‘Pashyati dishi dishi rahasi bhavantam — She is looking for him. She can see him everywhere, in every direction. She is actually thinking that he’s here, he’s there. I’ve been through this too when my husband was away for long,” says Switzerland-based Kathak dancer Pali Chandra, elaborating on how an old text like Gita Govinda remains as relatable as ever even today.
Gita Govinda, the 12th century love poem written by Jayadeva in Sanskrit, has always been a subject of interest for dancers, musicians, and painters. So five years ago, she and her team set up this task for themselves. Last month, Pali Chandra launched the recording of her choreography depicting all 12 chapters, their 24 divisions called Prabandas, and 24 Ashtapadis (songs with 8 couplets). The recordings will be available to subscribers for different periods ranging from one to five years on Natyasutraonline.
For global audience
Pali says this project was triggered by the need to create a work for herself and not for the audience abroad, whom she has always catered to. “ I have done works based on Tchaikovsky’s popular ‘Swan Lake’ and Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. I presented a piece for the Millennium Dome inauguration in London. When I was in New York, I was doing something about their buildings and their architecture. When I was in Africa, I was working on Swahili, but there came a point where I just wanted to be me. So I was looking for that piece of literature that would mirror me.” In Gita Govinda, she discovered a story of any woman and man in love, not just Radha and Krishna.
A team of people was built to research and understand the text better. “Invis and Hari, the directors of the project, started getting in touch with various people who spoke Sanskrit and understood the language. We started to read about the culture, the tradition, and the era in which it was written. I felt that though it was written 800 years ago, it needed to be projected in today’s language. For example, the similes that Jayadeva has given are still relevant, but the tonal quality has changed,” says Pali, who is the course director of Kathak at Natyasutraonline.
The verses of Gita Govinda explore the various emotions, trials, and tribulations experienced by the divine lovers, ultimately emphasising the connection between jivatma and paramatma.
The project team
Around 200 people worked with Pali on various aspects of the production — research, costume, choreography and music. The work started during pandemic. “All of us who were feeling low at that point in time found solace in this piece of work. We were at different studios in various parts of the world. My main assistant choreographer was in Dubai, I was in Switzerland, my dancer was in New York, and my musician in Bengaluru. But when we all met, it all fell in place seamlessly. It was like we had rehearsed many time. I will never forget that moment.”
It’s a solo presentation featuring Pali Chandra. It’s a blend of Kathak, Flamingo, jazz, and contemporary ballet. “ Since I wanted to share my experience that I have gained over so many years across continents, I decided to combine various genres for this work. We have also used various instrument such as cello, piano, flute and Spanish guitar to create the score.
Pali trained in the Lucknow gharana from Vikram Singhe, Pt Rammohan Maharaj, and Kapila Raj.
“My aim is to take classical dance to a global audience. I have also shared what made me take up this challenging project. The entire presentation, including demonstration, and explanation is 55-hour long,” says Pali Chandra.