36th Kathak Mahotsav

At the 36th Kathak Mahotsav, Uma Dogra, Chairman of Kathak Kendra, provided a platform for six solo dancers over the three-day festival in New Delhi.  The Kathak Mahotsav, a key event of Kathak Kendra, was revived by Uma Dogra, head of the Advisory Board, after a six-year break. The festival took place in New Delhi from 29-31 January 2024.

In recent times, solo Kathak dancers have become rare due to various reasons. Uma Dogra, a talented Kathak dancer and disciple of Pt. Durga Lal, recognises the importance of nurturing solo dancers in Kathak. Solo performances showcase a dancer's skill, and the absence of strong soloists threatens the future of India's classical dance forms.  Uma Dogra coordinated with Pranaame Bhagwati, Director of the Kendra’s Advisory Board and focused mainly on solos followed by duets and groups.

Sourav Roy inaugurated the festival with Adi Sankaracharya’s Ardhanariswar. The performance featured intricate thaat, layakaris, and various types of paran and parmelu, including Paran jodi Amad, Parmelu, and a paran with 51 spins, along with impressive footwork in taal Dhamar, delighting connoisseurs. Lachchu Maharaj’s powerful kavit on Daksha Yagya was accompanied by the full-throated chanting of his guru, Malabika Mitra.

In drut Teen taal, a Gat nikas portrayed the three stages of Lord Krishna’s life: as a little boy playing his flute, the eternal lover summoning maidens with his compelling music, and as the charioteer delivering the profound words of the Gita to Arjun in the battle of Kurukshetra. The performance concluded with selected bols from the Lucknow and Jaipur gharanas. The performance, supported by Subir Thakur on tabla, Sunanda Mukherjee on sarod, and vocalist Jay Dadhitch, was well-received.

Durga Arya Kruger, one of the prime disciples of Birju Maharaj, proved her mettle on the first evening of the festival. From the start to the finish her energy level was the same. Gajamukh vadan lage ati sunder penned and composed by. Birju Maharaj was performed before commencing the vilambit Teentaal with upaj, thaat, few uthans both in aang form and footwork followed by amad, Paran Juri Amad, Lari. The third piece was a thumri- penned and composed by Birju Maharaj. With her supporting musicians   Shakil Ahmed Khan (tabla),  Jay Dadhich (vocal), Janab Nasir Khan (sarangi) and Sunando Mukherjee (sarod), she performed well.

Soloist  Manisha Nayak  inaugurated the second evening with  taal Dhamar and  Teen taal one after the other. She had chosen ‘Kurma Avatar’ to portray her talent in abhinaya.

Guru Maneesha Sathe,  from Pune initially trained under  Balasaheb Gokhale and  later under Nataraj Gopikrishna carried  forward his legacy of taking Kathak to the masses, without diluting its essence. She performed a traditional Kathak piece starting with a dhrupad, Niratat Shiv Girija Sang, composed by Chinmay Kolhatkar. She performed Ganesh taal, a rare and unique Taal with a melange of traditional pakhavaj compositions, beautifully justifying the 21-beat cycle. The knowledgeable rasikas watched with awe. With the bhajan Mohe Man Lagyo Chand Govind Govind, composed by   Padmakar Barve, she  showed her  mastery of abhinaya. Nikhil Phatak on tabla,  Rajiv Tambe on harmonium,  Jaydeep Vaidya on vocals and her senior disciple Vallarie Apte on padhant accompanied her.


Day three commenced with the solo performance of Sangeeta Chatterjee a disciple of Bhaswati Mishra. Pure dance in taal Pancham Sawari (15 beats cycle) was perfectly rendered.  Babul Mora naihar chuto Jaye in raga Bhairavi was a good expressional piece.

Solo performer Abhimanyu Lal stole the show with the piece Siva-Anant. The dance was built up from a heavy base to a filling crescendo, glorifying the attributes of Lord Siva, his damru, his matted locks, ganga flowing out of his hair locks, the serpent round his neck. Composed by Guru  Geetanjali Lal, in the time-cycle of 12 beats and raag Shankara was enviable.

In his pure dance performance, he began with shuddha nritya, in Teen taal at a slow tempo. He started with improvisation snippets, thaat, and uthaan, featuring rapid footwork, spins, and expressive hand gestures. He continued with intricate syllable patterns, ending with a tihaai. Abhimanyu performed several thaats and uthaans, composed by Devi Lal and Durga Lal, and his guru Geetanjali Lal, including a five-laya tihaai and another tihaai he called his “namesake” tihaai, symbolising knowledge. His performance concluded with a rich jugalbandhi with tabla player Yogesh Gangani, receiving thunderous applause. Abhimanyu Lal dedicated his performance to Pt Durga Lal on his death anniversary, January 31st. Accompanists included Yogesh Gangani on tabla, Salman Warsi on pakhawaj, Sami Ullah Khan on vocals, Nasir Khan on sarangi, and Varsha Dasgupta on padhant.


Young dancers Piyush and Preeti  products of Kathak Kendra performed duet. With Shiva Stuti was their starting point,  they switched over to the technicalities of Kathak. Their ‘tayari’ and power over laykari were phenomenal. They made a mark with their energy, perfection, speed, flawless chakkars and impressive tatkars. Samiulla Khan’s vocal rendition along side the percussionists-Gangani brothers and bol-padhant of Amir Khan gave the program the required fillip.   

Moulik Shah and Ishira Parikh the well-known Kathak couple from Ahmedabad regaled the audience with their duet dancing. Taal Samanvay was rather unique. A parallel presentation of two taals—Jhaptal with 10 Matras and Rudra Taal with 11 Matras—created a cohesive atmosphere that captivated the audience. Maintaining the characters of each taal created an engaging dimension.R hythmic composition of the same bols like parans.. tihais..that..tukdas etc looked strikingly different yet harmonious, keeping the mood of each taal intact. The highlight was the last footwork where the lehra kept changing from one to the other, culminating in a tihai.


Hari-Chetana  duet dancers from Bengaluru began with the sacred ritual from the Natya Sastra symbolising the cleansing of the stage seeking to eliminate all obstacles and invoke the Astadikpalakas.  A sloka on Lord Krishna from Sree Krishna Karnamruta of Saint Bilvamangalar describing his attire and seeking his blessings was  backed up with Teen taal in raga Sohini. A rhythmic jugalbandi between the percussionist and the dancers were followed by a sargam in raga Malhar. The piece  Madhur Madhav- a Swati Tirunal's composition in Brindavani Sarang sought for a union with the divine, followed by Siva's cosmic dance of the tandava, representing the rhythm of creation, preservation, and dissolution. The performance, though rich in content, could benefit from further refinement. The accompanying artists were  vocalist Sirisha, percussionist Praveen karadagi and Karthik Krishna, sitarist  Sanjeev korti and flautist Madhucharan.

Gauri Sharma Tiwari- the Artistic Director of Amara Nritya Kala Hansa and  Ankh Dance UK. showcased the tradition of her parampara’s upaj, unfolding the progression and movements within the Kathak dance grammar. Her group performed a  keertan, sung during “Sharath Poornima” in the temples of the Vaishnav Sampradayas and also during the Maharaas of Krishna and the gopis. According to the narrative, Radha and the gopis surround Krishna in the forest on the bank of River Yamuna, enchanted by his flute music and seeing their numbers Krishna manifests himself into many Krishnas. The theme of this was conceptualised by Gauri’s mother and guru, Padma Sharma, who had performed this in 1965 as part of a musical choreographed by Pt. Lacchu Maharaj, Gokul ki gali Sankari, which was reworked by Gauri Sharma Tripathi for the modern stage.

The well-known episode of Dakshayagna - kavit by guru Lacchu Maharaj - was relived beautifully by the troupe to the music composition of Niraj Chag. Sacred explored man’s journey for the divine, ignorant of the fact that  the divine, dwells  within all human beings. This piece embraced oral legends, like Kabir, Bullehshah and Narsinh Mehta.  The message of the piece, “different energies lead to one path, one journey of life, in search of the sacred”.

Pandit Jai Kishan Maharaj’ repertory members performed Megh Mallar on recorded music. The imageries of the monsoon were recreated on stage impressively-whether it was just a drizzle taking you by surprise, or tiny drops turning into torrential rain and thunder, with black clouds growling threateningly with its inherent stark beauty. Maharaj is a chip of the old block. Poetry merged with dance and music to make create a world of beauty.

The grand finale of this excellent festival was by Abhinava Dance Company of Nirupama Rajendra Group from Bengaluru, whose first piece was Siva stuti – an invocatory dance to Lord Shiva - a song  written and tuned by Faiyaz Khan in raga Hindol and Dhamaar taal. Music was also by   Faiyaz Khan while the dance Choreography was Nirupama and Rajendra. Krishna Karanamrutham, which is one of the finest works in Sanskrit Literature from poet Leela Shuka’s was launched next. In this, the dancers explored abhinaya from selected verses. The first verse portrayed  vipralambha sringara (love in separation) of the gopikas towards Krishna and their request to the flute to communicate their yearnings to  Krishna. In the second verse , the dancers enacted a light-hearted episode with little Krishna getting caught stealing butter and his clever management of the situation with his answers to the questions of the Gopika .In the last verse, the gopikas display authoritative love, chiding Krishna for leaving them all and moving away to Mathura lead by Akrura. A bountiful selection performed to the music composition of  Praveen D Rao, choreographed by Nirupama Rajendra and T.D.Rajendra. Vocalist  Keertan Holla gave suitable support. The next piece tarana was danced lyrically to the  melodic syllables of raga Madhukauns, embellished with the fast footwork and other technical aspects of Kathak to Teen taal and raga Madhukauns celebrating  pure dance of Kathak to the composition of   Fayaz Khan and dance choreography of Nirupama Rajendra and Rajendra.  

During the day there were talk shows and seminars. Speakers illuminated listeners on selected topics like ‘Ang Saundarya’-Aesthetics in body alignment- ‘Bandish of Jaipur  gharana’-Rhythmic compositions of Jaipur Gharana and ‘Kathak Mei Naveenikaran’-Innovative approach in Kathak.

Kathak Kendra and Kamani auditorium displayed milestone photographs as well as ghungroos, musical instruments, costumes and other personal belongings of the yester year gurus.

The festival was dedicated to maestros Birju Maharaj, Kundan Lal Gangani, Durga Lal, Tirath Ram Azad and Jitendra Maharaj.