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Would Be Happy If My Art Dents Mindsets: Sufi Kathak Dancer Manjari

New Delhi: As a young Kathak student from Luknow, Manjari Chaturvedi learnt her first lessons in communal harmony during the Babri Masjid's demolition in 1992, which resulted in ugly incidents of sectarian violence in the country. In those days, Manjari and her friends, mostly Hindus, would reach the gharana as soon as the curfew was lifted and their Muslim musicians would unfailingly be in full attendance. "It was an unwritten rule that when curfew lifts, we have to be there... The students were mostly Hindus and the musicians were Muslims. It taught me that art knows no religion," says Chaturvedi, arguably India's only Sufi Kathak dancer. On the dancer's part, it was a pathbreaking effort to blend Kathak, the classical dance heavily based on Hindu mythology, with Sufism, which professes love, not God. Twenty-four years later, as a propnent of Sufi Kathak, Chaturvedi is proud that she could make some dents in the mindsets which compartmentalise people into religion. "I may not be able to demolish compartments, but I am happy if my art can make dents or change in the mindests which divide people on the basis of religion," Chaturvedi, who has performed over 250 concerts all over the world, told IANS. As a trained Kathlak dancer, it was Lucknow's qawwali tradition that drew her into the concept of Sufi Kathak. In 2000, in the quest for seeking more about Sufism and the whirling dervishes, Chaturvedi visited countries like Egypt, Turkey, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. "For me, Sufi Kathak is reaching a place where the physical aspect of the body doesn't matter. At the end of the performance, the audience must feel the sheer energy," she said. Elaborating on the concept of Sufi Kathak, Chaturvedi said: "Most of the classical dances follow Saguna Bhakti, in which God assumes a form. However, there is also Nirguna Bhakti, in which God has no form. The concept is not explored in classical dances, I am doing that through Sufi Kathak." Chaturvedi also has reason to shun heavily-embroidred and colourful costumes for a black robe. "Black negates everything. It's the best way to represent formlessness," the danseuse explained. Her detractors could be many, but she silences them by saying that she follows the tenets of classical dance. "I use Kathak and expressive style of Bhatanatyam to tell stories. Dance is a language for me to express. My thought proecss might be different, without boundaries," she maintained. As Chaturvedi is all set to perform to the poems of Sufi saint Bulleh Shah on Monday, she is ecstatic that she will be dancing to the compositions of the 17th century seer, who spoke against orthodx Hindus and Muslims in the same tone. "When Aurangazeb banned dance and music, Bulleh Shah defied him and danced in the streets. He was the voice of women. It is sad that we don't know about him much," Chaturvedi pointed out. The 'O Bullayah' performance is a part of the '22 Khwaja Project' that began in 2010 to create awareness about the 22 Sufi shrines located in and around Delhi. The dancer said she chose Bulleh Shah as he is very relevant in the current context. "He spoke against evils in all religions and believed only in love. However, as a society, we haven't moved forward a bit. It is sad that now we have to wait for another Bulleh Shah," Chaturvedi signed off. 'O Bullayah' will be performed at The Zone at The Kila, Seven Style Mile, Mehrauli, at 7.30 p.m. on May 16.

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