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Contemporary Kathak masters

Many dedicated Kathak gurus have worked spiritedly and tirelessly for Kathak renaissance in independent India. While gratefully acknowledging their individual contributions towards this end, a concise note on some of these masters is produced as under:

Pandit Sunderlal Gangani:

Panditji’s is a pivotal name in Kathak world. He was trained in the Jaipur tradition under Acharya Shivnarayanji. Apart from kathak dance, Sunderlalji is also an accomplished table and flute player. He has served the cause of kathak both in individual and institutional capacities. He has been at coveted posts of principal of guru Shri Gourishankarji’s dance academy in Mumbai and the performing arts faculty of MS University, Vadodara. He has a long list of accomplishments and awards to his credit, notable among which are awards from Gujarat Sangeet Natak Academy and Sangeet Natak Academy. Sunderlalji is a pioneer of contemporary Kathak and commands respect and reckoning in equal measure.

Smt. Kumudini Lakhia:

A Kathak stalwart and a leading exponent, Kumidin Lakhia has made herculean efforts at reviving the dance’s glorious heritage in independent India. She has travelled all over the world, performing and imparting awareness about this timeless dance tradition. Lakhia was initially mentored by Radheshyam Mishra, and was later trained under renowned gurus like Birju Maharaj, Sunderprasadji and Shambhu Maharaj. Lakhia is credited with breaking the Kathak tradition of solo dance and transforming it into a troupe dance. She has a dance academy named Kadamb in Ahmedabad, India. Her Facebook profile link is http://www.facebook.com/pages/Kumudini-Lakhia/156474117517?v=info, and her dance academy web site name is www.kadamb.org. A notable insight into Kumudini’s life and times can be had in the book Movement in Stills: The Dance and Life of Kumudini Lakhia, authored by Reena Shah.

Shakti Bhatnagar Roberts:

Shakti is a name to reckon with as far as giving wings to Kathak is considered. Basically a performer and a dance guru, she did not hesitate to quit stage for a considerable time in order to promote Kathak and other cultural icons of India across the globe. Her notable achievement is the founding of the Jawaharlal Nehru Cultural Centre in Moscow. Shakti is a noted interpreter of Indian texts, which she then utilises for creating custom choreographies. She is a breakaway at heart; an example is her shedding the stereotypical gharana syndrome in Kathak, “Kathak stands altered to a huge extent. Soft, lyrical patterns have given way to technically superb performances like the one that Rajendra Gangani is famous for. In such a scenario, the distinction of gharanas ceases to be significant...” (http://www.tribuneindia.com/2005/20050123/society.htm#1).

Pandit Chitresh Das:

Originally hailing from Kolkata, Das has now settled in the USA, where he tirelessly pursuits the spread of Kathak. He started learning Kathak at a tender age of 9 from Pandit Ram Narayan Misra and went on to master the dance forms of both the Lucknow and Jaipur gharanas. Das created the Chhandam School of Kathak and the Chitresh Das Dance company in San Fransisco, California, USA, in 1979, where he lives and teaches Kathak. In 2002, he established the Chhandam School in India, and today, a network of ten Chhandam schools is spread all over the world.

Das is revered for pioneering an innovative dance style, Kathak Yoga. It has no bearing with Yoga, but it focuses on the ‘multitasking’ ability of the dancer, thereby entrusting multiple responsibilities on the performer. Kathak Yoga demands challenging and demanding tasks from the dancer within a single composition – s/he has to deliver perfect kinaesthetic manoeuvres including complex chakkars, has to vocalise the taal and sing the lyric all at the same time. The guiding principle of Kathak Yoga is to bring the various aspects of the performance ‘under one roof’ or to centralise them within the persona of the performer.

www.kathak.org is the web site of Das’ dance academy.

Smt. Sitaradevi:

The stalwart hales from Bhopal and was initially trained by her father Sukhdev Mishra, who was a renowned singer in Bhopal’s royal court. Apart from Kathak expertise, Sitaradevi is also known to have mastered Bharatnatyam and Manipuri dance. Ravindranath Tagore was so impressed with her dance that he fondly called her ‘Kathak Queen”. Sitara Devi’s unique style is known for the incredible force and energy in her dance, which often continued for long hours on the stage. It is not uncommon of Sitara Devi to dance through the night. She has won many laurels including the prestigious Sangeet Natak Akademy award, Indian government’s Padmashri, Kalidas Samman and Nritya Nipuna.

Sitaradevi’s detailed biography is available at http://profiles.incredible-people.com/sitara-devi.

Birju Maharaj:

He is one of the most acclaimed gurus of Lucknow gharana and descends from the legendary Maharaj family. He is the son of Acchan Maharaj and nephew of Shambu Maharaj and Lacchu Maharaj; thus, kathak flows in his genes. He was trained in Kathak under the strict and disciplinarian mentorship of the father-uncles trio. Apart from dance, Birju Maharaj is also a formidable tabla and pakhawaj player. Throughout his career, Birju maharaj has danced and conducted thousands of kathak projects in India and abroad, thus contributing to spreading awareness about kathak internationally. In the field of teaching too, Birju maharaj has contributed his might; he remained the principal of Kathak Kendra, a school of Sangeet Natak Akademy in Delh for long years. Thereafter, he established his own kathak institute named Kalashram.

Birju maharaj’s major contribution is his establishment of kathak in Bolywood as a credible classical dance form and bringing it to the level where the masses could appreciate it with the glamour quotient. His long list of accomplishments includes Indian government’s Padma Vibhushan, Sangeet Natak Akademi Award and the Kalidas Samman.

Birju Maharaj’s institutional web site name is www.birjumaharaj-kalashram.com and his biography is available at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Birju_Maharaj.

Shri Gopikrishan:

This contemporary master is the son of Tara Devi, herself an accomplished classical singer and was trained in Kathak by his maternal grandfather Sukhdev Maharaj, who was a leading exponent of Banaras gharana. Gopikrishan has also mastered Bharatnatyam, and is a leading light in composing crossover acts. His choreography can best be described as anti-establishment, whereby he broke the traditions and experimented with breakaway choreography concepts like fusion. This uncanny ability led to his entry into Bollywood choreography, where he created legendary dances that are fond favourites of viewers and critics alike even today. One able example is the dances of film Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baje. Gopikrishan’s style is essentially individualistic and glamorous to a certain extent, wherein he presented innovative choreographic interpretations of diverse narratives.

Gopikrishan’s profile is available at http://maestroesclassicaldancers.weebly.com/gopi-krishna.html.

Smt. Roshankumari:

The most revered contemporary maestro of Jaipur gharana, Roshankumari has received a rich cultural heritage from her father Fakir mohamamed who was a noted table and pakhwaj player and her mother Zohra Begum who was a classical artist. Roshanji learned Kathak from Guru Shri.K. S. Moray, Pandit Sunder Prasad, Gulam Hussan Khan of Patiala, Pandit Hanuman Prasad of Jaipur. She is also a noted Bharatnatyam exponent, which she learned from Sarvashri Govindraj Pilai and Mahalingam Pilai.

Roshankumari is a recipient of Indian government;s Padmashru award and a doctorate in kathak from West Bengal government. She has made significant contributions towards both stage performances and Bollywood choreography, utilising her Kathak expertise. The maestro’s biography is available at http://muktajoshi.com/myguru.html

 
  
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