The Child, the only poem originally written in English by Rabindranath Tagore and later translated to Bengali as Shishutirtha, is composed on the lines of the traditional passion plays of Europe. Written in 1930, against the backdrop of the destruction and despair in the aftermath of World War I, Shishutirtha is a reaffirmation of Tagore’s firm faith in mankind. Last performed in 1931, this unique dance drama will now be staged on April 29 at the Balgandharva Rangamandir, on World Dance Day.
At the Nrityaprerna Bharatnatyam Dance School, almost 60 artistes have lost count of the number of rehearsals they have undergone as they prepare to stage this unique dance drama under the guidance of Surajhankar, to celebrate World Dance Day and to mark Rabindranath Tagore’s birth anniversary, which falls on May 7.
Dr Amit Mitra, an engineer who learnt music from two legendary teachers of the art —Indira Devi Chowdhurani (Tagore’s niece and an archiver) and Sri Sailajaranjan Majumdar — decided to teach music in the city and set up Surajhankar in 1994.
Mitra told The Indian Express that they were excited about the idea of depicting Tagore’s poem as a dance drama. “It has remained in the archive of the Rabindra Bhavan at Santiniketan for so long… so, we decided to take it up,” said Mitra. “Our Rabindra Jayanti programmes are experimental and much-researched efforts that often try to shed light on hitherto unexplored facets on the subject of performance,” he added.
On the seldom-performed Shishutirtha, Mitra said, “Initially named The Child, the poet had composed it on the lines of the traditional passion plays of Europe on the request of the German radio company Uffa. It was given its present form by Tagore himself, before it was staged in Santiniketan,” said Mitra. He will be singing live while Joyattee Bhattacharya, who has her own website that telecasts her readings every week, will be the narrator.
“It has been challenging to depict the poem in the form of a dance drama, as it describes a leader who leads a group of people to an unknown pilgrimage through the night. The group comprises kings and beggars, and the young and the old, who are hoping to reach heaven. They get frustrated and kill the leader, but later repent and move on the path shown by him. They reach a new countryside and see a small hut, in which a mother lies with a newborn. The poem, which is about Nativity, also implies the journey of humankind through faithlessness, and onto faith and a new beginning,” says Suchitra Date, director of the Nritya Prerana troupe that will perform the dance.