Prasanna Kasthuri, Artistic director
Soorya Dance Company
July 26 2003
It was my senior colleague Sri. Satyanarayana Charkaji, who is in New Jersey gave the information about the a week-long workshop of Kathak by Pundit Birju Maharaj. This was a great opportunity for any Kathak student, as this brings close to the roots of Kathak tradition itself. It was almost 650 miles driving distance for me from St.Louis to Minneapolis. Initially the long car journey frightened me. But as I went closer to the border of Canada, it became more relaxed. My good friend Bhagavan Doss, was kind enough to provide me hospitality for my stay in Minneapolis. Rita Mustaphi, an eminent Kathak dancer and a senior disciple of Pundit Birju Maharaj, had hosted this workshop. The drive to Minneapolis was long but went off comfortably. On the road, I found out many beautiful scenic spots.
The workshops were divided into two categories - one, a 4 day lecture on Kathak; the second, more practicals, of course, I meant, Kathak dancing. All the four days we had different topics ranging from history of Kathak which ranged from the kathakars of temples to Kathak in movie industry. It was very fascinating to listen to many stories of Punditji's life experiences. There were couple light moments which made the audience laugh. One of them was his explanation of "Tabla". It was a pakawaj which was broken into two pieces, even after breaking pakawaj sounded very well. Then the musician said "Tabbi bola" , which later became "Tabla". Maharajji was able supported by Saswathi Sen on every lecture, which added color to the topics.
During the practical session, it was mostly new Tihais and couple of Amad's were taught. But most important I observed was the creativity of Punditji on the spot. His expertise on rhythm was impeccable. He drew lot of inspiration from Nature. It was great to watch his two students showing the graceful minor details of the wrist and edge of the hand movements. I was standing as usual in the corner, but still his eyes were carefully observing me. It was very nice of him describing me the differences of taking hastaks (hand movement). I was taking my palm around the shoulder, where as he was not taking his palm around the shoulder. Saswathi Didi was very great in teaching. Most of the time the dance ideas floated in the minds of maestro was difficult to understand. It his eternal student Saswathi Didi who made the things easier by deciphering them into simple phrases. This was a great example of Guru-Shishya parampara.
In the last day, in the recital, although he did some of old and some new, it was an impressive footwork and quick pirouettes, which excited the audience. His new creations such as LOHA - these story of Iron was a proof of his acceptance of new mindset of people. I had a very small role in it.
All the six days went so fast. I had to leave early, so that I can start practicing again. I met them and gave my Guru Poornima gifts to both Pandit Birju Maharaj and Saswathi Sen. I hope they like what I gave them. The time will fly very fast but the experience of learning with a great artist will be always remain eternal.
Prasanna Kasthuri is disciple of Smt. Maya Rao, who was the senior disciple of Shambhu Maharaj and Jaiprasad