Nam myoho renge kyo, nam myoho renge kyo, nam myoho renge kyo ...and it goes on like that till Kathak dancer Sangita Chaterjee is fully consumed by the energy of this spiritual affirmation. Her faith in Nichiren Buddhism has anchored her into a state of awareness, so deep and unshakable, that the virtue of understanding emanates through everything she puts her heart to, dance being one of them. In every performance, she displays discipline, learning, curiosity and persistence, and her upcoming recital at the Saksham and Manthan Festival is not going to be any different.
Present by Kalpataru Arts, a socio-cultural organisation that promotes the arts, the event will see other artists too. Some of them are Odissi dancer Sanchita Roy, Bharatnatyam dancer Parshwanath Upadhye, and Vilasini Natyam by Purvadhanashree. Saksham, on the other hand, is a two-day seminar on Indian Classical Dance where speakers will share their thoughts and concerns on the classical dance as seen today.
Chaterjee will be taking stage on day one of the programme. Her recital extracts its essence from the idea of illusion and its elusiveness. She will start with Saint Kabir’s bhajan called Ghat Ghat me Panchi Bolta. The panchi, or bird here, represents conscience for her. It’s the purest form of being, she says. “It guides us to the right path, but sometimes, our state of awareness drowns itself into the sounds of tempting worldly pleasures,” she says.
Thereafter she will present shudh nritt (technical aspect) in teen taal (rhythm of dance) of Kathak repertoire. She will conclude with an episode of Aranya Khand from Valmiki Ramayan as an abhinaya (expressional piece). It enumerates the episode in Panchavati, the forest home of Rama, during his exile, when Sita sees the golden deer for the first time, and its allure pulls her to itself like a magnet.
“She describes its beauty emphatically and pleads Rama to bring it to her, but soon realises that she’s made a blunder. The golden deer was maya (illusion) created by Ravan to catch hold of her. This justifies that maya is short lived and gives immense pain, whereas wisdom is what one should seek for long lasting happiness,” says Chaterjee.
She started learning Kathak upon her father’s transfer to Delhi from Chennai. She was six then. Her mother, a radio singer, was a woman of great talent, but Chaterjees found her interest in dance. Initial days into learning the art form were disappointing. She was an average student who was coy and under-confident. But her mother gave her a piece of advice that helped her steer through. She said, ‘you must work hard nonetheless and stop begrudging lack of exposure or understanding’. This changed Chaterjee’s life forever.
Before a performance, she likes to stay by herself. It’s a practice she uses as a pre-performance strategy to staying focused. But she doesn’t do it as a ritual. She believes that focus is an anchor that needs to be placed before an important event, as well as in routine life. “It’s important to recite mantras not just in bad times but in good ones too,” she says.
Life has shifted from ‘me’ to ‘me and you’. Though, she holds strong opinions, she never judges other people. “It has been a game changer as I’ve have learnt to respect and value each life. I have started to look at every phenomena holistically, wherein individual instances don’t matter anymore, the larger purpose is important,” she says. And through all this insightfulness, she has found her purpose. It’s to dance today, tomorrow and beyond. October 11-12: From 4 pm to 6 pm (Saksham); 6.30 pm onwards (Manthan), Triveni Kala Sangam, Mandi House.