A Legendary Man, of modern contemporary time, PANDIT MUNNA SHUKLA, is one among many such Remarkable Men living among us today.
He wears an expression, an expression of happiness, ever flowing agility, full of gestures, yet poised and calm, observant, who can read your thoughts while interacting with you. My first interaction with him happens in one of the ‘Kathak baithak‘ at Saraswati Music college. He looked like any other common man in the street, but he is certainly one of the rarest living legends of the present time. We have a difficulty in labeling people as Kathak or Tabla maestro. That’s okay as a pointer, but closer you go towards them, they are Living maestro not only in their field, but in every aspect of life they touched.
I vividly recall one of his expression:
चार घड़े, रस से भरे
चोर तके ले ना सके
simply pointing us to see the real treasure of the wisdom, which is within us.
Also his simple expression is remarkable…
खुश रहना एक अच्छी ‘आदत’ है ।
Simple usage of sentences with deep intentions, are certainly just an indicative expression of his deep wisdom and mastery over the ‘Art of expression’
“कुछ करके दिखाओ – Kuch karke dikhao.”
“आनंद आया – Anand aayaa (it was blissful!).”
One of this saying says it all about the art (कला):
ग़ुरु हो आमिल
शिष्य हो काबिल
और ईश्वर हो शामिल
तब कला रंग लायेगी
“Art of expression” – that is the biggest take away I get, every time I meet him. But simply by being near to the lamp, can I become the light? I wonder! The journey I need to undergo to even begin to understand the a b c of this art! All I can do is to participate with total sincerity and attention. His one glance and he delivers an expression to you, provided you are open and awake to the moment, and in that expression lies the treasure of this art.
In light of his,
with myself in question?
and with Wonder!
I wish to explore my own expression!
I am interested to see my expression!
What expression do I wear?
Do I have a consistent expression?
Do I have a impartial expression?
How others’ perceive me as?
What all expressions are worth wearing?
Are they pseudo expressions? or
Are they real expressions from my very essence?
Expressions are of many kinds:
Expression of Joy!
Expression of Faith
Expression of Love!
Expression of Hope!
Expression of Silence
In light of his,
with myself in question?
and with Wonder!
I wish to explore my own expression!
We all are full of expressions and we mostly flow in river of expressions ever changing and ever expressing, however still there is a larger expression of that river, of that life giving form,beyond all these expressions! Can we be ever able to express that expression? We can Wonder! We can Question? but we must not cease to wear our expressions! This art of expression is our gift from Nature and in this way we can reflect the godliness in all and everything around us!
®© 26~29 October 2018
Please share your views and your melody of expressions here, to enlarge our common expression and to keep that one bigger, all inclusive, expression of humanity alive in us!
The Kathak maestro, Pandit Munna Shukla, is an admirable three-in- one: a large hearted, self effacing and very effective teacher; an excellent performer himself even at present age; and a prolific creator of radically new dance numbers which no where spill over the Kathak idiom inspite of their aesthetic diversity and opulence. Nor is his repertoire of traditional numbers lacking in beauty and variety. As an exponenet and teacher of kathak, and also as a speaker on this dance – form, Munna ji has regaled audiences in quite a few foreign countries.
However, what I like most about him is that inspite of his enviable achievements, including the prestigious Sangeet Natak Akadmi Award of excellence in classical dance, he remains a simple, gentle and affable person. I cannot help wishing him the felicity of unceasing creativity along with personal contentment.
PADMA BHUSHAN, Music Critic – The Hindutan Times
National Fellow, Sangeet Natak Academi
:found these videos of his on YouTube. Felt like sharing, in case someone interested!
Extract from few interviews on him:
Guru Munna Shukla with his students. Photo: Sushil Kumar Verma | Photo Credit: Sushil Kumar Verma
Guru Munna Shukla retired some years ago from Kathak Kendra, where he dedicated much of his productive life to polishing artistes of the new generation. He has been busy running classes in East Delhi as well as at Bharatiya Kala Kendra. Guru Munna Shukla on where dance is leading him.
Guru Munna Shukla is a cheerful soul given to saying, “I am drowning in my art, and loving it!” Retired some years ago from Kathak Kendra, where he dedicated much of his productive life to polishing artistes of the new generation, he has been busy running classes in East Delhi as well as at Bharatiya Kala Kendra. While his approach to Kathak is loyally bound to the school he was born to — his grandfather was the legendary Kathak maestro Achhan Maharaj, and his uncle and guru is Pandit Birju Maharaj, the current doyen of the Lucknow gharana — Munnaji’s approach to choreography has always eluded stereotyping. Lately, he says, his interest has shifted from the virtuoso to the sentiment-soaked. Despite his stature and despite being one of the leading teachers in the Capital, he is utterly deferential to his guru, and works in accordance with the guru-shishya parampara. Excerpts from an interview with the veteran:
How has your approach to dance changed with age?
Nowadays spiritual and devotional themes attract me. Bhagwan, Ishwar and Paramatma — these are not synonyms, but totally different in my opinion. I am also thinking a lot about nature. From my childhood, since I didn’t get a chance to study I immersed myself in the theory, literature and philosophy of dance, and this has influenced my dance and teaching.
How has this translated into your choreographic work?
Nowadays I am less attracted towards the ‘dhoom dharaka’ of fast, dazzling footwork, etc. Of course, I still do present it, but I enjoy choreographing on the theme of nature. Even when I am working on some rhythmic element, such as a tukra, I like to introduce a nature-related logic into it — say, storm clouds gathering, etc.
We should never forget nor forsake the roots of our dance. Our elders would tell us, “Fly by all means, but don’t fly into another country!” So whether in terms of dance, music or costumes, I try to keep my creativity within the tradition. However, with time, social concerns change and tastes change. My way of using the hastaks (hand gestures) and the approach to covering the stage have changed. I also try to bring some thehrav (gravitas) to the dance. I want people to experience some peace when they watch it.
I have set the verse from Abhinayadarpanam, “Yato hastastato drishtih…” to movement. I feel if one is able to properly assimilate its meaning, one will have achieved something.
The delicate movement of the wrists, the neck, the subtle effects called kasak-masak — all these I try to concentrate more on. These subtleties are not obvious in compositions that are set to a very fast tempo.
The other thing about my compositions is, however simple I may want to make them, there is always a certain amount of intricacy, as that is my way.
How do you see the relationship between music and choreography?
It is an inextricable and subtle relationship. Sometimes I feel the music should not even be very loud. I like the dance to show up in relief against the music. If the music is simple, the dance can be elaborate.
Also, sometimes I contrast rhythms. For example if the music is playing a rhythm of four, the dance might be set to a pattern of three. I find this more interesting than setting the dance exactly according to the music.
What is the responsibility of a guru?
To show the way, marg darshan, is the biggest duty. Not to mislead one’s disciples. And not to favour some over others. It should never be that if one can’t afford to pay a lot and others can, the less moneyed one should be discriminated against. I try to be fair in offering performance opportunities to all my students. As for duty, a child who had participated in one of my workshops for Spic Macay called and told me, “Guruji, I want to learn Kathak from you and I want to give up my Bharatanatyam.”
I told her, by all means learn Kathak, but never make the mistake of giving up the art you have learnt for 10 years. In contrast, one of my students wanted to learn another dance form. I said fine, but the guru she approached asked her to give up Kathak altogether. She cried and related this to me! To me this is not right advice from a guru.
What is a shishya’s (disciple’s) responsibility?
It’s hard to describe. (Birju) Maharajji has thousands of disciples, but he has tied the ganda only for five. So many have asked me too, but I have never tied one for any student. Especially while my guru is alive, I will never do so. However, a worthy disciple is one who stays connected to the art, whether through teaching or performing. I have five or six such dedicated students that, were I to call them even at night and say put on your ghunguroos, they would do it without a murmur.
A bond that baffles
APRIL 07, 2016 21:02 IST
Pandit Birju Maharaj Photo Bhagya Prakash K. | Photo Credit: Bhagya Prakash K
Dance enthusiasts got a rare opportunity to hear Birju Maharaj along with his two senior disciples reminisce about their guru-shishya relationship.
India has for long existed in many centuries together. The contrast seems particularly sharp in the age of information technology. If bullock carts coexist with space shuttles and women in purdah share a metro seat with their counterparts dressed in hot pants, the same is true of human relationships. Unheard of bondage for some is a way of life for others. These lifestyles are not watertight compartments but do interact all the time.
Perhaps one of the instances this contrast is most apparent in is when young people of today learn a classical performing art. It’s here, many say, that old world values have persisted. So, for example, when young people used to addressing their bosses by their first name enter their Kathak or tabla class every weekend, down they dive to touch the feet of the guru. Jarring inconsistency or all in a day’s work? This happily bubbling dichotomy came to mind at an event organised for students of Kathak and other interested listeners recently.
Ruchi Saini of the Saraswati Music College, one of New Delhi’s oldest institutes offering training in the classical arts, organised a rare evening featuring Kathak maestro Pandit Birju Maharaj speaking on the tradition of ganda bandhan. This ceremony, in which a guru, by tying a sacred thread on the disciple, cements their relationship, is hardly practised now, as Ruchi pointed out in her introduction. What cannot be denied is that the old world etiquette, which contained a strict code of conduct for disciples, is definitely fading away. The intention behind the talk was to help students of today understand the ethos of a bygone era. This was to a great extent accomplished, as Birju Maharaj is a wonderful speaker who draws his audience into his stories. Well known Kathak exponent Saswati Sen also spoke, sharing her experience as a dedicated disciple who did not belong to a traditional dance background. Also present was Guru Munna Shukla, the other ganda bandh disciple of Maharaj present at the event and senior to Saswati. He also spoke, albeit briefly, underlining, it seemed, the unspoken rule that prevents a disciple, no matter the age or accomplishments, from projecting himself unabashedly in the presence of the guru.
Saswati recalled, “I had been Maharajji’s disciple for about 35 years when one day he said, this Guru Purnima, I’ll tie the ganda for you.” She said that as she hails from a family of doctors, she had no idea what the ganda bandhan entailed in terms of responsibilities on her part. “In a way, your guru’s vision should be your own,” she summed up.
The approach of Guru Munna Shukla, who has trained a number of accomplished disciples himself, could be gauged from his quoting an adage that the shagird (disciple) is best off in the shade while the guru deserves the limelight. Coaxed into sharing a few memories, he related that his ganda bandhan took place in 1971. A grandson of Pandit Acchan Maharaj, he is a nephew of Birju Maharaj, but he pointed out that in all his years at the Kathak Kendra (with which both were associated for decades till their official retirement), he had never referred to Birju Maharaj as his ‘mama’ but always as Maharajji.
Munna Shukla added that part of the training received was to prove oneself. The disciple was told, “Kuch karke dikhao.” In that context, his guru paid him a rare compliment, saying, “Munna has great ideas, a good thought process (acchi soch) and has created a lot.”
As for compliments, both come from a laconic culture. Birju Maharaj told the gathering how impossible it would be for a disciple to compliment his guru, saying what a great performance he had given. It was just not done! One could only say, “Anand aayaa (it was blissful).”
Munna Shukla mentioned that once at a workshop he told the students that the aim of participating in a workshop conducted by a great guru like Birju Maharaj was not merely to learn a composition (which in any case cannot be properly transmitted in a workshop), but to understand “how he sits, how he stands, how he thinks (perceives dance).”
For the rest, it was delightful to hear the Kathak maestro talk of his childhood and how he had to collect a sum of Rs.501 as ‘nazrana’ to pay his father and guru, Pandit Acchan Maharaj, before he would agree to tie the ganda. He paid tribute to his mother who would insist the father take young Birju to all his performances. As it turned out, this was prescient thinking, since Acchan Maharaj died while his son was yet a young boy, and those early years of experience provided fodder for his innate genius.
In all his years of teaching, Birju Maharaj has taken only eight ganda bandh disciples. Yet he has trained a much larger number. He said he tied the ganda after years of observation and testing of the disciple.
It was clear from the talks and the two eminent disciples who appeared alongside Birju Maharaj how an accomplished guru can give direction to a sincere shishya. What was less clear was what set of criteria separates the hundreds of other sincere pupils from those selected for the ganda. The transformation spoken of, the deep inner change that seems to set the art flowing once the ganda is tied remained something of a tantalising mystery. But perhaps that is how it’s meant to be.
The students present may have seen something to aspire to. And for the older members of the audience, nostalgia is inspiration in itself.
# Meetings with Remarkable Men Series
#One Expression of us all
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