Saturday, September 18, 2010

Rabindranatyam :: The novel classical dance created by Rabindranath Tagore

Guru Valmiki Banerjee founder director of both Delhi Ballet Group (1954) and Rabindranatyam Training & Research Center is perhaps the only guide continuing research on Rabindranatyam , the classical dance form created by Rabindranath to propagate the message of peace.

Because of his endeavour since early fifties, Rabindranatyam is now recognized as a novel Indian Classical Dance by ministry of culture, Govt. of India and senior scholarship on Rabindranatyam has been introduced. Tagore Research Institute, Kolkata-700026, being acquainted with his dedicated research to rejuvenate Rabindranatyam, has introduced a ‘honoris causa’ on research on the quest of the original form of Rabindranatyam as created by Rabindranath and Guru Valmiki Banerjee is the first recipient. Later recipients of this ‘honoris causa’ were reputed dance teachers and authors of famous dance books Prof.Gayatri Chatterjee, Guru Thankomani Kutty, Prof Mahua Mukherjee.

We hope all of them and other leading personalities in the field of Indian Classical and folk dances too join the research on Rabindranatyam, the best way to pay homage to Rabindranath on his 150 birth anniversary.

The contents of Rabindranatyam being different, the Angika,Bachika,Ahariya and Satwika of Rabindranatyam differ from any other Indian Classical dances. Rabindranath himself formulated those and his associates worked on the subject under his guidance. His verdict on the topic was final.

The memoirs, writings, photographs and paintings of all those who received dance training under the guidance of Rabindranath or were his associates during the creative period of formulating the novel classical form are best sources to rejuvenate Rabindranatyam.

Guru Valmiki is collecting and interpreting the messages from those documents since long. Those of Pratima Tagore, Abanindranath, Nandalal Basu, Sreemati Hathising Tagore, Amita Sen, Shantidev Ghose, Sukriti Chakravorty, Rama Chakravorty, Sahana Devi, Jyostna Banerjee, Madam Levy, Alain Danielou, Krishna Kripalani and above all Gurusaday Dutta I.C.S.(founder of folk dances federation of India, Delhi in the year 1933), are rich sources to evaluate Rabindranatyam.

Probes in the journals of Visva Bharti, Modern Review, Prabasi etc. can reveal important aspects. Paintings, drawings and sketches of Kala Bhavan alumnus deserve to scrutinize to reconstruct the original form.Unfortunately no such study has been done yet.

Guru Valmiki explains that Rabindranatyam is different from other classical dances since inception. The Pranam in the beginning is dedicated to Nature-Sky, Air, Fire, Water and Soil in lieu of a particular Deity.

He was made aware of this treasure since prior independence by his Dance Gurus initially by Guru Jaydev Chattopadhyay at Calcutta and later by Guru Gopinath at Madras. Guru Jaydev was a versatile artist of his time. He was working as a painter in famous New Theatres. Because of his innovative talent he was experimenting with lighting, stagecraft and choreography too. Tapas Sen and other pupil used to learn those skills from him. He keenly watched the Dance dramas of Rabindranath in Calcutta Halls and used to follow the arts. After the demise of Rabindranath he gave up his job and concentrated in dance only following the dance form created by Rabindranath. His firm conviction was Rabindranath created a novel classical dance based on the folk dances of Bengal particularly Raibenshe. Hence the footwork is extensive. Moreover through each and every dance Rabindranath conveyed the message of universal peace. Abhinaya is predominant in Rabindranatyam. One of his dance disciple Bhaskar, son of the illustrious sculptor Deviprasad Raychaudhury, informed him that the doyen of Kathakali Guru Gopinath also advise his students to study Rabindranatyam and its stage craft. On the recommendation of Guru Jaydev young Valmiki reached Madras to receive training from Guru Gopinath.

Rabindranath and Guru Gopinath first interacted at Varanasi in a Classical Soiree of Indian Music and Dance. The curriculum of music and dance of B.H.U. was framed by Alain Danielou, a French genius, who was a great admirer of paintings, music and dance created by Rabindranath. One of the dance student of B.H.U., Aruna Bagchi of Rampur, U.P presented Rabindranatyam in classical form free from the stains of other classicals. Rabindranath also observed Kathakali for the first time there. Guru Gopinath and Rabindranath developed a relationship of mutual admiration. Being invited ,on the next month in January 1935 Guru Gopinath had been to Santiniketan and conducted a week long dance workshop. Guru Gopinath accepted the suggestion of Rabindranath to include social issues as contents of the dance. As a result he simplified Kathakali and invented new Mudras appropriate to the novel contents and thus he created a new dance form Kerala Natanam. His wife Guru Thankomani was a dance disciple of Kalyani Amma who was a dance teacher at Santiniketan during late thirty’s and impressed by the novel dance form created by Rabindranath. The couple used to instruct their students to study Rabindranatyam.

Rabindranath is the pioneer in India to form a Dance Academy at Santiniketan. He did so since the year 1919 to build peace movement. Because of first world war and the massacre of Jaliwanalabag , the great visionary decided to build a peace movement and realized dance not only can communicate peace messages crossing all barriers, also will make everybody healthy in body and mind. He created cultural festivals to mingle seasonal changes as a source of joy in every life and pleasure in every work. Rural population was his main attraction hence Folk dances was the main stay of the novel classical dance form created by him. Each and every dance dramas created by Rabindranath conveys the message of peace .Chitrangada stands for equal and honourable status for women. Chandalika against racial discriminations. Tasher Desh against useless rituals and women being the cruelest victim of such practices( Sati or Child marriage or prohibition of Widow marriage and so on),common women in the dance drama initiate the revolt. Shyama depicts that moral ethics are more precious than any material gains.

Sreemati Hathising Tagore who joined Santiniketan in the year 1922 and groomed herself as an illustrious dancer under the guidance of Rabindranath stated, “It was also the poet who gathered at Santiniketan experts of the various techniques and gave them full scope to develop and evolve new forms of their own.” She further added, “Tagores dramas and plays have an aesthetic appeal and cannot form a platform for exhibition of various techniques.”

‘Natir Puja’was staged in 1927 at Calcutta under the guidance of Rabindranath. During those days, he was the sole Nrityaguru at Santiniketan. The peace message of the dance drama was presented in a novel classical dance form hitherto unknown and clearly distinct and different from other Indian classical dances. He composed the songs ‘Hingsaye unmatta prithwi’ and ‘Nrityera talye talye’ along with ‘Panhca bhuter arati’ in ‘Banabani’ almost simultaneously.

Being guided by his illustrious teachers Guru Jaydev and Guru Gopinath , all through his life Guru Valmiki dedicated himself for the quest of original form of dance created by Rabindranath to convey his peace and inspiring messages perfectly through Rabindranatyam .

Guru Jaydev Chattopadhyay was a painter in the famous ‘New Theaters’ of Calcutta. He was a folk dance exponent and choreographer. He had an innovative brain and used to experiment on stage decoration and stage lighting. Tapas Sen learned the skill from him. Whenever there was any programme of Rabindranatyam at Calcutta stage in thirty’s, Mr. B.N.Sircar, the proprietor of the ‘New Theatres’ made it compulsory for his team to observe the show.

Thus Guru Jaydev could study Rabindranatyam keenly. After the demise of Rabindranath he offered his job to one of his disciple and concentrated only to preserve the dance form created by Rabindranath. He discussed the subject with Ratindranath Tagore at Dehradun and received his full support and blessings for the cause. Rathindranath commented ‘How can the Indian Classical Dance arena remain infertile? It seems general belief is that all other Classical Dances are created by God.

How can Rabindranath create a new one?’

Guru Valmiki received support from many including Mukundadas Bhattacharya of Morris College, Lucknow, Raasavrunda School of Dance ,Mysore. Tagore Research Institute, Kolkata. Prasanta Kumar Mitra, President of Baitanik,the pioneer organization formed immediate after independence at Jorasanko Tagore house to propagate the message of Rabindranath . Mahamahopadhyay Satyanarayana, Mahamahopadhyay G.T. Narayana Rao, Guru Nandini Eswar, Dr.Rama Bennur, Tagore Research Institute, Dhaka, Bangladesh and many other scholars including Prof Amlan Dutta, Ahmad Rafique, Meena Kang etc.

Dr.Rohita Eswar, a Bharatnatyam exponent who played Bajrasen in Shyama in Bengali at Mysore observed that Rabindranatyam dance form is so lucid it helps in performing Bharatnatyam too.

On the eve of the 150 birth anniversary of Rabindranath when the world is weeping to get rid of violence let us join hands with this octogenarian dance yogi to rejuvenate the original dance techniques evolved by Rabindranath himself. The peace messages of Rabindranath’s literature can thus reach throughout the globe crossing all the barriers.


Prantosh Bandyopadhyay

Co ordinator

Rabindranatyam Training and Research Center

Shilpi Bhavan, E-841,Chittaranjan Park,

New Delhi- 110019


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