Raja and Rani

 Raja and Rani

Raja is not a word, it is a state of being. Raja aadmi means dil se raja – large hearted. Not merely royalty. Merely? Them royals might kill me and the story of Seraikella killings come to mind.

Seraikella Chhau on cover of Surya mag (March 1977) of Maneka Gandhi

Seraikella is a small principality which was in Odisha before Independence. Then in bifurcation of states, it was given to Bihar. Further division of state, it was given to Jharkhand! Socho, in 75 years the region suffered so much cultural crossing that today except for its famed Chhau dance (with masks) not much remains.
There are three types of Chhau, or provenance. Seraikella as explained above, then Purulia from Bengal and Mayurbhanj from Odisha. Vigorous movements, electrifying jumps and leaps and rich costumes make it a sight for the gods. It is.
Theyyam of Kerala
Another folk form, a sight for the gods is Theyyam. Done in Kerala to please Bhagwati or Rani of warding-off ailments like small pox, Bhadrakali, this ritualistic dance theatre is an elaborate affair and also part therapy part cure. India’s Got Talent!
Raja of Kuchipudi is a also named Raja, urf  Washim. Stately six feet plus, he is a delight to watch when today most male dancers are either namby pamby or plain podgy! The beauty of his dance lies in its suppleness and flower like hastas! His guru is a lady of culture Vanashree Rao. Through such bonding the GSP continues. Guru Shishya Parampara. Like Vidya from Paris. Looking at her guru’s pictures in MKDC gallery at the IGNCA she kept kissing or touching feet. GSP is the time tested  Indian classical arts’ process of learning from a Master.
Vidya of Paris at IGNCA
Seeing Vanashree Rao at Washim Raja’s presentation at Rama Vaidyanathan’s initiative of presenting 25 male dancers last month this time made one realise that even if one or two, diamonds do exist. It is up to a guru to shape them and make them shine. Raja will go far with his guru bhakti and own inner Shakti. Afterall, he is from the land of Durga, Ma Kali of Bengal. Diamond in the nose of another Shakti in South – Kanyakumari – made lost ships reach land – legend has it. I saw the temple in 1974! 50 years ago. No guard, no gate even. Beloved Kanyakumari was there with her diamond nose stud, shining far and bright.
Raja with guru Vanashree Rao
Cutting diamonds to make them shine is not easy business but bloody business as one saw decade ago in the Leonardo DiCaprio film Blood Diamonds. How the trade upset jungle eco systems, leading to slavery by the white men (read greed) and how diamond trading companies raised prices by controlling supplies shows all that glitters is not good or gold.
Gold jewellery is always at premium. Look at our ranis wearing tonnes of jewellery, which today even our TV stars emulate. Did anyone codify this? Yes, dear dost Alka Raghuvanshi did and her latest book on jewellery published by Sanjay Arya of Shubhi was launched in Delhi last Sunday the seventh of April, with much fanfare and awards given to all her friends! Her sister is the female version of Chulbul Pandey hence chulbuli!
One genuine area of concern today is the lightness of being. Not the Kafka film but talent. Most youngsters have no depth; bios sound pompous, full of titles and awards and when you meet them and see their work then one realises how light (weight) they are. No staying power; just like a bubble, gone with the wind. Most are item numbers. They can’t even perform two minutes without rehearsal, impromptu.
Then how will they succeed? Is their success even real? Do 2k FB friends make for real life? It must be so tiring daily to get up and reinvent oneself. What for?
Answer? Take up an idea. Make it your life. Dream of it, think of it, live on it. Leave all other ideas alone and this is the way to success. By the way ,the above idea is not mine. Swami Vivekananda’s.
So Vivekanand Centres of ICCR – 37 at last count – have been opened up in many countries abroad. What do they do? Reach out to locals, diaspora Indians and then some. Mauritius is a classic example. Full of Indian population that went centuries ago to work as indentured labour, it has a huge machinery for addressing cultural exchange. But is there any process? Interviews? Or just PR enough. Then send some students to India, to MSU or BHU, to learn about Bharat or Bharatanatyam. Is there  any audit by ICCR? Any checks in place what the students sent are doing in India? Or is it a jolly ride? On tax payers monies!
Money makes the world go. Round. But when it stops then what happens. It did. On solar eclipse day. Birds, especially a murder of crows crowed and other creatures hid. Planet featuring humans too, though the daring Americans flew to Texas to watch it. Why even a prison in New York state petitioned the Supreme court that’s inhabitants be allowed to come out in the open to watch this phenomenon. Freedom has a new meaning.
As we approach summer, when even Bangalore is burning and hotter than Delhi, then what’re the options to keep cool. Culture. Learn sitar, guitar and any pitar-a! Send your kid to some painting class; sensitise. Not all need become unemployable engineers or medicos. There’s life beyond the immediate. The ghost who walks.
Remember the Phantom comics? Mandrake. Sad Sack. Little Lotta. Richie Rich.  Archies came much later. What do children have today? Games on gadgets and frames on their eyes. Sad indeed. Phantom of a childhood.
Parents need to wake up and realise buying things is not the way out for buying affection. Time is money. Spend that with and on children. Today’s little Raju maybe tomorrow’s Raja of art or Rani of commerce. Inculcate a sense of pride, wander, awe in simple things. Culture is all pervasive and persuasive.

Gold standard of art writing, documentation and dance history comes from sustained work in the field for almost 50 years; 47 books, 5000 articles, 3 monthly columns for decades and one yearbook – attenDance. Add cultural administration from 1980s onwards; teaching at universities dance modules, 85 such for UGC E-PATHSHALA and advisor to NEEMRANA group and IGNCA. On board of several institutions, organisations and NGOs make him a truly cultural icon of young India that bridges tradition with old Bharat. Ashish Khokar truly loves and serves Indian arts and culture selflessly.


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1 Comment

  • You are on a very important mission for dance and culture Ashish. And you are talented in reaching out to people!
    I think your you are right, the main target for information, education and exposure should be the Young. As shown in the responsen you get, the established artists and admirers in the area of dance and culture, are already committed and appreciate your work.

    India is very colourful, there are talents and there are diamonds to cut symbolically speaking.
    You are doing a grate favour to people and your country by protecting the history and knowledge about dance traditions and supporting the area of culture, without it people will suffer. They will be soulless. The darkness will get more space.

    I wish there will be people to save and protect the traditions and knowledge of minorities too.
    Had I been an anthropologist, I would have explored the the beliefs and cultural expressions of tribal people. All (respectful) cultural expressions of people within a nation would make it a better place to live.

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