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Tributes To Two Great Mentors

kanak rele, jitendra maharaj

Two great exponents and mentors of classical dance left for their heavenly abode last month. On the day of Shivaratri, veteran Kathak maestro and the mentor of renowned Kathak duo,Nalini and Kamalini, Pandit Guru Jitendra Maharaj breathed his last in Delhi. While in Mumbai, renowned Mohiniattam exponent Dr Kanak Rele left for her final journey on 22nd February.

Legendary Mohiniattam danseuse,mentor,choreographer,scholar and dance educationist,Padma Bhushan Dr Smt Kanak Rele, left for her heavenly abode on 22 February,  at the age of 85,after a cardiac arrest in Mumbai. She was cremated with state honours at the Vile Parle crematorium Condolence messages were received from the Governor Ramesh Bais,actress Hema Malini and several other dignitaries. Dr Rele is survived by her husband Yatin Rele, son Rahul, daughter in law Uma and grandchildren Vaidehi and Nikunj Rele.

Pandit Guru Jitendra Maharaj who was also in his eighties, contributed greatly towards the propagation and enrichment of the Varanasi Gharana of Kathak, consistently for seven decades. Although he has taught many students, the most renowned are the dynamic duo Nalini and Kamalini from Delhi, Along with their mentor they established Sangeetika Institute of Performing Arts to teach Kathak to several aspirants.

Guru Jitendra is particulalry credited for the choreography of dance ballets like “Rudra Avtar”,”Agni Shikha” “Vahadevi Vanvas”.”Akhand Saubhagyawati”, “Ram Ki Shakti Puja” “Shiv Shakti Mahima”etc. On the one hand the charismatic Kathak duo danced for Devi Sharif Dargah in Bareilly,Agra and on the other hand they also danced at Shiva’s abode,Kailash Mansarovar at 18000 feet altitude. Along with their mentor they have performed for some of the most prestigious festivals in India and abroad.

Born on 11 June 1937 in Mumbai in a rich industrialist family of Gujarati Divechas, as the daughter of Madhuri and Shivdas Divecha. As a young girl, Kanak received her formal education in poet Rabindranath Tagore’s Shanti Niketan, hence developed a natural inclination for literature and fine arts. As a child she fought polio to attain fluidity of movement and used this to teach children of a lesser god to achieve physical ease and overcome physical constraints. Rare is the story of a dancer who achieves much, but then goes on to help those who really need it.

Last year Dr. Kanak Rele released her latest book “Me and My Mohiniattam” at Nalanda Dance Research Centre, founded by her,more than 50 years back, in the presence of veteran actress and Bharatanatyam exponent Hema Malini. On this occasion Dr Rele vividly narrated her experience as a Mohiniattam dancer, her lifetime contribution in resurrecting and promoting Mohiniatttam at the international level and how difficult it was to give Mohiniattam dance form a new “respectability” and recognition, as the dance was almost extinct. After learning Kathakali from the veteran actor ‘Panchali’ Karunakara Panicker, she started learning Mohiniattam from Kalamandalam Rajyalakshmi who joined Nalanda as a mentor. In the year 1972 The Ford Foundation grant enabled her to make a film on the three pioneer mentors of Mohiniattam – Chinnammu Amma, Kunjukutty Amma and Kalyanikutty Amma – and how she introduced and discovered her own style of Mohiniattam with the musical guidance rendered by veteran lyricist and music composer Kavalam Narayana Panicker in the Sopanam Sangeetam style and one of the most remarkable achievement of establishing Nalanda Nritya Kala Mahavidyalaya, with the affiliation to Mumbai University, when Dr TK Tope was the Vice-chancellor and introducing bachelors, masters and doctorate degrees in classical dances .

Hema Malini who was the chief guest on the occasion narrated as she became aware of Dr Kanak Rele. “I started learning Bharatanatyam from Guru Kittappa Pillai as my mother insisted. I also learnt Kuchipudi and Mohiniattam. I had heard about Kanakji as my mentor used to come to Nalanda to spend some time here. One day I saw her exquisite performance and was completely mesmerized by the beauty and charm of Kanakji. The book is a storehouse of information and is a must for everyone who wants to know what is Mohiniattam and the significance of classical dance.”

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