Guru - Ba:Master of Dance

Features Issue 118 Aug, 2011
Text by Amar B. Shrestha / Photo: ECS Media

When a popular film monthly published an article on me titled, ‘Dance Guru of Crown Prince Dipendra’, I was inundated with calls and visits”, says Dr Kumar Prasad Darshan, probably the only man in Nepal to have a doctorate in dance. “The late king Mahendra gave me a scholarship to study dance in Mumbai in 1959,” says the 75-year-old who lives in a small house near the famous pote bazaar of Indra Chowk in Kathmandu. One must say that he has done justice to his degree by publishing more than half a dozen books on dance. These include six volumes titled ‘Nepalese Classical Dance Education’ and one titled, ‘Nepalese Classical and Folk Dance Collection’. It is true, he did teach dance to the late Shah king Dipendra as well as his paramour, Devyani Rana. A photo of the young prince dressed in daura suruwal and topi with Devyani dressed in gunyo choli in a typical Nepali group dance pose, takes pride of place in Darshan’s living room. “He used to come here sometimes and sprawl on the sofa you are sitting on now,” says Darshan.

The guru ba
Darshan was the Founder Chairman of the Nepal Kalakar Sangh and ran a dance academy for almost 15 years. He discloses that many of today’s film dance directors were once his students. Some names he reels off are well known like Radhey Shyam, Basant Shrestha and Narayan Devi Pradhan. With such disciples, no wonder he is affectionately known as Guru-Ba (teacher-father) by many. “The school is closed now,” he says, rubbing his knees, “age has caught up with me.” But, it seems he’s not done yet, at least as far as other related activities are concerned. “I have finished writing another book on ‘Mahakali Dance’, the most important dance form here,” he says. “I am hoping somebody will help publish it.”

A fountain of knowledge
Darshan is not the sort to give up easily. He carries on with his research and writing, using his own money to fund his publications. “I am now doing research on the Magar and Gurung peoples’ dances,” he says. He also writes scripts, some of which have been made into documentaries and shown on Nepal Television. These include one based on myths surrounding Pashupatinath Temple, one on Swayambhunath Maha Chaitya (three parts) and one on Bada Dashain. Darshan says that he also had the opportunity of learning the craft from Indian film legends Raj Kapoor and Dev Anand during his nine year stay in Mumbai. “I once wrote a script called, ‘Mankamana’”, he says. However, Darshan’s area of expertise is dance. He is a fountain of knowledge on both Indian and Nepalese dances.

His depth of knowledge is impressive. About the famous, and perhaps the best-known dance form within the country, the Lakhey dance, he says, “It is based on a long and intriguing myth about a demon who resided in a cave in the Nagarjuna forest that kidnapped kids from a playing field in Patan and ate them. I once performed this dance in Japan; the response was fantastic.”

During his studies, he specialized in the famous Indian Kathak dance and expectedly, he has also published a book on the subject. His half a dozen and more books are full of sketches that detail and describe every nuance of the eyes, every step and every hand gesture, not to mention hip and body movements. Informative? You bet. He is now planning to film all the steps of Nepali folk dances and bring them out in a CD so that those who are interested can learn from it. Dance is such an integral part of any civilization’s culture and history. One has to be thankful for people like Darshan, who have dedicated their lives to document the same in great detail and with such a knowing eye.