In the Guru-Shishya Tradition

Prabha Gopal of the Bay Area Performing Arts (BAPA) reflected on what prompted her to presented her latest show, Parampara, “The Bay Area seems to be refreshingly caught up in the trend of setting the stage, literally, for dance and music gurus to spellbind us with their magic; there have been several guru-only events in the past year that have only whetted the appetite. With Parampara, I wanted to honor our guru for not only teaching but being mentors—didis/akkas (big sisters)—to students.”

Starting with Ustad Bismillah Khan two decades ago, Gopal has hosted and presented performances by Ustad Allah Rakha, Pandit Jasraj, Ustad Zakir Hussain, Pandit Shivkumar Sharma, Vikku Vinayakram, Shankar, and danseuse Protima Bedi among others.

In Parampara, each dance guru will perform and present his/her senior students (shishyas), creating a ringside view for the audience to experience the guru-shishya tradition.

The line up of the luminaries is sure to satisfy the indefatigable hunger of Bay Area patrons of the traditional, as well as contemporary, arts. The former will be brought to life by Pandit Habib Khan (sitar), Niharika Mohanty (odissi), Anuradha Nag (kathak), and Jyothi Lakkaraju (kuchipudi). Tattva, an up-and-coming dance fusion school, will represent the modern by tastefully blending classical, Latin, bhangra, and other styles.

Interestingly, the traditional repertoires  will include one by Usha Narayan, who is credited with establishing the eighth classical dance form of India, sringa nrityam. Narayan has adapted a formal dance curriculum for sringa nrityam from Arayar Sevai, a stylistic enactment of hymns in praise of Lord Vishnu. These hymns or Tamil pasurams are even now performed in the temples of Srirangam in Tamil Nadu. Sringa nrityam is directly from the temple sanctorum, intensifying the connection between dance and divinity. “I felt compelled to present this to the discerning Bay Area audience,” says Gopal.


Pandit Khan will play the sitar and feature more than a dozen of his senior students; with the raga “Yaman Kalyan” reigning supreme in their recital. This is an early evening raga that brings on a complex mixture of moods—peace, devotion, and longing. Khan is known for his fresh nuances, drawing upon his mastery of a wide spectrum of music individually and in improvisation with stalwarts such as George Brooks; from Indian classical music to full-fledged orchestra pieces through to contemporary jazz. His belief that to heighten creativity and versatility one must always work with a variety of musicians is indicative of the true learning spirit that drives his work. His San Jose-based school, Habib Khan Saraswati Temple and Gurukul, is committed to conserving Indian classical music traditions against the fabric of cross-cultural influences in the U.S.

In what will be a guru-to-shishya-turned-guru-to-shishya perpetuity of tradition, Niharika Mohanty and her students will present the choreography of her guru, odissi maestro Kelucharan Mohapatra.  Mohanty is the founder of Guru Shradha, a dance school formally affiliated with guru Mohapatra. Her solo promises to enthrall— it is a pallavi, or a blossoming, of and in raga “Behag,” requiring the dancer to keep pace with the musical unveiling of the raga.
Anuradha Nag, a senior disciple of the legendary Birju Maharaj and students from her school Tarangini will be performing kathak. Nag shot into popular fame in 2003 and again in 2008 when she brought together Pandit Birju Maharaj and Ustad Zakir Hussain for performances at San Francisco’s Palace of Fine Arts.
At Parampara, Nag will be performing her “Khoj,” a search by the gopis for a way to dispel their ennui after Krishna leaves Vrindavan. This performance was lauded by Maharaj himself and therefore remains special to all kathak lovers.


Jyothi Lakkaraju, the reigning local queen of kuchipudi will captivate with her mastery over the art form, as was evidenced at her Bay Area performance of “Mani Nupura Dhari” in April 2009. Much is expected from her students at Natyalaya since Jyothi’s choreography both emphasizes rhythm and language.
The Sanskrit sloka says “Gurur Devo bhava,” meaning “Guru and God are one.” Fittingly, these artists are giving freely of their energies toward the cause of building the South Bay Hindu Center comprising a temple to Goddesses Durga, Lakshmi, and Saraswati, and a 700-seat auditorium in San Jose. Associated facilities will include a multipurpose, solar-roofed building with wedding hall, dining hall, kitchen, offices, library, and classrooms.

(As published in India Currents)

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