Youth Blog Spot: Darbar – A Journey through India’s Royal Past

Posted on May 15, 2012 by


On March 15, 2012, the Chitresh Das Dance Company (CDDC) performed the world premiere of ‘Darbar,’ created by renowned kathak master Pandit Chitresh Das.  Presented in partnership with the Asian Art Museum (AAM) and the exhibition Maharaja: the Splendor of India’s Royal Courts, this new work was performed in traditional kathak dance drama.

Darbar (translated as “the court”) highlights the artistic renaissance that took place in the courts of North India as well as the methodology of divide and rule utilized by the British to conquer India and eventually dissolve the same courts. The story is loosely based on that of king Wajid Ali Shah, a ruler known both for his decadence and for his revival of kathak. Ali Shah, so distracted by his indulgences, failed to notice that his general was being tempted by the British to betray him. Darbar is both a representation of the rich artistic and cultural legacy of the courts of North India as well as a statement about the responsibility of power and the risk of corruption—concepts still relevant today.

Chhandam Youth Company member, Mayuka Sarukkai, tells us her experience of  being transported to the Mughal Era, in the production of ‘Darbar.’

By Mayuka Sarukkai (Age 14)

It’s a Saturday night in San Francisco, and in the seated audience, I know that I am not about to witness a mere dance production.  No, I’m about to take a dream-like journey back in time, to places I only knew about in storybooks before.  Darbar is a story of the past with a real presence, a coming-to-life of all things jewelled and extravagant.  I journey through India’s past, beyond the realm of an artistic production and into the world of the lavish court; and a clever interweaving of dance and drama ropes me in and keeps me there, start to finish.

The audience joins a young man who takes refuge in the ruins of a once flourishing Mughal court and discovers a story of the vibrant world of the past. The genius of this story’s telling lies in its illustration through the art form — Kathak dance embodies every conversation, every struggle, every aspect of the plot itself.  The Mughal king throws a sample of his rhythmic prowess at the Hindu guru, who answers the challenge with an equally masterful response.  The general’s confrontation of the king goes from heated exchange to a fierce sword fight (of course, without swords) that, tragically, ends with neither opponent in the win.  The stunning artistry involved in the portrayal of the rich culture that flourishes in the regal Mughal court is enhanced by vibrant costumes that achieve a level of extravagance paralleled by the wealth of the Maharaja exhibits.

By the end of Scene 3, I have fallen, like the king, into a dream-like state of indulgence and glory.  But when the British raj emerges victorious after a startling coup by the general, I’m suddenly shaken, precipitated into the undeniable reality of it all.  Inside, I’m weeping like the queen over her dead king’s body.  Weeping, weeping for a trove of artistic and cultural treasure that had so suddenly been tossed away by the hand of complacency.  And so when the solemn voice of the entire Darbar cast rises in unison, singing Saare Jahaan Se Achha in celebration of an Indian independence nearly two centuries later, I realize just how lucky I am to be a part of this age-long legacy.

Photos by Margo Mortiz