Shovana Narayan on Kathak...

Anisha Sharma
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The language of dance

Shovana Narayan's Kathak performances attempt to bridge the gap between scriptural stories and their relevance today.

"Indian mythology is as relevant today as it was when it was created. The purpose was to weave lessons through interesting stories, which would leave a lasting impact. Sadly, today the meaning seems to have faded while storylines continue," says Padmashri Shovana Narayan, whose awareness of India's glorious past has her making efforts to bridge the gap through Kathak, the original way of telling stories.

The arts are a spiritual medium. They see the harmony and rhythm that binds the universe. They bridge differences

Shovana Narayan Kathak

With a PhD in Physics under her belt, and the demands of a high pressure job as senior bureaucrat to boot, this multi-tasking danseuse is an enigma of sorts. Her penchant for reading and research has pushed her pen into writing eight books on Indian dances. "And, the ninth one, titled Krishna In Performing Arts is now in print," she reports with glee.

Shovana's excitement is palpable when she talks about scriptural tales that are beautifully woven into her performances: "Surdas' Bal Krishna asked for the moon. And just look at it, don't today's children also ask for the impossible to be given to them? Nothing has changed."

She sure has a new way of looking at things! Besides the obvious issue of greed and feminism, "Draupadi's cheerharan in Mahabharata, is exactly what we, the Dushasanas, are doing to mother Earth today. We are stripping her bare and humiliating her. Yet, God protects her despite it all," she says giving a wake-up call for environment-conservation through her dance.

Ganapati's beheading by Shiva is again symbolic of the perils of anger. "Shiva is God, so he could resurrect Ganapati, but our acts of violence cannot be redeemed," she says.

"Incidentally, in this violence-stricken world, how many trouble makers belonging to the faculty of classical arts can you name? None, because the arts are a spiritual medium. They see the harmony and rhythm that binds the universe. They bridge differences."

I have performed with dancers from other classical dances such as Bharatnatyam, Kuchipudi, Odissi, Mohini-Attam, Manipuri, Flamenco, tap dancing and ballet, yet, I have been true to Kathak

Married to an Austrian ambassador Herbert Traxl who was bred on classical western music, Shovana has also developed an ear for Western classical music.

Being the first to use English poetry in a Kathak performance, Shovana also enjoys "inter-disciplinary work with other classical dances,"though 'fusion' is a word she is wary of. "I have done a lot of inter-disciplinary work. I have performed with dancers from other classical dances such as Bharatnatyam, Kuchipudi, Odissi, Mohini-Attam, Manipuri, Flamenco, tap dancing and ballet, yet, I have been true to Kathak. This is my life line," says this shishya of Pundit Birju Maharaj, among others. "The freedom of expression that Kathak gives me is unparalleled!"she adds.

When asked about the revival of Sufi music and its interpretation in dance, she is quick to respond, "We Kathaaks have always danced to Kabir and Amir Khusro. Spirituality in all its colours has historically found expression in Kathak. And Kathak was popular even before the fourth century BC." She promptly goes on to quote from Adi Parva in Mahabharata, and Prakrit texts. "Kathak's parans, tukras, and bhramaris have always reflected the celestial dance of the divine.

Kathak is essentially spiritual and sensual." And this achiever is truly hooked to it for life – bridging the gap between cultures and sensibilities across the world.




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