Rare Nangiar Koothu at Raza Foundation’s festival of classical music, dance Kapila Venu showcases solo Sanskrit dance-drama at 2-day event

New Delhi, Jan 18: Dancer Kapila Venu’s evocative Nangiar Koothu, mesmerised at the inaugural day of the classic music and dance Festival organised by the Raza Foundation here in the capital city, where it is rare to witness the ancient solo Sankrit dance-drama hailing from Kerala

After a scintillating performance of Raag Pancham by sitar maestro Ustad Shujaat Khan, son of the legendary sitarist Ustad Vilayat Khan, Kapila took to the stage to interpret the first verse of ‘Soundarya Lahiri’ (Waves of Beauty) penned by  the mystical philosopher sage Adi Shankara.

The two-day Festival 'Mahima: the Return of the Guru', is being organised in memory of the Modern Indian painter Syed Haider Raza who died last year, and emphasises the presence meaning and relevance of the teacher or guru in classical performing traditions of music and dance.

Kapila, the daughter of Mohiniyattam danseuse Nirmala Paniker and Koodiyattam exponent Gopalan Nair Venu has trained under Guru Ammannur Madhava Chakyar, Usha Nangiar and under Japanese dancer Min Tanaka. Nangiar Koothu is the female counterpart of Koodiyattam, which has been described as an intangible heritage by Unesco.

"The performance has been choreographed by my father G Venu who conceived the piece around 10 years ago," Kapila said.

Employing the navarasas and highly stylised hand gestures Kapila delineated the Adi Shankara’s poetry using imagery borrowed from Kalidasa's Kumarsambhava

The verse talks about the union of Shiva with Shakti and talks about theinseparable nature of their union. Kapila enacted a variety of characters ranging from Shiva, Parvati, the demon Tarakasura, the god of love Kama and others. 

In true Koodiyattam style, the performance uses virtually no props, except for the sole exception of a wooden stool which was used by Kapila to sit on during the enacting.

Prior to Kapila maestro Shujaat Khan accompanied by tabla players Amjad Khan and Arunangshu Chowdhary give a rousing performance of Raag Pancham, a classic melody, that he said, was employed by very few musicians nowadays.

"Artists play according to their moods. There is no one piece of music that I can pick as having been taught to me specifically by my guru. Everything I have learnt has been passed down by my teachers and I acknowledge their contribution every time I play," said the sitarist who expressed his happiness at participating in the 

The seventh generation musician and prodigy son of legendary sitarist Ustad Vilayat who began playing at the age of three, introduced the Raag Pancham as one, which was often performed by Pandit Ravi Shankar, who used to call it by another name Raag Hemant.

Beginning the evening on a mellow note, the sitarist played solo for about half-an -hour raising the tempo gradually before being joined by tabla players Amjad Khan and Arungangshu one by one, the later injecting a playful beat before a final soaring finish that was greeted by loud and sustained audience applause.

The 2004 -Grammy nominated sitarist who has played all over the world including at the UN Assembly and has cut over 100 music albums is renowned for his gayaki style of playing the sitar.

Talking about the humble beginings of this two day Festival, Ashok Vajpeyi, theExecutive Trustee of the Raza Foundation, explained that the event was firstorganised last year as a private initiative of a gathering of friends. It then led to thecreation of this annual platform in Delhi.

“It brought into focus the centrality of the Guru which is now being undermined, though lip service continues to be paid Raza Sahab had great regard for his school and art teachers. He kept their photographs in his studios both in Paris and Delhi.

He never taught except briefly in Berkeley (USA) but many treated him as their Guru," Vajpeyi said.

The second day of the festival today will begin with a kayal recital by Dr Ashwini Bhide from the Jaipur Gharana followed by a performance by Odissi dancer Madhavi Mudgal who will focus on her guru Kelucharan Mohapatra. 


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