Age to her is just a number. She is 75-years-old, but Kathak exponent Rani Karnaa is as vivacious, enthusiastic and passionate as always.
The globe-trotting danseuse started dancing at the age of five in 1944 and she has been trained under great masters like Nrityacharya Narayan Prasad, Pandit Sunder Prasad and Pandit Birju Maharaj.
A Sangeet Natak Akademi awardee, Rani has also learnt Odissi (from Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra), Manipuri and Bharatnatyam. With many awards to her credit, the graceful dancer is now nurturing new talents in the dance form through her dance school Samskritiki Shreyaskar.
My dancers began their performance with ‘Parvati Pujan’ and ‘Shiva Vandana’ which was followed by ‘Chaar Taal Ki Savari’ and ‘Drut Teentaal’. The latter was aimed at exhibiting the bold yet beautiful movements of Kathak. Our next presentation was ‘Raas Sanyog Sringar’. This choreography explores the wondrous love and beauty of the eternal pair Radha and Krishna with a verse of Swami Haridas providing the text.
Kathak Journey from five to 75
I believe Kathak is a chequered dance form and hence my career in pursuing this form is equally chequered.
I have been trained under several gurus and I live for propagating the dance form. Whatever
work I have done, I have always searched for quality. As a teacher, I have a limited number of students and I give my best to them.
Biggest Achievement in Life
The establishment of Samakritiki Shreyaskar in Kolkata in 1995 was a major achievement in my life. The aim of the academy is to study, teach, cultivate demonstrate and develop the performing arts in general and Kathak in particular.
The repertoire comprises of a range of productions exhibiting the richness and flexibility of the form. Some of the productions are Satrang, Hori Khela, Shiv Shakti, Meghdoot, Venu Naad, Khoi Nadi, Tasher Desh and Surya. In 2005, the academy launched the Samakritiki Shreyaskar Odisha Chapter.
Initial Training in Classical Dance
Coming from a family of Amirs, an educated family of lawyers and judges in Pakistan, I was the only one to take up dance. As a child, I had a fancy for ‘ghungroos’. My family stayed in Delhi and at Connaught Place, my uncle had a shop. There was an institution near the shop where I had heard the tinkling of ‘ghungroos’. Later I came to know that Kathak was taught there and subsequently, I joined the institution.
I consider myself lucky to have had the opportunity to learn dance from Mohanlalji, Hiralalji, Pandit Birju Maharajji, Pandit Shambhu Maharajji, Pandit Sunder Prasadji and Pandit Narayan Prasadji. I learnt Kathak from 1944 with a break during the India-Pakistan Partition phase. Later, I attended regular classes under Pandit Birju Maharaj and Lalita Shastri, disciple of Rukmini Arundale, Kalakshetra, in Bharatanatyam. I also learnt Manipuri under Guru Amubi Singh and Narendra Kumar.
Odissi came much later. I was married into an Odia family and after my marriage in 1963, I came across Kumkum Mohanty. Through her I got in touch with Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra from whom I learnt Odissi.
Ideas for Presentations
Dance is dynamic and an artist should have something new to offer all the time. Checking my orthodox repertoire, I must say, that my inspiration for the different productions have been varied. I have been inspired by Guru Rabindranath Tagore’s songs and literature. ‘Pujarini’, ‘Tasher Desh’ are based on Rabindranath Tagore’s works. I practice Yoga and one day while doing Surya Namaskar on the terrace, I just fell in love with this idea of worshiping Sun God. That led me to conceive the production ‘Surya The Sun God’.
Current Trends in Indian Dance
The current trends in Indian dancing are disheartening and disturbing. Fusion is responsible for this. The purity of dance is being harmed. I love giving lecture-demonstrations and during many such events, I have found that young dancers are doing very well and showing interest, involvement, sincerity and dedication.
However they need proper guidance. Just like any other art form even dance is commercialised today. They have to be careful while dealing with purity of art. I am sure with a positive attitude, they can be guided to become performers, teachers and inspired to do research oriented work in the field of dance.
The Government is providing youngsters interested in classical dances grants and scholarships, but much more needs to be done.
The dancers need funds to sustain themselves and that is why many of them are diverting towards reality dance shows which promise money and recognition.