Asian Music and Dance

Rohini Bhate 

Pulse launches a new Series of Conversations with Kathak Gurus including interviews with Geetanjali Lal, Sunayana Hajari and Birju Maharaj.

Abhay Shankar Mishra shares rare material from his research project into kathak gharanas, starting with the stalwart kathak performer and teacher the late Rohini Bhate. Trained by Mohanrav Kalyan Pukar and then by Lachhu Maharaj, Rohini Bhate effortlessly combined Lucknow and Jaipur gharanas.

‘Ek Gharane Ka Arth Hai Ek Vichardhara’ 
A Gharana means sharing the same mindset 

In your opinion, what is the reason for the establishments of the gharanas? 

Quality or talent: some people are born with a unique quality or outstanding talent, which inspires others to follow them.  One’s gharana is established when the followers of an artist continue in his footsteps for more than at least three generations.  Both these things are necessary.  If the person is talented and capable but his talent is not followed or imitated and preserved, then a gharana cannot be formed. 

Which gharana tradition do you believe in?  Vansh (family) parampara or shishya (pupil) parampara? 

I believe in shishya parampara.  But a gharana can also be carried forward by its vansh (upcoming generation); however, they will have to have that talent; only then can they carry it forward. The principle of gharanas is actually vichardhara (vichar – thought; dhara – process).  Different people with that same creativity, that same vision, that same mind and thought process come together from different backgrounds and become the reason for its formation.  Then a gharana is formed which shouldn’t break or stop.  Similarly these ongoing traditions go through a long process of refinement, which then is important to be preserved.  In this context, gharanas are a good thing.  In my opinion, a gharana formed in such a way will not break, it will only grow.  While that gharana doesn’t form a strong permanent grounding it will not be recognised or received as a gharana by the main establishments.  A particular creative process and style needs to be worked on extensively until its speciality gets the right shape and only then will it be accepted as an established gharana in its own right. 

You have learnt from two unique Gurus of two gharanas.  What do you find is the main difference between the two gharanas (Lucknow and Jaipur)? 

Actually my first Guru was Mohanrav Kalyan Purkar who had also learnt both gharanas.  He was purely a creative-thinking scholar, so that’s why for quite some time I didn’t know whether I was learning Lucknow or Jaipur!  He taught me to take whatever I liked from whichever gharana. He told me to just receive and embrace it.  When I told him I also wanted to go and learn from Lacchu Maharaj, he said, definitely go and also learn from him.  Because of these two Gurus I never reached the state of Bhram (confusion).  Like, senior Maharajji used to say that the sound of the feet should be subtle so that one can hear the sound of the ghunghrus, whereas with Mohanravji, we used to concentrate more on the sound of the feet.  The sound of my footwork was loud.  After much deliberation I realised that I wanted to keep both gharanas and use both gharanas adequately when required. 

After three gharanas, Lucknow, Jaipur and Benaras, you have Raigadh.  Many years on, do you see the possibility of another gharana being developed and established? 

Yes.  One, which has a unique quality, can definitely establish itself.  Actually today the problem is that art/dance is not believed to be worship, it’s believed to be a profession.  And as far as you only believe it to be a profession, then you will add the name of a gharana any chance you get!  But this is not correct.  The true formation of a gharana is not from copying, taking or photocopying from books: it has to be original, pure and a form of worship. Only then can a natural gharana formation take place.  It must have uniqueness and speciality. 

These days the trend of changing Gurus is becoming evident.  How far would you go with this? 

This completely depends on what kind of Guru you are going to learn from.  I believe the place of a Guru is distinct from that of a teacher: a Guru is the one who sheds light on the true art form and develops your talent. He will not tie you down or limit you from your possibilities. If you are simply going to a Guru for his name or his stamp of approval, then that is wrong.  You can go on the stage or you can go far away and still you can grab and receive the right thing and right information.You don’t jump from one Guru to another for false reasons. I go to see all artists’ shows, big or small, famous or infamous and I refine and embrace the good stuff. I don’t try to pick their items or memorise their work. I don’t even want them. I want their ‘ras’ (enjoyment). 

Abhay Shankar Mishra belongs to an established family of Benaras tabla gharana.  He trained under great Gurus like Pt Birju Maharajji, Smt Urmilla Nagar and Pandey Maharaj. Abhayji has been the resident kathak teacher at the Bhavan Centre, London for the last ten years. 


Pulse acknowledges this valuable contribution from the writer. The interviews were first published in Hindi in the National Daily, India. 



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