indian dance, music, and other traditions.

The 15th edition was curated by Parwati Dutta, the Founder-Director of Mahagami Gurukul. The festival is held annually in the land of Sarangadeva, the 13th-century musicologist and philosopher, attached to the court of the Yadava King Singhan, whose capital was Devagiri, the present-day Daulatabad/ Aurangabad in Maharashtra. The festival aimed to reconnect the glorious cultural past of this region to establish the relevance of Sangita Ratnakara with presentday performing arts, creativity, imagination, and the ideas it generates.

The Sarangadeva Prasang (seminars) opened with Jyoti Singh from Banaras Hindu University exploring the influence of Sarangadeva’s Sangita Ratnakara on the medieval treatises of Indian musicological tradition. She stated that there is an unmistakable impression of Sangita Ratnakara on Sangeet Damodar and NartanNirnaya of Punderik Vitthal. Citing Dr. V. Raghavan she reiterated that Sangita Ratnakara is like a strong pillar that connects ancient texts to the medieval treatises.

Arati Rao from Bengaluru added that it was not only the musicological texts of Northern India but also the treatise written in South India which are influenced by Sangita Ratnakara. She added that the tradition of earlier texts such as Sangita Ratnakara are definitely followed, but new ideas are also getting absorbed, before presenting her detailed paper on Sooladi talas.

The other topics discussed included Wasifuddin Dagar’s deliberation about the Dhrupad tradition, where he spoke about how in Dhrupad the ‘Swarochchaara’ (tuneful utterance of swaras) is important in alap and perfect pronunciation of pada or words is important while singing the composition. He also talked about technical terms like aakar, gamak, lahak, dhuran, muran, and dagar and the talas used in Dhrupad singing.

Parwati Dutta shared that her in-depth study on ‘raasaka’ was associated with her research on Dhrupadangi Kathak. Citing from Natya Sastra “Rasah Bhaavah hyabhinayah….” she explained that there are two kinds of kavya (poetic works) - drishya (visual) and shravya (aural). Rupaka and upa-rupaka come under the drishya category. Her explanations of Raas leela from Dasham Skandh of Bhagwat to Wajid Ali Shah’s dance drama, Rahas, were informative and interesting. She also talked about the three varieties of rasak - traditional Manipuri Raas Leela is performed in three styles- namely taal-Rasak performed with claps, Danda-Rasak performed with sticks, and MandalRasak done in a circle.

Karuna Vijayendra spoke on the ‘Swaramantthan’ dance which originated from the nritya-karanas of the nritya adhyaya of Sangita Ratnakara. Ramya Suresh joined her online for the music and dance demonstration of Swaramantthan. There was a lecture demonstration on Haveli Sangeet by Yashodanandan Pramod Kumawat and Pinkesh Gandharva from Rajasthan, belonging to the Nathadvara tradition of temple music offerings to Shrinath Ji. Kathavachan, the ancient story-telling tradition, and precursor of Kathak, was elaborated by Ayodhya Sharan Mishra and Manganiyar tradition of Rajasthan by Loona Khan from Badmer. These lecture demonstrations helped the audience enjoy the evening’s performance with a greater understanding of these art forms.

Sarangadeva Pravaah had research paper presentations by young researchers with a panel of scholars to guide them with queries related to their study and research. It was heartening to see that more than twenty research papers were presented by young and aspiring scholars including Adya Shinde, Ishwaree Mahajan, Aishwarya Mundada, and Bhuvana, all students of Mahagami Gurukul. A good number of listeners participated as observers to benefit from these deliberations.

The inaugural evening opened with Haveli Sangeet prevalent in the Havelis or temples of Gujarat and Rajasthan, where the Ashtayaam Seva of the deities are offered through singing of devotional padas of the Pushtimargiya poets, the ashta-sakhas of Vallabhacharya in Dhrupad style; tuned to the ragas of different prahars of the day or seasonal ragas for various festivals. Pinkesh Gandharva accompanied by Yashoda Nandan Kumawat on the Pakhawaj and Jayant Nerlekar on the Harmonium (also providing vocal support), opened with Vallabhacharya’s pada on the birth of Krishna, and went on to sing padas of different occasions, composed in different ragas written by Krishna Das, Nand Das, Paramananda Das and Ksheetswami.

This was followed by a captivating performance of Mohini Attam by Neena Prasad. The mangalacharanalike sollakattu with SundarGajavadana pranavakaram paved the way for varnam in raga Kambhoji set to misra Chapu tala. Maate ganga-tarangini Shankar shiro alankrite, the pada varnam was dealt with great sensitivity. Jayadeva’s ashtapadi Kuru yadunandana was excellent, where the essence of the sahitya was conveyed not just by the bhava-abhinaya of the eloquent dancer but was also enhanced by the mesmerising music, both vocal and the percussion. Neena should have left the spellbound audience at this ecstatic moment, the concluding tillana felt redundant.

Dhrupadangi Kathak by Parwati Dutta and the Mahagami dancers came next. Parwati has delved deep into embodying the philosophical connotations and the structural framework of dhrupad to develop this dhrupad-angi, a specific variety of Kathak, that she has named Dhrupadangi Kathak. Choreographed as a journey from silence to an internalised flow of soundscape, the contemplative alap was followed with the Sadra composition Tum hi ho raja sung by Uday Bhawalkar, set to slow Jhap taal of ten beats time cycle.

The unhurried pace of the Dhrupadangi Kathak was a contrast to the present-day frenzied Kathak. It continued with a traditional Dhrupad composition invoking ‘Hari-Hara’ (Vishnu and Siva) together with both their attributes, such as Bansi-dhara Pinaak-dhara, Giri-dhara Gangadhara, Trishul-dhara Jata-dhara parallel adjectives for both the deities. Gurudeva Rabindranath Tagore’s poem Antaramama vikasit karo he sung by Devasheesh Sarkar was followed by a Drut Sooltala Dhrupad composition of Tansen, concluding with Pranavo aadi Omkar, written by Guru Govind Singh; merging ultimately in ‘Omkaara’!

Wasifuddin Dagar who belongs to the 19th generation of Baba Beheram Khan Dhupad Parampara of the Dagars, presented detailed aalapchari and Dhrupad in raga Malkauns. The traditional Dhrupad Poojan chali Mahadeva set to Chautala was followed by a Drut Sooltala composition Shankar Girijapati where just the opening alap went on for nearly an hour. He kept the audience enthralled with the esoteric approach and beauty of this art form by initiating them into it with his verbal input too.

The multi-classical-dance presentation of Kathak, Odissi, Manipuri, Mohini Attam, Kathakali, and Bharatanatyam, conceived and choreographed by Parwati Dutta, opened with an introduction, Jhantum jagadiya where every dancer took turns to offer a glimpse into their own dance style, music, costume et al before they came together to present ‘Sannidhi’ the confluence of various rivers to merge into the sea. Each river was portrayed through a particular dance style, for instance, river Saraswati in raga Saraswati enacted by Sujata Nayar, Narmada by Sheetal Bhamre in Kathak. The mesmerising music was composed by Madhup Mudgal using ragas like Puriya-Dhanashri, Saraswati, ShriKalyan, Miyan Malhar, Desh, and Darbari. Each dance style was marked by its percussions too. Mridangam for Bharatanatyam, pakhawaj for Odissi, pung for Manipuri, chenda and maddalam for Mohiniyattam & Kathakali, and tabla for Kathak, to name a few.

The versatile kathavachak (storyteller) from Uttar Pradesh, Ayodhya Sharan Mishra sang slokas, Neelambuja shyamala komalaanga to the dohas and chaupais of Ram charit manas, to the Awadhi folk songs, reciting Padhant, dancing the tode-tukdetihai of Kathak and emoting all the characters of the story being enacted; while telling the mythological stories with impromptu additions of his quick-wittedness. It was a fascinating experience for the audience who were enthralled and would not let him go.

The concluding evening opened with the creative offerings of Parwati Dutta in Odissi, with her disciples of Mahagami Gurukul. Based on the Buddhist concept Tara and Tripurasundari of Sringeri, it had metaphors of reflection ‘Pratibimb’, with rhythmic designs in temporal canvas. Mangalacharan was focused on the eyes of Devi, based on the Devi-Sukta of Sankaracharya, where the navarasas were depicted through Devi’s eyes. Sringara when she sees Siva, Irshya or jealousy when she sees Ganga, bhayabheet or frightened when she sees the snakes of Siva and karuna with her own divine compassion. Opening with the tuneful strains of the tanpura, and the shankha-naad (sound of conch) the composition was sung by Shaunak Abhisheki.

The most unique piece was Chhando (so called in Odia) where stories were told through talas like the Sooladi talas of the 16th and 17th centuries. The mythological stories of Devi-Devatas are still narrated like this in Odisha, Parwati said, before presenting this interesting choreography challenging the discerning audience to guess the matras of the talas through the variables of laghu and drut. Taarini was their last presentation with dancers Sheetal Bhamre, Aishwarya, Bhargavi, and Aadya Shinde, creating magic on the dhrupad alap in Gurjari Todi.

It is the constant thinking and research at Mahagami, that makes all the difference in creating such rare presentations. The results are such innovative dance works based on the same classical dance styles and music, that one watches as a routine elsewhere.

This year’s Sarangadeva Samman was conferred upon the eminent Manipuri exponent, Darshana Jhaveri for her lifelong commitment and contribution to the Indian arts and Manipuri dance tradition. The 15th Sarangadeva Samaroh closed with the lively Rajasthani folk performance by Loona Khan Manganiyar and a group from Barmer.

(The author is a music scholar and critic)