Saturday 4 March 2017

Festival of Festivals: 43rd year of Khajuraho Dance Festival 1 - Footloose and fancy free with Dr. Sunil Kothari

I know of no other dance festival in India which has continuously lasted for more than forty two years. This is the forty third year of Khajuraho Dance Festival (Feb 20-26) with extended art activities transforming the venue into a multi-art event, engaging cross section of visitors to Khajuraho, be they tourists from within India and abroad, performing artists, painters, sculptors, litterateurs, film buffs, photographers, musicians, event managers, bureaucrats, dance critics, or common men who out of sheer curiosity walk into the grounds where for seven days from ten in the morning till ten in the night there is  enough for each one to savour, relish.

From among the organizers, it often happens that someone is bitten by the bug, as they say and bring his vision to fruition with likeminded persons, who are willing to stick their necks out, work tirelessly against all odds and difficulties, surmounting them and creating opportunities to expose those who visit Khajuraho to various expressions of culture besides classical Indian dance forms.

Having been associated with the festival from early years, I see its growth from mere presentation of the dance forms to dialogues with dancers, art historians, critics, thinkers, film makers, theatre workers, painters, photographers and from this year beginning a new series of interacting with neighbouring countries, beyond borders, drawing attention to interconnectedness, sharing common traditions, that transcend gender, caste, religion and bring to one an awareness of human quality but also universal truth, offer space to reflect and elevate one through art to a higher level not only of enjoyment but also to involve and care and concern for people.

I have been attending the festival again since last three years and am delighted to share with readers the magic spell the festival is casting with these added activities. I have shared with a team of people and in particular Rahul Rastogiji, along with Chinmayji, their vision which with Rahulji’s natural leadership quality and ability to galvanize his colleagues and convince the government officers to raise the bar of the festival.

Right from turning the ground in to a festival area, where workshops with crafts people, who mould shapes from earth into objects of art, earthen wares, the weavers that weave magic with warp and weft, their looms, the boundless variety of handloom, handicraft, textiles from different parts of the country, the exhibition Art Mart of painters mainly from Madhya Pradesh, sculptors, venue for Kalavarta, also sharing in the afternoon screening of documentary films not generally seen, but carefully selected, involving actor Raja Bundela,  and at a special enclosure Nepathya where each year focusing on a particular state and its dance heritage with exhibition of costumes, masks, objects of rituals, floor paintings, designs, and performances between 6 and 7pm and then leading audiences to main event of dance with the backdrop of Chitragupta temple metamorphosing the ambience  transporting onlookers to a dream world. Stars shooting in all directions, crescent moon resting like ardha Chandra on jata of Lord Shiva, appearing in sky above, resting on shikhara of the temple prepare the audience to relish the classical dance forms with enchanting music.

To weave around the main event of dance, all that I have mentioned above is fascinating. And when the dancer appears in solo from the side to strains of music its appeal visually is stunning. The temple provides a context, a setting for unfolding of mythological stories, which dancer enacts, stringing the chords and evoking archetypal memories. Be it a prayer to Sun God, or Ganesha or Lord Shiva, the audience gets ready to receive it in moments of bliss. What the rhetoricians call Rasa, the relish is experienced with this god given setting of Khajuraho temples.

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