Kathak exponent Padma Shri Shovana Narayan talks about her latest book and her love for classical dance

‘Our philosophy gives importance to classical dance’
Padma Shri Shovana Narayan. (File Photo)
Padma Shri Shovana Narayan. (File Photo)

Padma Shri Shovana Narayan’s name is synonymous with Kathak. But the dance exponent has added another feather to her cap, she has penned the book Kathak Lok: Temples Traditions and History along with Geetika Kalha. The book is the result of 7,000 km of travel through North India and five years of untiring fieldwork, investigation and research.

The mission was to understand the existence of Kathak villages and what Kathak and ‘Kathak Lok’ represented. The authors unearthed little-known facts of the pre-Christian era roots of Kathak, shattering many popular perceptions of the Mughal origins of Kathak or the belief that Kathak is the dance of the courtesans. CE speaks with the Kathak doyen about the book, her love for classical dance, and her bond with Pandit Birju Maharaj.

What was the inspiration behind penning the book Kathak Lok: Temples Traditions and History?
The journey started in 2003 when a journalist after my performance in Bodh Gaya Festival enquired whether I would be visiting Kathak village. The ears of my musicians and myself pricked up for the existence of Kathak villages was new to us and to several members of the classical dance community. Once we started on the journey of discovery, it was natural that we wanted to share it with all.

You have written many books specially on performing arts, what motivates you?
I like sharing whatever knowledge I have. Today, when any of us do research, we look into archives for material, information that several rishis, scholars, writers, and others have shared with us. These are valuable documentation of knowledge, of experiences.

You are the first-ever Indian professional dancer who, for a long period of time, combined a full-fledged career as a senior serving civil servant in the Government of India, before retiring from her services in 2010. How did you balance both?
When one is passionate, dedicated and committed to something, time management becomes a natural corollary. Neither is there any stress factor because one does or is doing something that one loves.

Tell us about your bond with your guru Pandit Birju Maharaj.

I became a disciple of Birju Maharaj ji in the year 1964 when he was yet to burst upon the scene as one of the greatest gurus, artistes, and a legend in the field of performing arts. It was a rewarding experience where one imbibed the meaning of aesthetics in dance, in movements, in emoting, in presentation, where one learnt the vast expanse of how to let the creativity flow and structure it into a beautiful piece of rhythmic pattern or abhinaya; of how to approach choreography et al.

You acted in the movie Aavartan a few years ago. Did you enjoy acting?

It was a wonderful experience and Durba Sahay was a wonderful director together she and her assistant, Abhijeet, knew how to get the best out of each and every actor.

You have successfully fused dance forms like Flamenco and ballet with Kathak. How was the experience?

I have done ‘collaborative’ works with Spanish flamenco, western classical ballet and tap dancers and with western classical musicians and western classical music since 1980-81. Each one of us were true to our respective genre of music or dance yet we met together to create a beautiful harmonious picture and expression. Each one of us gained with these collaborative works for we found so many commonalities in movements and rhythmic beats and patterns and done with a different emphasis, the outward mood generated was so individual to each art form. Language and difference in cultures and styles did not pose barriers because finally each one connected with the universality of expressions.

What are the social causes close to your heart?

I have been essaying several social themes that were way ahead of time such as on environment in 1982, re-interpretation of mythological legends in contemporary terms since 1983, on women and child issues be they of foeticide or incest or even on human rights and abstract areas of soundscape and lightscape since the early eighties.

Where do you think India stands regarding giving prominence to classical dance?

Our philosophy gives importance to classical dance. See our deities who have been imbued and are worshipped as performing artistes — especially as classical performing artistes. Soon after independence, several governmental measures were taken and are being taken to preserve, nurture and spread awareness of our rich classical and traditional heritage be it through the support of artistes, or through grants or through the holding of festivals.

Who is your favourite dancer? 

All dancers have something unique in them that makes them or made them who they are/were. One remembers all of them and I bow to their art and artistry.

What advice would you give to youngsters who want to pursue a career in traditional dance?

I have always said and still say so, that like in all fields, the world of classical dance requires ‘sadhna’, dedication, and perspiration. One cannot and should never expect overnight success for this term is so elusive. What matters is your deep abiding faith, honesty, and dedication to dance. There are no shortcuts in life nor in dance. Inner joy and peace is what matters and that is what classical performing arts give us — which is life’s most precious gift!

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