Where the river flows

Oct 17, 2011, 11:36 IST | Soma Das
A dance ballet, that finds its inspiration in ancient mythology, traces the journey of the sacred river Ganga, which is said to have descended from heaven

In 2004, classical dancer Rekha Chowdhary decided to honour her long-time muse -- the river Ganga -- by portraying the river's fabled journey in a performance fusing the dance styles of Bharatanatyam and folk dance. The experiment culminated into the dance drama titled Thirak Rahi Ganga, which stars Alankrita Goel, Chowdhary's daughter, in the title role as the frolicking river.

A still from Alankrita Goel's performance as Ganga (2004)

"I studied in Benaras for nine years and remember going on boat rides down the Ganges on full-moon nights," says Rekha, explaining her fascination for the sacred river. "I also visited Haridwar with my father where we witnessed the evening aarti along the banks of the Ganga. Watching the priests lift the lamps in unison to chants in the background, I felt I was in a trance-like state."

Rekha, who has always been passionate about dance, faced opposition from her family regarding her decision to become a dancer. She went ahead anyway and started her dance school in Delhi -- New Shakuntalam Centre of Art and Culture -- which will soon be celebrating its 25th anniversary.

Non-stop entertainment
Thirak Rahi Ganga is a non-stop 90-minute dance drama that takes you through the river's journey from heaven, where she is believed to have descended from, to earth, and across India. Apart from the styles of Bharatanatyam and folk dance, elements specific to the culture of each region that the Ganga runs through (Bihar, Varanasi, Haridwar, Bengal) have also been incorporated into the performance.

A Majhi dance (fishermen's dance), a diya and clap dance (based on the Haridwar aarti sequence) and farming songs (the river provides irrigation water in Bihar) have been woven into the dance ballet. The Hindi lyrics have been composed by educationist Dr Kamal Satyarthi, who also wrote the drama. The voiceover is by Bankim Sethi. This time around, there is greater emphasis on production values, including lights, wardrobe and sets.
"We rehearsed for three months prior to the performance," shares Alankrita, adding that coordination was not always easy. "Members of our troupe range between the ages of nine to 35, so it was tough to get everyone together at a fixed time."

For a good cause
The proceeds from the all-women performance will go to the SKS Chakshu Foundation, which works towards the upliftment of women. "Ganga is the ultimate symbol of women's empowerment. It was, after all, her decision to leave heaven and come to earth for the welfare of mankind," says Alankrita, who has been a dancer since the age of seven. "The river represents purity and selflessness and this ballet is a plea to mankind to get their act together."

On: Today, 7.30 pm
At: Ravindra Natya Mandir, Prabhadevi.

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