Asian Music and Dance

Sunanya Hajari Lal 

Hum Tabla, Pakhawaj Nahi, Nritya Ke Bolo Ko Nachte Hai: Pulse continues with the third part of its series Conversations with Kathak Gurus

Sunayana Hajari Lal has been dancing for four decades on national and international stages, representing the Janki Prasad gharana known as the Banaras gharana at its finest. She has travelled and performed widely on stages in three continents and has been showered by awards. She heads the Natawari, Kathak Dance Academy of Janki Prasad School of Banaras in Mumbai.

Here Sunayanaji recalls Guru Janki Prasad, the creator of the Banaras gharana.

“He never worked at any of the Kings’ or Nawabs’ palaces. Instead he performed for the pandits of Kashi and won their respect.”

“A gharana is simply mentioned in honour of the person who created or discovered that specific contribution.” 

What is the meaning of the word gharana?

On the whole, people generally take the wrong meaning of the word gharana. Gharana actually stands for that particular style which is the treasure of a particular lineage, which consists of at least seven generations. This art form is passed on from father to son and after many generations it takes a particular shape, giving rise to a style, by which that particular gharana is distinguished from others. The students or direct descendants strictly follow the norms and rules laid down by their elders, doing some innovations here and there but within the framework of the classical format. 

But are there any specific requirements of a gharana?

For the establishment of a gharana it is important that the bols of the gharana are different, the use of the minor and major limbs is different and the style of standing and presenting is different, only then is a gharana recognised due to its uniqueness.

If you are saying that we belong to Lucknow, Jaipur and Banaras gharana then if Jaipur gharana dancers are copying Lucknow dancers or if Lucknow dancers are giving the same emphasis on strength and speed like the Jaipur gharana then what does this mean? If you recognise and appreciate each gharana’s attributes then it’s fine but if all these things are recognised as one then it is not correct to refer to them as gharanas. Yes, however, if you keep that difference and appreciate each of their unique points, then it is correct to refer to them as separate gharanas.

Currently many young artists are saying that this art form along with others should be freed from the restrictions of a gharana. What do you think, is the tradition of gharanas really coming to an end with today’s generation?

Many of today’s upcoming artists are saying this, however, if they really want to end this whole palaver about gharanas then why do they mention in their own performances that they are dancing something from a specific gharana? Why do they say this was made by my father,….and this was created by my grandfather,….and this composition is from my Guru’s gharana? Honestly speaking a gharana is simply mentioned in honour of that person who created or discovered that specific composition in this field, and in this respect we mention it. That’s fine. But we should not go around insisting that we are the best and our gharana is the best of all. We owe the ancestors of each gharana whether we take something from another gharana or we don’t. If one is able to take the work of their ancestors and represent it in a fine way and make it unique then what is wrong in that? They are just honouring their ancestor’s name. A gharana in fact has enriched a classical art form and did not in any way hamper its progress.

Making one your Guru and then moving to another Guru, how do you react to that? Do you think its right for one to take teachings from different Gurus?

That is upon the destiny of the artist as to whether they were on the right path or not. This also depends on their intelligence that they correctly assess and decide the correct path and follow it. I personally do not believe in having more than one Guru.

You are a well-known dancer from the Banaras gharana. Can you tell us about this gharana?

Well, Janki Prasadji was from Bikaner. He was a great Sanskrit scholar. It is said that at the time of his wedding, his in-laws gave him a dowry in the form of a ‘toda’ (musical composition) and told him to earn his living on that. Jankiji was very insulted by this and came to Banaras where he decided he would live his entire life as a brahmachari (celibate). 

In Banaras he studied the Vedas, worked on dance bols and started developing his own style. He never worked at any of the Kings’ or Nawabs’ palaces. He never salutated them, he never composed any poetry or dance compositions in their honour. Instead he performed for the pandits and scholars of Banaras and impressed them with his genius. He took syllables from the richas (couplets) of Vedas and based on these he made some rare compositions and these mark a clear distinction from the other gharanas. From here the pure dance syllables or Natawari bols came into vogue. The main difference of this gharana is that the dancers don’t dance the bols of the tabla or the pakhawaj; we dance the pure Natawari bols of nritya. 

Janki Prasadji’s brother Shri Chunnilalji learnt this technique and he started teaching his sons, one of whom Sablaji, carried the form forward by teaching his son Dudaji. Dudaji had two sons Dularam and Ganeshilal. In his same lineage is Pt. Krishna Kumar. My guru and husband Pt. Hazari Lalji learnt from Nritya Samrat Ashaque Hussain who was a disciple of Krishna Kumarji’s father Pt. Gopalji

Lucknow and Jaipur gharanas are more loved by people rather than Banaras; do you agree or disagree?

I am not talking about what is more appreciated or loved by people, but yes, these two are better known and they also receive more attention and promotion. I am not accusing or making any ill statements but the Banaras gharana has always been under-represented from the beginning, to the extent that even in books, Banaras gharana has not been depicted well and not honoured correctly. However, our job is to preserve and promote this art form and I will continue to do that. One day Banaras gharana will receive its full due respect and let’s just say that has already started; in fact people are already attracted and interested in the Banaras gharana.

Abhay Shankar Mishra belongs to an established family of Banaras tabla gharana. He trained under great Gurus like Pt Birju Maharaj, 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.



Join the weekly Pulse newsletter and we will send you the latest news and articles straight to your inbox