By Indranil Halder
In a warm winter Sydney afternoon, I meet Joanne Taylor( author of The Forgotten Palaces of Calcutta) at Woolwich Pier Hotel, Woolwich with my guest Arnab Bandypadhyay from India. When we were both listened to Joanne’s stories of Kolkata palaces or Rajbaris which included Jorasako Tagore Bari and Rabindra Bharati University heritage building in North Kolkata, Arnab Bandypadhyay spoke about to his love for Rabindra Nritya (dance form introduced by Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore).
Rabindra Nritya & Australian Tagore Statue:
Rabindra Nritya is a concept. This form of dance is mainly introduced and performed in Shantiniketan (location of Visva-Bharati University) and Kolkata, West Bengal by ‘Gurudeb’ (as Tagore is referred). History can’t forget that Tagore was the first non-European to receive Nobel prize for literature in 1913. He is the pride of Asians, especially Bengalis and Indians.As we visited the statue of Tagore in Macquarie University, Macquarie Park, Arnab said, “For myself, this is one of the proudest moment in Australia.” He also performed Rabindra Nritya infront of the statue (was gifted by ex-Indian diplomat, strategic advisor (for India Engagement at UNSW Sydney) and member of the Order of Australia, Dr Amit Dasgupta) with his heart content.
Arnab: A Rabindra Nritya Dance Maestro
In the Indian state of West Bengal, Arnab Bandypadhyay is a based in Howrah. He has been a Rabindra Nritya dancer for few decades. Like many Bengali men, dancing is part of his life. He had travelled to Bangladesh, Canada(9 times), China, HongKong, Malaysia, United States and United Kingdom to showcase Rabindra Nritya. Winner of two titles – Sangeet Ratna and Bangiya Sangeet Parishad (BSP), Howrah for his Rabindra Nritya performances. He learnt his choreography of Rabindra Nritya and Tagore performance of art, under the guidance of Alaknanda Ray, Poly Guha, Gayatri Basu and Subhash Bhattacharya (Professor of Rabindra-Bharati University,Kolkata). Besides, performing Rabindra Nritya, he is also a trained Odissi dancer by his guru, the legendary Padmabibhushan award winner and guru, Kelucharan Mahapatra.
Arnab feels, dancing not only helps him to be physically fit but also helps him to be mentally strong. To him, dancing is almost similar to athletics, yoga and meditation. He said, “ I have learnt Rabindra Nritya with all my heart and my famous choreography on Tagore’s works include Shyamaa, Chiro Sakha, Maayaa and Mon Pakhi. I have given more than 100 performances on Tagore’s work in every corner of India. Today, I am here in Australia to do the same.’
Arnab’s Australian Homage to Tagore:
Arnab Bandypadhyay loves Tagore and his works. He believes, to learn about Indian society and it’s culture, one must know Rabindranath’s works. Even today, Tagore’s philosophy about life and vision are still contemporary and his works are secular and modern. The Western world is still showing the same respect to him, after his demise 80 years ago. He wants Australians to equally understand Tagore, experience his works and celebrate him.
During his Sydney visit, Arnab performed Rabindra Nritya in front of the Opera House, reminiscent Tagore’s work in the Western Sydney suburb of Harris Park ( Little India) and talked about his love for dancing in Sydney suburb of Woolwich. Walking down to Woolwich shore from Goat Paddock Reserve, as we looked out to the Cockatoo Island with ferries crisscrossing the blue water, he said,” I can breath well, when I perform Tagore’s works.” He spoke about 15 days long celebrations of Tagore Jayanti (Birthday) in Kolkata, when state government organises programs in best auditoriums of the city such as Rabindra Sadan. He cannot wait to watch the videos of his team performing on the coming 15th of May. He trained both his male and female students at his dance school-Darpani(Well known in Kolkata and across India). He is counting his fingers to watch them performing on 9th of May( Tagore’s birthday) at Sarat Sadan, Howrah. He showed disbelief at the lack of initiatives to celebrate Tagore’s birthday throughout the month of May in Sydney.
In Sydney, he is hosted by Asim Bandhu and Ramyani Ray (Rajib-Moumita). He is touring Australia with other renowned Indian dancers -Asim Bandhu and Ramyani Ray. To him, all of them are cultural ambassadors from India whose one and only goal is to showcase various styles of Indian dance styles in Australia. He hopes one day, Indian consulate with local universities and Bengalis in Australia will celebrate Tagore’s birthday with gala events, book fair and cultural exchange. He believes, it is never late to start such celebration from Macquarie University, where today, the Tagore statue is not visited by many. He is enthusiastic and looking forward to performing Rabindra Nritya in Brisbane, Canberra, and Sydney over the next couple of weeks. He wants to be a part of Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s grant program Maitri Cultural Partnerships for collaboration between Australia and India to showcase creative forms of Rabindra Nritya from Bengal. He is also planning to showcase Tagore celebrations with an Australia twist at the newly built multi million dollar state of the art Dhanadhanyo Auditorium in Kolkata and Opera House in Sydney. It was amazing to listen to his vision for Rabindra Nritya as we sat for lunch at The Ranch, Macquarie Park. Enjoying his chicken schnitzel with chips, Arnab invited everyone to attend the upcoming event ‘Margam’ by Udok Performing Arts, Sydney on the 20th of May, 2023.