Baithaks: A Relic or A Reality

by Madhur Gupta
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The concept of proscenium stage and for that matter even furniture is a western concept. Indians by far and by large have always preferred to sit cross legged on the ground, owing to the rooted and grounded philosophical upbringing most come up with. Likewise the arts in the Indian subcontinent were never meant to be a performance. They were mostly an offering to the divine. Those who wanted to be a part of this benefaction sat surrounding the performer in an intimate environment and were participants in the art rather than just the onlookers.
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Hence, came to be the scenario of Baithaks, especially in the Northern parts of the country. The writer came across one such intimate setting when invited by seasoned Kathak danseuse Aditi Mangaldas for Baithak series, an effort by her Drishtikon Dance Foundation to revive this art of presentation and to give the younger generation a stage to showcase their mastery.
Tracing the history, the relevance, and the coming back of this trend we have in conversation some of the top arts organizers, dancers, and connoisseurs sharing their thoughts on the art of Baithak.
On the relevance of Baithak style concerts Minhal Hasan from Teamwork Arts state, “In our experience through some of our music festivals like Sacred and Kabira we have observed that the audience wants to rediscover their roots. The audiences enjoy the old world feel that we have been able to create along with the music we have been able to bring to them.” Meeta Jain Nagpal, founder of Musical Dreams pitch in by saying, “For me, Baithak is a platform where there is an energy exchange between audience and the artiste. The impact created is informal, comfortable and up lifting. The dynamics are compact thus creating a more intimate experience with art. The financial involvement is less and the creative involvement is more. At present, I am trying at very initial stages to bring this culture back. For me personally, being an audience in a show and in a baithak is similar to the difference between seeing a movie and reading a book.”
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But since the concept of Baithak is on revival mode, there are bound to be certain advantages and disadvantages to organizing one. To this query Meeta states,” Advantages are that it is on a smaller scale so less organization is needed. There is less financial involvement. It is more gripping. It is creatively satisfying. Disadvantage wise it boils down to that audience is limited and there might be no financial benefits involved.”
Minhal on the other hand chooses to enlighten us on the contemporary audience’s response to Baithaks:  Delhi or I should say North Indian audience is keener to connect with the semi classical and Sufi music genre. There is a huge interest and appreciation for such events today. The feedback we have received after the first concert has been positive and extremely heartening.
Shivani Varma, disciple of Guru Shovana Narayana takes us deeper into this conversation. She says, “Baithaks are a very beautiful concept of Indian culture and in a sense, I do not think that they ever really disappeared. I can say that as I have had the privilege of witnessing many since childhood particularly in a few culturally rich drawing rooms of Delhi and Kolkata.”
The beauty of baithaks, Shivani says, really is that they are organized by the organizer truly for his/her own enjoyment. And that makes the experience more genuine and free. Further elaborating upon the experience, “As a performer I have had the privilege of dancing at baithaks for connoisseurs and aesthetes like Meera, Muzaffar Ali, Anita Lal and Sanjay Garg. All of them have such a great eye for beauty and detail that the entire atmosphere resounds with the theme – from the decor, to the performances, to the food.”
Reaching a consensus thus, one can easily say that for the connoisseurs baithaks are a treat anyway because it is the closeness of interaction with the performance and the performer and it gives a very personal connection with the nuances which they follow. There is a lot more rasa in the experience.
Baithaks are generally from the spectator’s perspective, a much lighter hearted experience than a formal theatre setting and this can make technical aspects seems a lot more palatable to the average spectator. Stage in any case strips a dancer from all artifice and in a baithak setting the performer is more real and more vulnerable and therein lay the beauty of it all.

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