Azadi, Gandhi and India

 Azadi, Gandhi and India

Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav, everywhere. Feeling of a national spirit not notional as many past August 15 have been. This year, the air was surcharged with Har Ghar Tiranga, songs and dance and post-Covid19 joy, almost.

Azadi. What does freedom mean today? To those who fought for it, if some still around, it is reminiscing how it was got, without violence. Gandhi became the symbol around whom all revolved.

In Gandhi’s Gujarat, Uma Anantani had created a new aesthetics for depicting Gandhi through dance. She is a senior Bharatanatyam talent of the city of Ahmedabad, though hailing from Bhuj, Kutch.

Her PhD was on a comparative study between Hindu and Jains systems of aesthetics, under the redoubtable Dr Kanak Rele of Nalanda Nritya Mahavidyalaya fame. Dr Rele has done much academic work over decades and her institution is an outpost in West India.

Uma Anantani’s Gandhi was more a quest than a question. More seeking than a search and more contemporary than a pure classical rendition. Gujarati pin tuck costume and colours were so soft and understated, each fold speaking of rich textile traditions of the region. The music was powerful and poignant. Three dancers headed by chief of Rasadhwani, Shivangee Vikram, displayed tight command over delivery and discourse.

azadi amrit mahotsav
Photo Credit Dip Memento Photography

Starting the evening with Kabir’s question Moko Kahan Dhunde, where a group of five (and it was nice to see young male dancer too, as purush are so few in Bharatanatyam in rest of India, other than its provenance) performed cohesively. Choreography was well-knit and the stage was well used.

azadi amrit mahotsav

Between the two works, Anantani’s additional talent could be seen in the form of a book – Tridhara – she launched, courtesy the University Granth Nirman Board of Gujarat. A first rate compilation on four strands of research articles, thought behind choreographies, previously published articles and ode to gurus, form the bedrock of this handbook. Soft-bound and priced at just Rs 240 (in order it reaches student community), the book is a must for all art institutions and libraries.

azadi amrit mahotsav
Photo Credit Dip Memento Photography

Topics of interest are the 15th century saint poet of Gujarat Narsimha Mehta and then an analysis of aesthetics of Garba-Raas, the world’s longest dance festival. Nine nights when a million feet dance! Dr Anantani, this was the most genuine and sincere expression of Azadi Diwas. The freedom to think anew in dance, not platform some dusted – off-shelf long-forgotten poet or university hero!

Delhi being the Capital had lots to offer. The NSD had a month long five city mega thrust thanks to an energetic new director Dr Ramesh C Gaur, who brought new winds to blow in this moribund institution. He, under the guidance from peers and theatre talents like Paresh Rawal, its chairman and Sachchidanand Joshi of IGNCA, mounted a juggernaut of Natya Mahotsav. It gave chance for many moffusil cities theatre groups to come showcase their art to metro India and helped support the arts in a big way.

azadi amrit mahotsav
NSD Director Ramesh C Gaur

In South, Kalakshetra under Dr Revathi Ramachandran too mounted a four-city tour of its fare and artistes performing in Doon and Ahmedabad, Amritsar and Bhubaneswar, a bit like the NSD Festival. Government bodies have been busy building brand India, after a hiatus of two years of Covid19.

Mumbai had its raindrops festival done every year for last many by Kathak artiste Uma Dogra. In Bangalore, the Kinkini is a landmark event where best dancers get platformed. Odisha came to Delhi through the Panda brothers and Debadhara festival brought upcoming artistes centre stage.

Books, films, dance, music and theatre made for an azadi diwas with a zing. The question to be asked of young India is who is or are their role models? Whom they hero worship and why? What being free means to them and what they plan to do for Bharat?

Ashish Mohan Khokar is a reputed authority on Indian arts and culture, with 40 years
of exemplary work in the field. He is also hailed as the gold standard of art journalism.
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