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Obeisance to an icon

September 15, 2018

Now that Odissi has assumed a paramount place in the Indian classical dance landscape -- both in the country and overseas -- and signal contributions of a handful of Odissi's great gurus loom large on its dance horizon, one can safely look back and assert three verities about arguably the greatest of them: Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra. First, among the conclave of the Jayantika's very senior choreographers and scholars of the late fifties, his was perhaps the utmost attention paid to the kinaesthetics of the dancer's body and limbs that has stood the test of time. Second, Kelubabu's unique insight into the Odissi hastamudras and mukhabinaya, derived from his illustrious childhood upbringing among the Patachitrakars of Raghurajpur hamlet and honed by the later life exposure to the Odisha temple sculptures which he painstakingly surveyed and copied down with a scholar's eye that helped him enormously in widening his imagination that enabled him to provide ever new insights to his disciples. And third, talking about disciples, perhaps his was the largest number that has been created for Odissi - due to his indefatigable workshops conducted frequently especially in Kolkata, Mumbai and Delhi, outside his normal ambit within Orissa, throughout his lifetime, resulting in a very large circle of knowledgeably groomed dancers in India and abroad.

Shraddhanjali, organised on August 25 and 26 in Kolkata by the Odissi Dancers Forum, to pay a joint tribute to their illustrious guru, was an appropriate occasion to observe, over the two days, how the savant's contribution has borne fruit in the eastern part of our large country, especially to let his solo choreographies proliferate into group compositions, thanks to his well-nurtured disciples and the latter, in turn, aiding to create a new line of millennial generation versed in Kelubabu's signature style.

It was also entirely apt that a new creation, Shabari, not seen in Kolkata earlier, would come on the first evening from Ratikant Mohapatra, his worthy son, who is running Kelubabu's dance institution Srjan very well in Odisha. Srjan, incidentally, has one hundred students at the moment, with a sizeable number of learners from abroad and around 132 passed-out dancers are already established in the field. Ratikant's foray into extended abhinaya was seen earlier in Chudamani Pradan, along with the redoubtable Sanjukta Panigrahi as Sita when the latter was alive. On this occasion, Ratikant used the couplets and quartets from Tulsidas's Ramcharit Manas recited to narrate the episode of the old tribal woman Shabari praying and waiting eternally for the arrival of Rama whose encounter would give her salvation. With consummate artistry, Ratikant performed ekaharya abhinaya, to create alternately, the majestic archer Rama and the hunched Shabari. The latter was overwhelmed when her dream materialised and she had chance to touch his holy feet again and again. The sequence, in which Rama accepts fruits from his devotee only after the latter had made sure of their sweetness by prior tasting, almost brought tears in the audience's eyes.

Ratikant Mohapatra

Aruna Mohanty

The other senior guru Aruna Mohanty from Odisha was seen on the second evening with an altogether new choreography Pratinayaka (the anti-hero). Extending the Bhagavata Mahapurana theme that every hero has a counterpart of anti-hero, she drew illustrations of Narasingha-Hiranyakashipu duo from the Satya era; Rama-Ravana duo and Krishna-Kamsa duo in Treta, and made the point that both the hero and anti-hero have merged into one in the Kali era, with divinity and the devil often witnessed together. Reciting the core hymn, I exist, therefore you exist, she chanted, I am fallen, so you can rise; I am defeated, so you can be a victor... Set to Ramahari Das's music, her choreography was a pointer to entirely new directions in Odissi, both in thematic treatment as well as body language extensions.

Among the items seen by this critic on both days, the group dances certainly stood out. On the first evening, the opening presentation by Chhanda Manjari was the composition Guru Vandana, based on a string of ragas: Bhairavi, Boiragi and Darbari, in adi tala, with music by S. Vighna Raja, followed by Shiva Panchamukha in ragamalika and talamalika, created by the redoubtable Pt. Raghunath Panigrahi. Presented by five excellent dancers, the two items were quite impressive. Prativa Cultural Centre presented with six dancers the ashtapadi from Gita Govinda, Hari eha mugdha..., based on Kelubabu's choreography in raga Shankarabaranam. But the lines, Chandana charchita neela kalebara peeta basana Banmali... called for more involvement.

Subikash Mukherjee

Shibnarayan Bandyopadhyay

Ahe nila saila... presented by Nrityangana with seven dancers under the direction of Maya Bhattacharya, was a unique composition by Salabeg, the Muslim devotee of Jagannath, whose songs are a favourite at the grand Rathayatra Festival in Puri, but are seldom used by the Odissi dancers except this particular song in raga Arabhi, because it was choreographed by Kelubabu. Dashavatar was presented by Sankalpa Nrityan with Kelubabu's choreography and music by Pt. Raghunath Panigrahi in raga Mohanam. Directed by Subikash Mukherjee, it was an excellent composition with ten well-groomed dancers, using abundant energy, dramatic exits and re-entries, and excellent teamwork to create all the ten incarnations. Leelanidhi hey... came next as an abhinaya, based on the famous Champu geet that uses the Oriya alphabet ingeniously, presented by Garden Reach Nikkon Odissi Nrityyabitan with seven dancers, with Kelubabu's choreography and music by Pt. Bhubaneswar Mishra based on raga Tilak Kamod. This was impressively executed.

On the second evening, Shivang presented first a solo, Vinayak Smarane, by Shibnarayan Bandyopadhyay, with choreography by Ratikant Mohapatra and music by Rupak Kumar Parida in raga Ahir Bhairav and tala ektali. This was very well executed with Ganapati's myriad manifestations etched by the male dancer. Shivang then presented five male and five female dancers, to create visually the rains, to the Shankarabaranam raga setting for the lilting Oriya song, Maa rey bano dhara srabana rey..., in a skillful fashion. Srijan Chhanda under Rajib Bhattacharya, presented eight dancers in a resplendent Shankarabaranam Pallavi, set to Kelubabu's choreography. The other engrossing group composition was a Saveri pallavi by Kalakshetram with six dancers, directed by Susmita Bhattacharya, whose choreography too seemed by Kelubabu, though not announced.

Rajib Bhattacharya

Arnab Bandyopadhyay

Shayomita Dasgupta

Ashmeeta Bagchi

Regarding the other solos, Rajib Bhattacharya on the first evening impressed by his Mangalacharan, carrying a manikya veena Saraswati Vandana, with music by Pt. Bhubaneswar Mishra in ragamalika and talamalika, and choreography by Kelubabu. Another impressive solo was the Kirwani Pallavi by Shayomita Dasgupta with music by Pt. Bhubaneswar Mishra in tala khemta and choreography by Kelubabu. She had clear lines and was a delight to watch. Arnab Bandyopadhyay presented another engrossing item in his Swavinaya Pallavi, set in Arabhi raga by Pt. Bhubaneswar Mishra with choreography by Kelubabu, giving full scope to his natyadharmi stance. On the second evening, Ashmeeta Bagchi - the 'Paramita' awardee of 2018 - performed very well with her Khamaj Pallavi - music by Pt. Bhubaneswar Mishra in jhampa tala and choreography by Kelubabu.

On the whole, the second evening proved more rewarding to watch than the first. One sincere question this critic would put to the organisers: was there a real need to devote so much time on both evenings to felicitate celebrities - some having nothing to do with dance -- and requesting everyone to speak, thereby making the programs unduly long, especially when so many dance organisations were vying for time for their professional presentation?

Dr. Utpal K Banerjee is a scholar-commentator on performing arts over last four decades. He has authored 23 books on Indian art and culture, and 10 on Tagore studies. He served IGNCA as National Project Director, was a Tagore Research Scholar and is recipient of Padma Shri.

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