Kathak or storytelling in the literal sense comes from the Sanskrit word Katha. The fluidic dance form was historically a method of telling stories to the royalty. Without the use of words and narratives, Kathak dancers performed stories using hand gestures, facial expressions, graceful turns and intricate foot movements – tatkar. The bards or kathakarsas they were called narrated old myths and often sung glories of venerated Kings and beautiful princesses. The dance form has 3 main styles or gharanas – Benares, Lucknow and Jaipur. Out of these 3 the Jaipur Gharana is famous for its approach to the technical aspects of the dance such as powerful footwork and multiple spins. This is the most difficult gharana to grasp. Accompanying the dance is an eloquent piece of percussion like the tabla or pakhawaj.
Kathak is a beautiful art form that has been used as a medium of communication or exchange since its inception. In my humble opinion, I would dare to say that it is one of the most powerful mediums today, as more and more people are influenced by Westernization they tend to forget their own rich treasures. It is a salute to people and families that are pursuing this art form and even propagating it forward to other countries and making its presence felt.
“Vidya” (knowledge) took it’s true course of nature when Guru Ganesh Lal Gangani married Saraswati Devi. Her younger brother Pandit Narayan Prasad was the renowned Kathak dancer of the Jaipur Gharana. He had only “Vidya” the knowledge of his art to give in dowry, no money.
When Saraswati gave birth to Kundan Lal Gangani – he was nurtured by his uncle in the pink city Jaipur in the art of Kathak, who became the pioneer of the Gangani clan’s dance inheritance.Moving from Gaon Badabar in Churu district of Rajasthan, the Gangani family moved to Delhi’s Karol Bagh. They moved to Delhi in the 1960s when classical dance began to gain popularity around schools and other institutions. There are about 100 Gangani’s spread across India and almost all of them can be traced back to The Gangani clan of Rajasthan.
“We belong to The Jaipur Gharana of Kathak and our dance is rather like fiery red chillies, it has pace, flare, dazzle and also grace,” says Rajendra Gangani. This genre merges the two extremes to utmost perfection.
Guru Kundan Lal’s son, Rajendra Gangani is the current oldest member of the age-old clan now aged 54 years. He saw that kathak was not his calling, it didn’t make that an impact as did the other members of his family, and he then decided to take up percussion and excelled in playing the tabla and pakhawaj. All the students learn the tabla, pakhawaj and Kathak. Then, depending on the area of interest and level of expertise students choose their path. They may not be experts on all three tutoring but are competent enough.
Three generations of the family perform countrywide and outside as well. Learning percussion instruments is vital for the students as it gives them a deeper understanding of lay and bandish. Nuances like these gave the students an edge to their tatkar. Sanjeet Gangani an emerging kathak dancer reveals “There is severe competition among young dancers today and the fact that riyaaz in multiple disciplines is an aadat for us, gives us an advantage.”
Rajendra ji’s nephew – Nishit (15 years old) is the newest addition to the bandwagon. The continuum between uncle and nephew consists of siblings, cousins, fathers and grandfathers. As can be seen, only the male counterparts of the family were allowed to perform on stage. Women of the family were taught the art but didn’t perform. However, their students Urmila Nagar and Prerna Shrimala have known names in the dance circles.
“Women in their family were traditionally asked to look after the children and homes while the men travelled on camel-back to spread their teachings.” But the audience at Oddbird Theatre in Delhi was in for a radical surprise. Harish Gangani’s daughter Nayanika (16 years old) performed for the first time on stage! She swayed and spun on the rhythms with her uncle’s and cousins. “We now live in different times and I was keen that even women in the family who have talent should not be denied a chance to take it to connoisseurs.” Rajendra Ji was the keenest family member to put forward Nayanika.
The khandaan is proud of their lineage and swear by an archaic belief that the seniors never pressurized the youngsters to take up their art form. The omnipresence of tabla, pakhawaj and kathak influence the youth and they fall in love with their lineage.They were impressed by the concert schedules of uncle’s and grandfathers and so the younger students wanted to perform on equally prestigious stages and platforms.“One of our dreams is to be as busy as them, to find as many grand and good stages to play on as them.” Ashish Gangani, brother of Rajendra Gangani plays the pakhawaj in the cultural circuits of the West.
Another riveting fact about the Gangani family is to make the rhythm dance to one’s tune, instead of dancing to it. “One talks of Taal mein naachna, but we talk of Taal ko nachana,” says Harish Gangani (brother of Rajendra ji).
Nishit and Nayanika are the youngest “kul deep” of the prosaic genealogy and are keen to follow the examples of their forefathers. We can only wait and watch for their mesmerising performances and how they take forward the teachings of ages before.