COLOMBO: The highly acclaimed Sri Lankan army dance troupe, made up of men and women soldiers, has added to its extensive repertoire, the North Indian classical dance form “Kathak”.

Inspired by Army chief Lt.Gen.Mahesh Senanayake, who was enchanted by the vigor and grace of Kathak while he was on training in India, the dance troupe has worked hard to imbibe the sensuousness and the intricate footwork characteristic of the dance form.

This was amply evident in the troupe’s debut performance last Friday at the Kaliashwaram Hindu temple in Maradana in Central Colombo. The dancers’ fast, intricate and rhythmic footwork combined with graceful movements had the audience in raptures.

Prior to the performance, the dancers went through a solemn initiation ceremony the ‘Gunguru’.

The 26 dancers were trained by Major Veronica Dassanayake, herself an acclaimed Kathak dancer trained at the Bhatkhande Music and Dance University in Lucknow, the birthplace of Kathak.

It was Gen.Senanayake who planted the idea of including Kathak in the repertoire of the army dance troupe, and recruited Veronica Dassanayake to make his dream a reality. But Maj.Gen. Shavendra Silva, Adjutant General, and Brigadier Fariz Yousaf, Director, Directorate of Army Band and Drama Art Performances, had also put their shoulders to the wheel to bring the idea to fruition.

“Kathak would no doubt help talented young soldier-artistes improve their stage performances. Besides, it will foster good relations between Sri Lanka and India,” Gen.Senanayake said.

The Sri Lankan army dance and cultural troupe is basically meant to foster ethnic and cultural unity in the services and the country at large while entertaining troops.

It comes as no surprise that it should chose to incorporate Kathak in its repertoire because in India, Kathak represents a fusion of cultures and the notion of unity in diversity.

Perfected and fostered in the courts of the Nawabs of Awadh in Lucknow, the capital city of what is now Uttar Pradesh, Kathak encapsulated India of the 19 th.Century, an amalgam of Hindu and Muslim cultures.

Under Awadhi Nawab Wajid Ali Shah, Kathak was a Muslim inspired dance form with Hindu themes. Its exponents were both Hindus and Muslims. In that sense, it symbolized the idea of “India”, a composite culture.

Although Kathak has been catching public attention in Sri Lanka only lately, with a number of Sri Lankans learning it, the dance form itself came to Sri Lanka more decades ago.

It was the visit of the maestro Pandit Birju Maharaj of Lucknow in 1956 which lit the spark of interest in the hitherto unfamiliar art form, though Uday Shankar ‘s dancing style with elements of Kathak in it had its followers in Sri Lanka such as dancer and choreographer Chitrasena.

The first student of ‘Kathak’ in Sri Lanka and the first Sri Lankan to give a public Kathak performance was Srimathi Rasadari. Today, Ruchira Dissanayake, Veronica Dassanayake and Moksha Samarasooriya are earning a name for themselves both in the island and overseas as competent performers.

Veronica, who joined the army to train its dancers, started to learn Kathak at the tender age of five. In 2002 just after finishing school, she went to the Bhatkhande University in Lucknow, the home of Kathak, with a scholarship from the Indian Council for Cultural Relations.

At Bhatkhande, she was groomed by the leading Kathak exponent Pandit Arjun Mishra, himself a student of Birju Maharaj.

After successfully completing the Bachelor of Performing Arts Degree with first class honors in 2008, Veronica obtained the “Nipun” in Kathak with first class. Veronica’s forte is Abhinaya.