Having been my guruma’s role model, and also her ‘dadaguru’, Pandit Durga Lal has largely influenced my journey in Kathak. I have frequently watched his awe-inspiring videos, heard stories about his perseverence and commitment to Kathak, and incorporated some of his teachings into my style of dance. Unfortunately, Pandit Durga Lal died at a young age, and was unable to influence other learners of Kathak like he influenced me.
Although he is an ‘Unsung Hero of Kathak’ today, Pt. Durga Lal was a widely acclaimed Kathak dancer during his time. He has received highly prestigious awards such as the Padma Shri and the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1984. He is known for having played the main role in Ghanashyam; the music of which was composed by Pandit Ravi Shankar. Apart from being a Kathak maestro, Pt. Durga Lal was also a singer and a player of the ‘pakhavaj’. For all his contributions today, Pt. Durga Lal is remembered on some occasions till date, due to the efforts of his family members and disciples. Uma Dogra, my guruma’s guru, was one such disciple who has contributed largely to protecting Pt. Durga Lal’s legacy in her own small ways. For instance, she has played a large role in organizing the Pandit Durga Lal Memorial Festival, which is an annual event held in honor of this legend in the field of Kathak.
Along with all of these accolades that Pt. Durga Lal achieved by the young age of 45, what inspires me about him is his diligence and perseverance. My guruma once told me that in order to perfect the “chakkars” of Kathak, and stay at the same spot while continuously performing these chakkars for long periods of time, Pt. Durga Lal would often practice them in an extremely small room, only slightly larger than a telephone booth. Every time he would move from his spot while doing a “chakkar” his hand would bang the walls of the ‘room’. Such is the dedication that made him a perfectionist in performing the “chakkar”. Today, when I watch videos of him performing the “chakkar”, I am reminded of a sports car – you can barely see it go, but you know that nothing can match the power with which it moves. His dance is the most graceful and effortless representation of power and strength. In my view, this is a mark of a true artist- someone who can make something extremely difficult seem effortless.
This is only one example of Pt. Durga Lal’s exceptional skill in the art of Kathak, and is the one that I have always remembered during my journey of practicing this exquisite dance form.