Indra Sabha: Depicting cultural unity

Indra Sabha: Depicting cultural unity

A fine example of the Indo-Muslim culture of the 19th century is the musical production, 'Indra Sabha' – based on the rich heritage of thumri, dadra, and ghazal; it provides a glimpse into the regal splendour of the court of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah, the last King of Oudh, Ayodhya.

The rare musical theater dance ballet will be performed at Shankar Lal Hall, Modern School, Barakhamba Road on November 18, 6:30 pm onwards.

Dr Uma Sharma has been working with the script of 'Indra-Sabha' given by Mulk Raj Anand – doing the research on this musical production and training all the participating artist based on the rich heritage of thumri, dadra and ghazal for the past one year.

A great connoisseur and patron of the arts, the legendary Nawab's knowledge and interest in the Hindu mythology enabled him to entwine the two cultures sensitively and imaginatively, thus creating a mystical 'Indra-Sabha, a fantasy of the royal court in heaven, ruled by the King of Clouds. Originally written by Amanat Ali in 1852, the musical was performed at Kesar Bagh ka Chauraha, in Lucknow, where the Nawab played the role of Indra.

The Nawab's passion for poetry, music, dance, and drama was so great that he created two famous musicals during his reign and also played the lead characters in them.

In 'Indra Sabha' the heavenly courtiers are of gandharvas, deos, apsaras, and hoories. The 'kaal' a symbolic of 'time' in the cosmic sense is represented by Deo, displaying the conflict between Heaven and Earth in a light-hearted and entertaining way. The story revolves around the heavenly court of Indra and his Apsaras, or nymphs- Pukhraj Pari, Neelam Pari, Lal Pari, and Sabz Pari, signifying gems- topaz, sapphire, ruby, and emerald, also the colours of nature. The latter falls in love with the mortal Gulfaam, this infuriates Indra. He banishes them from heaven. But with the intervention of 'kaal' (Deo), the cosmic 'time' the couple live happily ever after.

This musical is also the beginning of the nautanki, mujra and kathak forms of performances, it is said. It is interesting to find that in the script the names of Akhtarnagar and Singhaldweep are mentioned.

Akhtar was Wajid Ali Shah's pen name and his 'Nagar' was Oudh that is Ayodhya; Singhaldweep was Lanka, perhaps also the legend of Ram and Ravan was reflected in the Nawab's imagination in this script.

Apart from 'Indra Sabha', the other musical was 'Rahas', derived from the word 'Rahasya', meaning mysticism.

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