Santa Vani, a classic dance ballet by Kanak Rele
In the world of dance, we see many performances and shows almost every day, some we appreciate and some we do not and then there are some that leave an ever-lasting impression in our mind. These, path breaking, mesmerizing and timeless shows become classic just like some Bollywood films that we can watch again and again and never get bored or ageless like some film stars. Such shows apart from being enthralling also become a lesson for the next generation to come. I am talking about one such show today ‘Santa Vani’ a dance ballet by Kanak Rele ji who is the Founder-Director Nalanda Dance Research Centre.
Kanak ji first presented Santa Vani in 1985 and had travelled worldwide with it gaining international acclaim. She has been doing many shows of it since then, but the new online medium opened new door for it. The Padma Bhushan awardee gave the show a totally new look by involving young and promising dancers in the show for it to reach to the newer generation of artist. Santa Vani is a dance drama revolving around Krishna Vithoba and his veneration through the exquisite abhangas of saint poet of Maharashtra. Music of the show is by Narayan Mani and lyrics of keertan by Dr. Vijaya Wad.
“It gives me immense pleasure and pride to see my hard work being requested and presented over and over again by Organisers from all over the globe. Especially in such testing times, to give a momentary relief to all mankind around the world via technological development through my conceptualised devotional ode to Vitthala is reassuring. The strength is in the creation and not the repetition, as every time Nalanda’s Santavani is presented it blends with the souls of the new performers and regains the life fed to it by the one’s who performed the roles earlier.” Said Kanak ji excitedly. The show was a complete delight yet again where Nalanda’s – past, present and future merged with this impeccable timeless dance production choreographed and conceptualized by Kanak ji.
Vithoba or Vithala along with his consort Rukmini at Pandharpur is the deeply adored deity of Maharashtra. All the veneration saint poets of Maharashtra starting from Gyaneshwara are Vithoba’s devotees singing His glory in the famous ‘Abhangs’. There is the simple and deeply emotional “Bhakti” for the Lord Vithoba’s simple rural devotees are called the “Vaarkari-s”.
On every “Ashadha Ekadashi” the devout “Vaarkari-s” gather at Pandharpur having congregated from different parts of the state in religious processions called “Dindi”. They start a few days prior to the “Ekadashi” from their respective villages and towns on foot and carry a “Palkhi” with Gyaneshwara’s “Paadukaas”. As they pass by villagers welcome them with deep love and reverence. At dusk after the simple meal lovingly provided by the villagers the learned among the pilgrims is requested to sing a few “abhangas” and give an accompanying discourse. This is the tradition of “keertan” or “kathaa”. During the discourse he explains the high philosophy of the “abhangas” in simple language.
A few days before this auspicious “Ekadashi” groups of devotees start from different villages. As they pass villages, more and more devotees join the group. The devout undertake this holy pilgrimage on foot. The religious fervor adds to their strength. This presentation cast in the “vaarkari” mode is woven around the childhood of Krishna (Vithoba being an avataara of Krishna) and describes his pranks and frolic by way of the “abhangas” of Gyaneshwara, Namdeo, Eknath and Tukaram. The narrative is based on the “keertana” tradition. Who is the Lord? He is Krishna -Vithoba, incarnations of the Supreme Lord Vishnu who has taken ten “avataaras” to destroy évil and re-establish the realm of “Dharma” whenever the need arises.
The supremely talented Dr. Smt. Uma Rele, Principal, Nalanda Nritya Kala Mahavidyalaya, who is also an accomplished Bharatnatyam Dancer plays Yashoda in this amazing dance ballet said, “For me personally, Yashoda has always been the eternal ‘Mother’ and I enjoy playing her. As every time I am furthermore inspired by her whenever I get to adorn her character.” She further added, “For me being able to give my Nalanda students a chance to practice, feel alive and perform was the highlight of the program. Being busy in University of Mumbai online semester exams I couldn’t involve more of my current students. Online exams have been a new and interesting experience for us as an academic institution and for the students too, but at the same time I was extremely glad to have my hard-working alumni students standing strong with us as always.”
Any show is incomplete without its strong supporters and this show could virtually be successful all thanks to Renu Prithiani, Regional Officer, ICCR, Horizon Series and Kashmira Trivedi, Founder Director Takshashila Nrityakala Mandir who collaborated and presented the show. A special mention of Renu Sharma who gave Nalanda the opportunity to present Santa Vani online.
It is a matter of pride for the country that young dancers of 21st century are preserving India’s rich cultural heritage by their participation in this spiritual and religious dance drama. Vaidehi Rele Lal who had the childhood dream of playing Krishna did a splendid job with her dance along with Bhakti Bhuresing Mahajan, Sonali Tambe, Taamohar Biswas, Pranali Kalyankar, Dhwani Shah, Trusha Suren Panchal and Paridnya Kallyanpur. The sound and lights were designed and handled by Vighnesh Arun Mahajan.
Santa Vani is indeed a magnificent performance with soulful music, perfect dance and colourful attires which gave a feel of a mystical world with bells ringing around and vanis of all Saints singing Abhangas of Vithala. The perfect beginning with the procession of Lord Vitthala’s palkhi to the mischievous behaviour of Lord Krishna by the through divine marathi abhangas to the eye-catching paach gaulani to the concluding famous marathi Aarti ‘Aarti Saprem jay jay vitthal parabramha’ in which 10 incarnations of lord Vishnu are depicted made Santa Vani a treat to watch.
This show is a legacy of Nalanda where current dancer’s gurus have performed and today it has been passed down to the next generation which is truly a blessing for all performers. Even though Santa Vani was composed many years back, it still has that essence and emotion that can immerse the audience into it. In times of pandemic, social distancing, masks and sanitizers ‘Santa Vani’ was food for the soul.