Sanskriti Mahotsav – a Kathak festival that celebrates different gharanas

 Sanskriti Mahotsav – a Kathak festival that celebrates different gharanas

Kathak is one Indian classical dance form that has captivated the minds and hearts of people all over the world. It is today a part of almost all Indian dance festivals and several international dance platforms as well. There are a handful of artists who have dedicated their entire life to take the legacy of this dance forward – Shila Mehta is one such Kathak exponent who is tirelessly working towards taking Kathak to global platforms.

Recently Mehta organised Sanskriti Mahotsav, a festival to exclusively promote Kathak. This festival was unique in the sense that it had presence of all the Gharanas of Kathak. Mehta curated this festival especially to bring awareness about the differences and similarities within each Kathak gharana. I spoke with this talented lady in regards to the same and this is what she had to say:

How did the festival come about?
It was organised as a tribute to the celebrated contribution of Padma Vibhushan Pandit Birju Maharaj ji to the field of Kathak, homage to Guru Pandit Vijay Shankar ji who passed away sometime back and in loving memory of dance scholar and critic Padmashree Dr Sunil Kothari ji who we lost to Covid. It was a nine-day festival spread over five weekends. I believe that as artistes we should contribute to the society too so we joint hands with charity of autism.

What made you include different Kathak gharanas?
I believe the beauty of dance lies in connecting the past to the present and preparing the future. Past is not old, it is gold. Gharana is a lineage and if that is kept strong and if its origin and source is kept alive only then we can enhance creativity. There is a beautiful saying “The deeper the roots, taller the shoots” that is where gharana plays an important role. At the same time a gharana is not dividing Kathak dancers, rather it is a way to show that Kathak has many fragrances and flavours, and each has its own beauty. Festival had four gharana showcased at the festival

How difficult was it to bring the biggest names of different gharanas together on one platform?
It took me nine months, it was almost like delivering a baby. First phone call I made was to Maharaj ji and he praised my initiative and stood for me that gave me the encouragement. Due Covid many were not in the right frame of mind but constant follow up did the trick and I finally got great support from artistes like Rajendra Gangani, Prerna Shrimali, Durga Arya, Prerna Deshpande and many more came forward. Younger artistes like Vishal Krishna, Sauvik, Shivani verma and others were a delight to have. Having the presence of Ram Lal Barit ji and his students were something very special. But yes, I must admit many of my contemporaries did not care to reply to my calls back but I guess the situation is such that all are not in the right circumstances.

What made you join the cause of autism with dance.
Nupur Jhankar is my NGO which uses art to raise awareness about different problems in the communities around the world; we have branches in India, USA, UK and Belgium and we keep bringing spotlight unto various issues. This time it was autism. We even presented some autism theme based kathak performances. I feel the world over there is very little awareness and understanding about autism.
It was an online ticketed show, we did not get anyone in for free and every penny was given to the charity. We also had talk from Flamis organization of Autism, USA and Autism Society of India which brought more light to the cause.

Out of all the gharana talks and presentation which one was most well received?
The festival showcased in-depth interviews, talks and performances of four gharans viz Lucknow Kathak Gharana, Jaipur Kathak Gharana, Banaras Kathak Gharana and Raigarh Kathak Gharana. The talks by legends of each gharanas were very well recieved. Different films of “Gharana Tree” were something everyone loved, performances of the masters were a big hit too. The high energy and zeal of the younger artistes was something audience took back with them.

What do you think is lacking in today’s artiste?
Today’s generation of dancers are absolutely brilliant, the skills of a young dancers are immaculate and they all are very well polished as performers too but I feel that the personal thirst of connecting dance to self and spirituality is missing. Today, dance has become more of an entertainment, well I don’t deny the fact that it is a medium of entertainment but that is for the audiences, for the ones who see the dancer. For the artiste dance needs to be a deeper connect with the soul, and it must be a link to the divine.

What is up next?
The recorded shows of Sanskriti Mahotsav will be taken ahead. As of now we are screening the show at event being held at Embassies of India in Belgium, UK and USA. Nehru Center UK will also be showcasing the festival along with live panel discussion with few eminent dance personalities from UK.
I also wish to make more films on this topic. At the same time, the Vande Mataram festival is also coming up soon. I also wish to keep alive the folk-dance tradition.

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