Wednesday, 24 August 2011

An unsung dance guru

By Ramlal Sinha

Guru Hari Charan Singha
At the age of 78 with perforated eardrums (due to old age), he still browses through books and writes day in day out as he is determined to write a complete book on Classical Manipuri dance and music including all its aspects and forms. His yet-to-be accomplished mission prevents one from terming this period of his life as a fag-end as he is very much on the job for which he had dedicated his entire life. He is crystal clear when he says: "Throughout my over 50 years of teaching, I badly felt the necessity of a complete book on classical Manipuri dance and music. I don't want students pursuing this classical dance form to suffer any more."

The great personality I am talking about is Meghalaya Day-cum-U-Tirhot Sing Award winner Guru Hari Charan Singha who had made deep inroad into his life-long teaching & research of Manipuri dance. In an interview with The Sentinel at his rented residence at Lower Nongrim Hills in Shillong on July 25, 2011, the Guru couldn't hide the unhappiness latent in him in so far as recognition is concerned. Responding to a question, he said that the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award continued to elude him despite repeated assurance to him from political circles in Meghalaya. "After all, it’s political backing that makes things done nowadays," the septuagenarian dance guru said. The achievement he thinks worthwhile in his life-long contribution for the propagation and research of Manipuri dance is the North Eastern Dance Academy, Shillong that he had established as the founder principal. Now his daughter Sovya Sinha is the principal of the Academy.

Following is an excerpt of the one-to-one:

Ramlal Sinha (RLS): Guruji, can you give a glimpse of your preliminary academic career that propelled you as a Nrityacharya (dance guru)?

Guru Hari Charan Singha (GHCS): Born at Singari on the outskirts of Silchar town in Cachar district in Assam on June 29, 1934, I had my primary education at Silchar. My father was late Krishnadhan Singha and mother was late Krishna Devi. At the age of 14, I was trained as a Manipuri dancer under the guidance of Guru Senarik Rajkumar, a professor of Manipuri dance at Shantiniketan, Calcutta. I also underwent music (vocal) at Silchar Sangeet Vidyalaya from 1954-57. I came to Shillong in August 1957 to propagate classical Manipuri dance and associated myself with the Bangiyo Sahitya Parishad, Shillong. My first demonstration of Manipuri dance was at St. Anthony's College, Shillong in the All Assam Inter-College Music Conference. It was followed by another programme in 1958 at Raj Bhavan, Shillong where little kids performed a Manipuri dance number before the then Assam Governor late Faizal Ali.

RLS: Other than great Guru Senarik Rajkumar, who else were your gurus?

GHCS: Life took a turn for the better in 1961 when I had secured higher scholarship from the Government of India for advance training in classical Manipuri dance and music at Imphal under great Guru late H Atamba Singha. After completion of my training I was conferred with the title Guru by many prominent gurus of Manipur, and the Union Ministry of Scientific Research and Cultural Affairs issued me a scholar's certificate in 1963.

RLS: Can you tell us bbout your professional life?

GHS: From 1964-88, I was attached with many English educational and music institutions, like Pine Mount Government Girls' School, Shillong; Loreto Convent, Shillong; St. Mary's Convent, Shillong; St. Joseph's Convent, Shillong; SWA Music College, Shillong; Shillong Music College, Shillong; to name a few. In 1971, I was appointed as a Manipuri dance teacher at Banasthali Vidyapith in Rajasthan, but I had to come back to Shillong as I failed to acclimatize myself in Rajasthan. In 1980, I was appointed as an examiner and question paper setter in Manipuri dance by Bhatkhande Sangeet Vidyapith, Lucknow. Again in 1985, I was appointed as an examiner and question paper setter by the Banasthali Vidyapith, Rajasthan (Deemed University). In 1997, I was appointed as a visiting professor of Bhatkhande Music College, Lucknow and Dehradun from 1999-2000. From 2001 onwards, I was an examiner and paper setter in Manipuri dance at Bhatkhande Sangeet Sansthan (Deemed University), Lucknow. From 1999-2002, I had been attached to a few educational institutions to teach Manipuri dance in Dehradun. Some of them are Seven Oaks School, Gahri Cantt, Jaswant Higher Secondary School, Pestle Weed College, Children's Academy, Govind Garh and Welm Girls' School. However, not being able to adapt myself with the climatic condition there I had to come back to Shillong.

RLS: Give an account of your remarkable performances on the stage.

GHCS: Stage performances by me and my students were many. Some of the remarkable ones among them were the dance number presented by me and my party at the SAARC Summit held at Shillong State Central Library Auditorium under the chairmanship of the then Prime Minister of India Rajib Gandhi on May 8,1986. From 1991-95, myself and my party had been performing Manipuri dance in the Cultural Integration Nite at Raj Bhavan in Shillong when Shri Madhukar Dighe had headed the gubernatorial office. Many of my students took active part in both state and national cultural meets and competitions, and brought laurels to Meghalaya. On July 20, 1997, I presented a dance in the cultural function organized to honour the then Prime Minister IK Gujral.

RLS: Any achievements in the form of awards?

GHCS: I received the Meghalaya Day-cum-U-Tirot Singh Award from the Government of Meghalaya on August 15, 1993. The Nikhil Bishnupriya Manipuri Mahasabha, Assam honoured me with Nartan Kanti Award in 1997. However, the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award or Padmashree continued to be elusive. You know, I don't have the political push for such an award.

RLS: Any mission at hand at this age?

GHCS: Yes, age is to bar when one has the willpower. I am working hard to publish a complete book on Manipuri dance authored by me. Throughout my life as a classical Manipuri dance student, teacher and researcher, I badly felt the need of a complete book of the dance form. I don't want the next generation of Manipuri dance students face the same problem.

RLS: How is the North East Dance Academy going on?

GHCS: My daughters have been doing a wonderful job as the Principal and teachers of the Academy. They have a good number of students. They are dedicated to the job.

RLS: In what ways classical Manipuri dance is different from other classical dances of India?

GHCS: Manipuri dance is quite distinct from other Indian dance forms, mainly because of its graceful fluid movement of the body. The traditional Manipuri dance style embodies delicate, lyrical and graceful movements. The aim is to make rounded movements and avoid any jerks, sharp edges or straight lines. All these give the dance form an undulating and soft appearance. However, behind this outwardly soft impression there lies a tough regime of body control. Unlike in other dance forms, a Manipuri dancer's feet never strike the ground hard as this has a telling effect on the delicate flow of body movement. Everytime the dancer puts down his or her feet, even during vigorous steps; it is the front part of the feet that touches the ground. The ankle and the knee are effectively used as shock absorbers. The face is placid and without any exaggerated expression. The facial expression is subtle. The costume of Manipuri dance is unique.

RLS: A brief account of Guru-shisya parampara vis-a-vis Manipuri dance?

GHCS: Guru-shisya parampara is still alive in Manipuri culture. Guru, in Manipuri parlance, is no less important than God. A shisya serves his guru in all aspects and gets guru kripa (blessings). I had been to Manipur and served my guru, late Guru Atamba Singha. It's his profound blessings that made me a guru today.

RLS: Can you recall a few of your students?

GHCS: Meghalaya Minister in-charge of Urban Development Ampareen Lyngdoh, Professor Tony Gill, Padamaja Sinha (Rubi) are a few of my former students.

The meeting has brought to light the fact that our country is blessed with gems like Guru Hari Charan Singha, who, with their knowledge and expertise, can add more splendour to the ever-growing Indian culture. Yet such talents are unsung, unappreciated and sometimes tend to fade away in the distant memory lanes only as a name to be remembered.

Courtesy: The Sentinel
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