Follow the Master

Poorna Kulkarni
Friday, 17 May 2019

Kathak enthusiasts can enroll for a two-day workshop being conducted by Pt Birju Maharaj from today. The maestro will
be in town to guide students on nuances of the classical dance

Art is considered to be a medium to reach divinity. And it takes years of consistent practice and dedication on the part of the performer to achieve this goal. For the guru, art is an experience that must be shared with the audience and students. For the students, getting diksha from the guru itself is the highest blessing. Among the most respectable gurus in our country is Kathak master Pandit Birju Maharaj. Panditji will conduct two workshops in the city over the weekend, courtesy Nandkishore Cultural Society for Kathak. Along with the master, his senior disciple Pandita Saswati Sen too will impart knowledge in the dance form to the participants.

We got to chat up Panditji for a very short duration and he spoke to us about the fast changing trends in the art form. “When we used to do taalim, we made sure that students were taught in an easy way and they grasped quickly. We taught in such a way that we did not let go of the tradition or the beauty of the dance. The speed in the learning and teaching process could be uncertain, but there has to be a spiritual angle to it. Without spirituality, there is no art. And for that, one must include dhyaan in every act,” says the maestro. 

Kapote, a senior disciple of Panditji, says that students will have a golden opportunity to learn and understand the nuances of Lucknow Gharana from the maestro during the upcoming workshop. “The reason behind organising this workshop
is to give students the right guidance so that they understand the pure art form. It is a huge thing in itself because today, Kathak is taking fusion forms as well. We all know that Maharajji is not only a great performer and has choreographed for Bollywood, but he has also mastered music and poetry,” says Kapote.

He feels that the two-day workshop covers all the elements that are usually not given much attention to. “The workshop consists of the fine elements of Lucknow Gharana and a discussion session on tihai and tukde, bhaav, and abhinaya along with the fine elements of the art form,” he informs. 

The workshop is for students who have taken a minimum of two years of formal training in Kathak as also professional performers.

Dance then and now
Every classical art form has revived itself over a period of time. Kathak too has gone through a lot of transformation. Pandita Saswati Sen, another senior disciple of Pt Birju Maharaj, who has been performing and imparting training for years, expresses how the dance form has undergone a major change. “A performer must have a strong command to hold the audiences with their performance and not just try making their presence felt. As for us, while teaching even a small part of abhinaya, we feel it first and then teach it to our students. So the experience
becomes more soul-oriented, for us as well as for the students,” she says. 

One must not dance for anyone but have a broader vision while performing that goes beyond one’s visual range and goes
to the infinity, feels Sen. “Dance and music were practised to surrender to the lord and the approach earlier was that it helps in finding the peace and joy within. Therefore, there was a lot of tranquility within the dancer which was reflected in their performances as well. But now, the world around has become so competitive that everything has become superficial and short-lived like the experience, training, and the profession to be an artist. Because of this, the performer cannot go inward in terms of experience to compose his or her self,” she observes. 

Sen believes that the biggest challenge that has come about is that everyone is stuck in the rat race. “Until the student is given time to evolve in the art, they can not dwell in it with all their heart. She says, “Today, everyone has short-term goals and that is why there are short-term results too.”

But she hasn’t lost hope. “We do see the hope as people are tired of seeing temporary trends in art. So when maestros like Pt Birju Maharajji perform on the stage, audiences know what they will take from his performances in terms of experience and that is heartening,” she says. 

Dance in the digital era
Sen does not completely dismiss the trend of online classes. Getting trained in front of a teacher, which is also known as Guru-Shishya Parampara, undoubtedly has more understanding than online classes. But she opines that once in a while, if you take up online classes, just to understand the minute details, it’s fine. She says, “The student must have a basic knowledge before taking up such online training though. For instance, a few of our senior students who are living abroad, sometimes ask us to give instructions over video calls, just to know if they are on the right track or not. Pt Birju Maharajji was earlier associated with Madhuri Dixit for online class sessions too. Having said
that, one can only learn the art through online classes but to understand the soul of the art, one has to be there in front of the guru, face to face.” 

ST Reader Service 
Pt Birju Maharaj and Pandita Saswati Sen’s Kathak workshop will be held at Pt Jawaharlal Nehru Cultural Bhavan, Ghole
Road, on May 18 and 19 from 11 am onwards. The workshop is chargeable.

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