JAYA NARAYANAN PISHAROTY
Manjari Chaturvedi has blended the mysticism of Sufism with the classicism of Kathak to evolve a new kind of dance, Sufi Kathak.
Manjari Chaturvedi, a leading Kathak dancer from the Lucknow gharana, has blended the mysticism of Sufism with the classicism of Kathak to evolve a new kind of dance, Sufi Kathak. “It is new and yet ancient,” says Manjari. “Sufi poetry existed in the form of Qawwalis in the Indian sub-continent and Kathak is a classical art form. Sufi Kathak is a part of the mainstream; the theme, costume and music are different but the grammar is the same.” She presented an evening of Sufi Kathak in Thrissur. The recital was organised by Thalam Cultural Trust in association with Thrissur Public Library. The theme of the evening was the spiritual journey of a woman from self-absorbed vanity to a complete surrender to the Almighty. Manjari Chaturvedi’s innovative choreography was based on the Sufi tenets and the musical accompaniment was the Qawwali. Any dance item is always rehearsed to a fixed piece of music and rhythm but the Qawwals are accustomed to unstructured singing. Their music is spontaneous and free-ranging and cannot be restricted by the formal requirements of a dance. And it is on this that Manjari innovates on stage . She believes it is divine inspiration and indeed her `chakkars’ are reminiscent of the whirling dervishes of Sufism.
Amir Khusro’s verses
All the dances were set to the verses of Sufi poet Amir Khusro. In the first item, `Eri Sakhi’ in Brijbhasha, Manjari portrayed the nayika who decks herself in finery to welcome her beloved. She dances to please him. In `Chab Tilak,’ the young girl thinks she can mesmerise her beloved (the Almighty) with her beauty; one look at his enchanting face and she surrenders herself to him. Manjari’s slow and meditative movements suited the spiritual mood of the composition. Her exquisite handwork and expressive abhinaya conveyed sequentially the vanity of the girl, her fascination for the beauty of her beloved and finally her complete absorption in Him. As one dance merged into the next due to the unity of the theme, Manjari swayed and twirled, losing herself to the music, to the spirituality of the song. The dance and the dancer became one. This loss of individual identity is precisely the point of Sufi Kathak. The dancer tries to convey through an art form, the formlessness of the Divine. In the next dance, the music reached a crescendo and the Qawwals sang out – “Maula!” – and Manjari whirled with arms held aloft in supplication. The last dance of the evening, ironically entitled `Rang,’ had Manjari attired in black. This composition invites the Sufi saintsto celebrate Holi. There was no flamboyance or the slightest element of exhibition in the recital. The movements were controlled and inward looking. Manjari’s costume changed from peach and gold to a spiritual white and then to black. This is symbolic of the seeker’s journey from consciousness of self to a higher state of spirituality and finally in identification with the formlessness of the Almighty. The soulful singing by a group of six Qawwals, led by Nurul Hasan, added to the spiritual ambience of the recital.