Natawari Archives: The Jankiprasad Gharana of Banaras

Natawari Archives is a large collection of written compositions, audio-visual recordings, letters, documents, books, research papers, articles, reviews, posters and photographs preserved by Sunayanaji over the past sixty years. A significant portion of these archives has been digitized in recent years.

The origin and history of the Jankiprasad Gharana, its Gurus and their lives and contributions come to life through the Natawari archives. Pt. Hazarilalji and Sunayanaji’s life and dance journey is also reflected in these archives.

Here are some artifacts from the archives:

Woman dancing on a floating plank

Kumudini Lakhia’s memories of Ashiq Hussain

Ashiq Hussain in the film ‘Utho Jago’

Forgotten dancers of the Jankiprasad Gharana

Woman dancing on a floating plank

In the late 1970s and early 80s, Sunayanaji conducted extensive research into the history of this Gharana. At the time she was assisted by Dr Jaichand Sharma, a scholar, educator and historian of Bikaner. Dr Sharma discovered this photograph and sent it to her.

Inscription: In the reservoir of Mahajan village of Bikaner State, Hardayi Bai dances before Raja Harisingh. Photo dated 1902. Mahajan is home to relatives of Bikaner’s rulers. Jaichandra Sharma obtained this photo on February 17, 1981.

Hardayi Bai was a disciple of Motilalji of this Gharana. The picture brings to mind the story of Jankiprasadji who was noticed by the Maharani of Bikaner while he danced on a plank floating on water as a young boy.

Kumudini Lakhia’s memories of Ashiq Hussain

In her biography ‘Movement in Stills’ Padma Bhushan Kumudiniji recalls learning dance from Guru Ashiq Hussain when she was just six. In this handwritten testimonial from the late 1970s she shares memories of that era.

Transcription of this testimonial

Ashiq Hussain in the film Utho Jago (1947)

From 1931 until his migration to Pakistan in 1949, Ashiq Hussain was a popular film star, and often played the lead role.

In the late 1960s, Sunayanaji and Hazarilalji met Shahzadi, a former co-star of Ashiq Hussain, who also learned dance from him. She gave them a few photographs.

Ashiq Hussain in a scene from ‘Utho Jago’

Actress and Dancer Shahzadi (publicity still from the film)

Forgotten dancers of the Jankiprasad Gharana

The stories of many great Gurus and performers of the Jankiprasad Gharana are lost to us. Here is one such figure about whom we know very little - ‘Laya ke Badshah’ Jagannath Prasad Padhihaar.

Photograph found by the late Dr. Jaichand Sharma of Bikaner.

Researchers seeking further insight, or those able to contribute history or artifacts to the archives, please do contact us.

Pandit Hanuman Prasadji

Pt. Hanumanprasad (1872 - 1952) was a court dancer of Maharaja Pratapsingh of Kashmir. Later he was also employed by Maharaja Bhupendra Singh of Patiala, and Maharaja Ganga Singhji of Bikaner. He was also in the court of the King of Nepal for some time. He was renowned for his abhinaya and the ability to transform himself on stage. Legend has him parting crowds just with his gestures.

Late in life he was based in Delhi - a pioneering Kathak teacher whose students included Nirmala and Uma Joshi, Malashri Sen and Reba Vidyarthi (nee Chatterjee). His grandson Naval Kishore taught for many years in New Delhi.

Pandit Gopalji

Pt. Gopalji (187? - 1932) was a Court dancer in Khairagarh, Kapurthala and Kashmir. For some time he was also in the Court of Raja Bhupendra Singhji of Patiala. Pandit Gopal was famous for his angika abhinaya. In a temple or courtyard the audience would sit all around him and watch him expressively use his entire body.

Pandit Gopal settled in Lahore and immensely popularized his dance style all over Punjab and beyond - at times the Jankiprasad Gharana, was referred to as the Punjab, Lahore or Gopalji ka Gharana. His notable disciples included Ashiq Hussain, Meera Baksh, and the famous Patiala court dancers Nawab Putli and Hirabai. Late in life, Pandit Gopalji was blessed with a son - Krishna Kumarji.

Pandit Biharilalji

Pt. Biharilalji (1864-1938) was a handsome and well-built man who performed in many parts of North India. He was fondly called Babuji by artists of his time. He was a Court dancer of Indore, and also performed in the Court of Patiala. Later, he came to Bombay and joined Bal Gandharva's Natak Company as a dancer. Here Ustad Ahmadjan Thirkava was employed as a tabla player and accompanied him.

Biharilalji composed a number of Natawari syllables and was known for his bhava and layakari. He had three sons Kishanlal, Mohanlal and Sohanlal, all dancers. His students included Keshavrao More, Menkabai Belgaonkar and singer Kesarbai Kerkar.

Kumudini Lakhia

The memory of Ashiq Hussain uncovers some of the most pleasant moments of my childhood. It was he who inculcated a love for the Dance in me.

Ashiq Hussain was better known as a very popular film star of his times, but at heart he was a devoted chela of the Janki Prasad, Benares Gharana of Kathak. I remember making a run of the Bombay Film studios, usually sitting on his shoulders. I was also casted as a child dancing star in two of his films.

This was a long time ago. What is more important now is the memory of the Tukras, Parans and Gats which he taught me.

I have been long associated with Kathak since, but the ‘Bols’ of the Janaki Prasad Gharana stand out distinct to those of the ‘Bols’ of the Jaipur and Lucknow Gharanas of Kathak. I came once again in contact with this, very briefly, when I had the opportunity of being assoicated with Shri Krishna Kumar when the Bharatiya Kala Kendra produced ‘Malati-Madhav’ for the Dance Seminar in 1958.

It is indeed a pleasure now to watch Shri Hazarilal and Smt Sunayana Hazarilal as their ‘Padhant’ reminds me once again of those happy moments of a childhood so rich with Dance & Music.

Kumudini Lahkia
School of Kathak Dance
Lakhia Bros.
Lal Darwaja
Ahmedabad 380 006.

Site Credits

Sunayanaji (orange dress): Avinash Pasricha
Sunayanaji (black-and-white): Sue Jones

Veronica (select portraits): Carolina Echeverría

Neesha (blue dress): Paul Wan
Sri Shakti Academy (Taiwan performance): Danny Chan

Anuradha (select portraits) & Anjali 2021 HK Student Group Portraits: Saurabh Anand – The Artsy Tripod

Maharaja Anup Singh Portrait: Courtesy Anil Relia Collection, Ahmedabad, India

Deepest thanks to our veteran accompanists:

Pandit Kalinath Mishra – Tabla
Somnath Mishra – Vocals
Alka Gujar – Sitar