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Waiting for spring

Music and dance lovers have been missing Nrityagram's Vasantha Habba that is reeling under a fund crunch. Only timely support will help revive it

Photo: K.MURALI KUMAR

FROM NRITYAGRAM Odissi dancer Bijoyini Satpathi performing at Bangalore

When Protima Bedi was alive a small plaque that hung on the wall at Nrityagram said: "The Gods danced the day you were born". Somebody gave it to her a long time ago. Perhaps, the Gods renounced the art of rhythm the day she died in the Himalayas. The near-empty Nrityagram bears eloquent testimony to this. The place that once reverberated with sound of music and dance is now almost deaf-mute.

Spring fest

Nrityagram, which spawned as a brainchild of Odissi dance exponent Protima Bedi on the outskirts of Bangalore, was most famous for its welcoming of the spring season with an annual dance and music feast, Vasantha Habba.

Now Nrityagram is so frail that it is not in a position to celebrate the Habba. Art lovers who have relished performances by some of the greatest dancers of the world under the night sky every year, without an entry fee, now feel deprived. Reason: Lack of funds. Nrithyagaram is craving for attention and nourishment.

An abode of dance

Gaurima, as Protima was fondly called in Nrityagram, dreamt of a dance village where all the seven forms of Indian classical dance are taught in the guru-shishya parampara. An abode of dance where young people would master their art guided by the greatest teachers, was her dream. Due to her daunting efforts, a sprawling Nrityagram rose at Hesaraghatta, a sleepy village 30 kilometres away from Bangalore, in 1990. Here the students get holistic training for seven years, free of cost.

They board and lodge there without paying anything.

Dance was alive there in all its glory till she was there as a great guru.

Luminous event

Vasantha Habba, another brainchild of Protima started in 1994. One of the most luminous dance events, as The New York Times described it in 1996, the Habba has treated about 25,000 people with the cultural delicacy on the first Saturday of February every year until the killer tsunami hit the country's coastal belt in 2004.

The tsunami did not sweep lives off the seashore alone, but it also took away Vasantha Habba, the very soul of Nrityagram.

Lynne Fernandez, Managing Trustee of Nrityagram says: "We stopped Habba in 2005 on account of the tsunami.

Since then we have not been able to resume it due to a lack of sponsors."

However this time around she is hopeful of getting funds from corporate houses. Some sponsors have already come forward, she says, and if all goes well, the acclaimed performers will dance once more in March or April.

<167,1.05m,1>Although Nrithyagaram is crumbling under a financial crunch, teaching has never stopped. Guru Surupa Sen and guru Bijoyini Satpathi have stayed on to carry the icon's ideas forward. Six students are learning with the same earnestness as they did when Protima was around. At present only Odissi is being taught, again due to a shortage of teachers of other forms.

Lynne says this problem too shall be addressed in coming days.

Protima dreamt of a self sufficient Nrithyagaram. She wanted her students to be self-dependent.

Even today, gurus and students toil in the fields on the premises of Nrityagram, which has 10 acres of land, to grow their own food.

They give performances in and around the country that fetch them some money.

A ray of hope

Regular revenue is flowing in, in the form of visitors and tourists.

Isn't the government that supports Bengalooru Habba so willingly, also responsible to keep the tradition of Vasantha Habba alive?

Kannada and Culture Minister H.S. Mahadeva Prasad agrees heartily. He says his government is ready to do anything to conserve heritage centres like the Nrityagram.

He assures that he will look into any proposal that might come forth from Nithyagram.

B.V. SHIVA SHANKAR

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