People often ask me what it is that initially drew me to Kathak and what it is today that continues to keep me engaged in learning and developing. I believe that Kathak found me in my early teens and within a short time, became something meaningful and powerful to steer my life.
I recall that my early training and exposure to Pandit Birju Maharaji, at a time when I was not even ready to be in the same room as him must have helped. I remember welling up with tears in my eyes, when I watched him dance, heard him speak and even when he sat quietly watching his assistant teach us. Although I stood at the back of the room struggling to keep up, I felt his presence and aura around me. It was an empowering feeling, as though I had finally come home.
One of my vivid memories of Maharaji is watching him demonstrate a Mayuri. His brilliant execution of a peacock was striking and exquisite. It gave me goosebumps and even today when I recall it, something strange happens within me. He literally became a peacock for those moments, absorbed and enlightened.
Another is of his popular portrayal of baby Krishna stealing butter in his Mother’s absence. The innocence on his face, the plead in his eyes and the pure simplicity was mind blowing. For that moment, I forgot I was watching a man in his 70’s. All I saw was a beautiful child like Krishna. This made me realize that dance has the power to touch people in such a profound way.
It was perhaps these memories that stayed with me and created my benchmark for Kathak. Fortunately or unfortunately, after this grand exposure, I was not so easily accepting of Kathak, as I craved to see that level of maturity and elevation.
My favorite aspect has always been, and still is today Thaat. Thaat is a piece usually performed towards the beginning of a recital. It consists of soft, swaying motions at a slow tempo (Vilumbat laya), using the subtle limbs such as torso, wrists, neck and eyes. It is then contrasted with a sharp movement concluding with a stylized stance. The beauty of Thaat is, that it is continuous. I have seen it performed for a long duration, with a series of stances acting as ‘resting postures’. It is like watching a bird fly from one nest to the next, never settling. Always resting. It is a perfect introduction for the audience and dancer to communicate, through the tantric motions. It was said that during the Mughal period, when the Kathak dancers were forbidden to dance for Gods or deities, they used Thaat as a way of internally reciting mantras. Hence the face should be satwick (pure) during this. I have seen many dancers perform Thaat in a sensual manner but again my early exposure to my Guruma and then to Maharajis’ elevated execution inspired me.
Many years into my training I developed a burning desire within me to share. Not only share the techniques I had learnt of a dance form with such a large vocabulary of movement and rhytym patterns, but an urge to share the principles and values I had discovered which shaped me. I began teaching, only to be rewarded by the progress of children as young as 4 years old upto adults as old as 60 years connecting with themselves through this powerful art form.
Since then there has been no looking back. I ironically discovered the word KATHAK to be written in my name and surname combined. Since then it becomes my mission to educate and promote this magnificent art form.
I have understood Dance to be a Science. It has measurements, hypotheses, facts and figures. It seeks answers to age-old questions. To excel in it, as in any science, one must have focus, skills, research, and perseverance. To understand dance, one must have strong foundations in rhythms, gestures, balance, and language. Define new dimensions. Research the oldest architecture of human form. Dance.
Learning any form of Art is upon the artist’s perception, and therefore there is no right way or wrong way of interpreting it. Many times a painter’s picture is not perceived the way he wanted it to be, due to misconception or ignorance. Therefore the concept is the same with Kathak. It is an ancient Indian art form, which originates from the North of India. Although it is still considered a sacred dance form, Kathak has gone through tremendous changes, which makes it one of the most demanding forms of dance for one to master. It is one of the oldest dance forms in the world today, holding a legacy of traditions & values.