Valentina Manduchi of Apsara Dance hosted prominent Kathak dancer Anurekha Gosh at the Centro Incontrando for her first performance in Rome on November 19. The multicultural audience was transported back in time for an evening of dance and poetry dedicated to Moghul Emperor Akbar the Great. The Akbar’s Court Indian dance show featured a Sufi poetry reading, films on the evolution of North Indian kathak dance, and classical and modern dance performances.
Akbar’s Court Indian Dance Show
Descendants of Turkic and Mongol tribes, the Moghul dynasty ruled most of modern-day north India, Pakistan, and Afganistan from the 16th to mid-18th centuries. The Mogul Court brought Turkish and Persian influences to existing Indian culture and promoted an already vibrant tradition of story-telling through dance and music.
Akbar, the third Emperor in the Moghul dynasty, was best known as a warrior who greatly expanded the Empire and built landmark fortresses and mosques along the way. Akbar was also the first Moghul ruler to promote religious tolerance and a great patron of the arts.
One of his wives, and the mother of his heir, was a Hindu Rajput princess known as Jodha Bhai. Their story is chronicled in several Bollywood movies and TV series (usually with some creative licensing on historic accuracy). You can watch one of the most expensive and elaborate Bollywood dance sequences from the latest Jodha Akbar movie here.
Indian art, poetry, and dance flourished under Akbar’s rule. Kathak, an ancient classical Indian dance form originating from Hindu storytelling traditions, became a celebrated form of entertainment in the Mughal courts.
Influence of Persian and Sufi Culture
Akbar also started the practice of including both a Persian and a Hindi poet laureate in his court. Although Persian was originally the official language of the Moghul Court, over time and with the help of Sufi saints and mystics, poetry in local languages such as Urdu gained prominence. Urdu is a Hindustani language that was influenced by Arabic, Persian, and Turkish, which became the dominant literary language under Akbar’s descendants.
Sufi whirling is a form of meditation inspired by the famous 13th-century Sufi poet Rumi.
Anurekha Gosh Kathak Performance
Originally from Calcutta, Anurekha is now based in the UK and has 35 years of dance experience. As is the tradition among classically-trained Kathak dancers, Anurekha started dancing at a young age and humbly told the audience that she is still just a student of dance.
At the end of the Akbar’s Court Indian dance show, Anurekha pleased the Bengalis in the audience with a short song and routine in her mother tongue.
To learn more about classical Indian and Bollywood dance in Rome, you can follow Valentina Manduchi. Valentina started the Apsara dance group in 2005. In Hindu mythology, Apsaras represent a celestial nymph(typically the wife of a heavenly musician).