Danseuse Manjari Chaturvedi Sets Her Next Sufi Kathak Performance To Bulleh Shah’s Poetry

Danseuse Manjari Chaturvedi Sets Her Next Sufi Kathak Performance To Bulleh Shah’s Poetry

Get mesmerised as the classical dancer weaves the mystical poetry into dance

Kasmin FernandesUpdated: Saturday, January 27, 2024, 10:37 PM IST
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Manjari Chaturvedi |

In the vast and storied expanse of Indian heritage, there lies Baba Bulleh Shah, an 18th century Sufi mystic and poet from Punjab whose words have traversed the bounds of time. His verses, steeped in the Punjabi tongue, resonate with the universal plight and rapture of the human soul, enduring across the chasm of generations. Manjari Chaturvedi stands as an accomplished figure in the landscape of Indian classical dance. She is the creator of Sufi Kathak. Her productions are not mere performances but are deeply researched and documented endeavours, where she first immerses herself in the original traditions and then emerges with her own artistic expression.

The danseuse and guru is all set to bring Bulleh Shah’s mystic verses to life with O’ Bullayah! A Tribute in Dance to The Saint Who Danced. “Bulleh Shah dedicated his entire existence to an arduous journey of self-discovery and spiritual enlightenment. He lived during the reign of Emperor Aurangzeb, a time when the artistic expressions of music and dance were heavily suppressed,” says Chaturvedi. “Yet he defied the norms of his era, wandering the streets of Punjab, lost in his dance and song, embodying the very essence of spiritual rebellion. He actually wore ghungroos. If you go to his shrine, men and women wear ghungroos and dance. It is a tradition which continues till date.” Chaturvedi’s work — particularly on gender-sensitive subjects — weaves together the strands of poetry, music, and dance.

As for Sufi Kathak, it’s a labour of love and dedication spanning 15 years, an amalgamation of Sufi music and classical dance. Chaturvedi, the architect of this unique dance form, embarked on extensive travels across countries like Egypt, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Tajikistan. Her journey also led her to collaborate with artists from Iran, Turkey, and Morocco, delving deeply into the music and dance forms intertwined with Sufi philosophy. This distinctive dance form uses the vocabulary of classical dance to narrate and interpret Sufi poetry, creating an enchanting and spiritually resonant artistic expression.

With the Ganga Jamuna Culture Foundation, she has leaped further, supporting marginal artists and providing a haven for scholars and students. “Big thanks to Ganga Jamuna Culture Foundation and Avid Learning for making this happen and the Royal Opera House for hosting the tribute,” she adds.

Scheduled for February 3, 2024, this convergence of Kathak and the soulful voices of qawwali singers seeks to mend the rifts between the marginal artists and the broader swathes of society. It is a part of the danseuse’s ongoing 22 Khwaja Project Series.

The project was unfurled into the world by Chaturvedi in 2010. She elaborates, “It’s an endeavour long in scope and rich in purpose. It seeks to guide viewers through the lives and teachings of the Sufi Saints who graced our nation.”

After thorough research and planning, they hold a concerts which are not mere gatherings but a confluence of traditional Sufi music and dance, brought to life through unique collaborations of artists. The project, in its quiet, unassuming way, also breathes new life into the works of those Sufi poets from Awadh, who penned their verses under the profound influence of the Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb — a testament to the secular traditions that have long flourished in these lands.

22 Khwaja Project Series brings to the forefront those Sufi poets whose verses, resonating with the echoes of devotion and mysticism, is still sung in many corners of India. Yet, the lives of these remarkable poets remain shrouded in the mists of anonymity to the public at large. Through this project, Chaturvedi seeks not just to uncover these veils but also to celebrate the enduring legacy of poets like Bulleh Shah.

Among the many intriguing tales linked to his life, one particularly stands out to her. “This story revolves around his famous poem Tere Ishq Nachaiyaan. The narrative unfolds with his spiritual guide Inayat Shah being displeased with Bulleh Shah for reasons lost to history. In an act of profound humility, he sought to win back his master’s favour in an unconventional manner. He spent months learning the art of dance from a tawaif (courtesan), who was traditionally viewed with a mix of respect and societal skepticism. His commitment did not stop there,” she elaborates.

“In a move transcending gender norms of the time, he adorned himself in women’s attire to perform for Inayat Shah. The impact of this performance on Inayat Shah was profound. Overwhelmed by the depth of Bulleh Shah’s devotion, he embraced him warmly. Baba Bulleh Shah’s legacy continues to inspire and guide those on their own spiritual journeys,” she signs off.

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