Hands do the talking

Divine dance

A one-hour long mesmerising Kathak performance by none other than India’s divine dancer, Padma Shri awardee Guru Pratap Pawar, enthralled the audience at the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) on January 20 evening. The audience had the good fortune of seeing the master dance, who is now permanently settled abroad and visits India only once a year.

Classical treat Pratap Pawar performs at ICCR.

Pratap was the first disciple of the legendary Pandit Birju Maharaj. After having established himself in India, he was sponsored abroad by the government of India to popularise the art of Kathak, folk and creative dances. For the last 15 years he has been teaching at the Bhartiya Vidya Bhawan and The National Academy of Indian Dance in London. Known as the pioneer of the concept ‘East meets West’, he has introduced students from different races and nationalities to the beauty of Kathak.

The one time when he visits India in a year, he likes to perform with his troupe of old-time companions. The same musicians lent their skill and art to Pratap’s performance. These included Pandit Subhash Nirvan on tabla, Sanghamitra Chakravorty and Rajesh Pandey on vocal, Swapnamaya Bannerjee on sarod and Asif Ali Khan on sarangi.

The performance opened with a piece on Nataraj Raj Namo Namah, composed by poet Jayadev and sung by Asha Bhonsle, it is a tribute to Lord Shiva. As Pratap explained, he performed the Anand Tandav in this piece, a dance depicting the more serene and romantic side of Lord Shiva, as compared to the violent tandav normally performed in dance recitals.

He then went on to perform traditional Kathak pieces. As he informed the audience, he has to do a lot of fusion dance abroad to suit Kathak to the sensibilities of foreign students. But, whenever in India, he likes to perform Kathak in its purest strains.

He began with the slow and graceful aspects of Kathak known as the thaat and aamad, and then went on to regale the audience with the faster moves including intricate footwork and chakkars. In two pieces, he depicted first, children playing with a ball and then, two lovers coming together.
Thereafter came the most visually appealing piece of the show. Pratap performed to the famous ghazal of last Mughal king Bahadur Shah Zafar Mili Hai Khoob Saza Dil Lagane Ki. Informing the audience of the history behind the song, he said, “After old Zafar was sent to exile by the Britishers, the only hope he nurtured was to be buried in his homeland when he dies. However, the Britishers were cruel enough to not grant him even his last wish. Longing for his country, he wrote this ghazal.” Performing Kathak to ghazals requires more subtle and difficult facial expressions, instead of violent hand movements, and Pratap did it with perfection.

Afterwards, expressing his love for Kathak, he added, “The word Kathak derives from the word katha. In old times, when the priests recited kathas, they performed hand movements out of devotion to God. Subsequently, it moved from temple courts to the Hindu royal courts and then to the Muslim ones as well. In fact, that is the beauty of Kathak as it blends in both the Hindu and Muslim culture.”

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