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Kathak Maestro’s Pioneering Gita Govinda Documentation Nearing Completion

In Arts
November 02, 2022

Kathak is set to be enriched with a complete portrayal of the Gita Govinda, as its senior exponent Dr Pali Chandra is currently composing and choreographing all the 24 songs of the 12th century Sanskrit poem to record them as performances in the classical north Indian dance.

Switzerland-settled Chandra has been working for five years on the pioneering endeavour in her native country’s heritage, aiming to fulfill the mission next September. Roping in 150 people, the artiste’s project is being realized in Kerala with the cooperation of disciples from her Gurukul with units in India as well as abroad.

A highlight of the unique initiative, in association ICT consultant and service provider Invis culture-documenting multimedia company, is its exclusive stage: a forested location off Thiruvananthapuram using the famed model of Japanese botanist-ecologist Akira Miyawaki (1928-2021). The recordings are being shot on that green 120-square metre plot at suburban Puliyarakonam, also considering that Jayadeva’s Gita Govinda mentions around 40 plants.

“Most of these in the vegetation are in the vicinity of our stage,” says Lucknow-born Dr Chandra, now settled in Zurich. “Just six years ago, the entire area was barren. Today we have groomed in it more than 400 species.”

The project by Dr Chandra, who received training under the illustrious Vikrama Singha and Kapila Mishra, will host detailed online teaching sessions for students. “The idea is to continue the guru-shishya parampara through a platform named Natyasutraonline,” she says about the 2017-initiated series with Kerala-based Invis founding Managing Director M.R. Hari as the creative director.

Natyasutraonline.com is the classical dance platform of the 1995-founded Invis headquartered in Kerala.

Jayadeva, who is believed to be from eastern India’s present-day Odisha, went on to become popular in the subcontinent’s southern peninsula. Dances such as Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi besides Kathakali and subsequently Mohiniyattam employ Gita Govinda compositions — popularly in the format of eight-line Ashtapadis that are a chief feature of the work.

“No dance in our country has presented all the stanzas and songs of the Gita Govinda. This persuaded Invis to take up the task in Kathak,” says 55-year-old Dr Chandra, who is associated with prestigious international festivals for the past three decades. Her Gurukul has organized workshops for research, choreography and training in no less than three continents.

Dr Chandra notes that choreographing and composing Gita Govinda in Kathak has been tough. “For one, we face difficulty in identifying a single text of the classic,” she says about visualizing its aesthetics in the dance that got a major impetus during the 16th century of the Mughal era (1526-1857). “There are several authors — Indian and foreign — who compiled, interpreted or translated the poem, resulting in variations, however minor. Hence, we chose to take different songs from different books, estimating their proximity to the original text.”

The music is being recorded with a team of singers from various parts of India, led by composer B. Sivaramakrishna Rao and keyboard and rhythm arranger Venky D.C. The production and post-production assignments are being undertaken by an Invis team of 100 members. Anitha Jayakumar, CEO of Natyasutraonline, is the project coordinator.

“The structure of the content of this project is also interesting,” points out Dr Chandra. “Besides classical dance performance, the artiste presents the content of the songs for audience using dance as the language. The guru teaches the students the content and choreography and also guides them in the performance. The objective of the whole project is to present the classical text, its content richness and poetic beauty.”

The project will elaborately portray Radha, who is one of the most popular characters of Indian mythology, thanks to the classical poem.

The organisers are also readying a coffee-table book on the Gita Govinda. The text is being prepared by Dr. Radhika Menon with mural paintings of artists V.S. Sudheer and K KBaiju in two different styles.