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An interview with
DONA - Odissi dancer

Feb 2001

Dona is an Odissi dancer and wife of Indian cricket captain Sourav Ganguly. Dona lives in Calcutta.

You live in Calcutta, the city of Rabindranath Tagore and Uday Shankar, but you chose to dance Odissi !
I have learned creative from Mrs.Amala Shankar and was in her group for more then 12 years before I joined Odissi. My real reason for choosing Odissi is more because of my Guruji, Guru Kelucharan Mahapatra. The fact that I met such a great guru and that I could really learn from him drove me to learn Odissi.

Who influenced you to become a dancer?
My mother. She travels with me, helps me to do my makeup and hair. Even when I go to learn from Guruji in Bhubaneswar, she goes with me and sits for hours alone while I practice with Guruji. My father and husband are also interested in my dance.

Tell us something about Odissi.
Odissi gets its origin from the "Gotipua” and Mahari" dance in Orissa. The sculptures in the Konark and Puri temples also help in building the classical form of Odissi.

Is Odissi taken from Natyashastra?
Natyashastra is only a text written by Bharata muni in the 6th century B.C., which is actually a grammar book of Indian classical dance. Just as we learn language or to frame a sentence by first learning grammar and punctuation, similarly we can also learn how to move our hands, legs and body in an artistic manner by following the rules written in Natyashastra. The sthanakas tell us the standing position, charis give us details about the way we walk, padabhedas give us various position of the feet, nrtyahastas, asaujkta and sanujkta hastas give us various hand gestures etc. We picked and chose from this book of rules and codified each dance form. Various local characteristics of Andhra, Orissa and Tamilnadu give different flavors to these separate dance forms. Hence we can say that Odissi has been born out of Natyashastra but not really taken or derived from Natyashastra.

Is there any similarity between Odissi and other dance forms like Kuchipudi or Bharatnatyam....
Firstly, all these dance forms are Indian classical dance and have an Indian flavor in each. The soul of each style is Indian. The "aharya" dress, vachika" language" and "satvika" follow the Indian philosophy and spiritualism. Secondly all these dances have been inspired by and originated from "Vaishnavism". All these dances are temple dances and flourished in temple "natmandirs" and the dances were offered to the deities by the "devadasis" who were called by different names in different states. All these dance styles follow the same sitting posture or aramandi with slight variations and the Indian classical dance forms have their grass roots from Natyashastra.

What is the basic pose in Odissi called?
The basic pose is called "Chouk" which is very similar to the "Aramandi"

Something about the costume and ornaments in Odissi...
We normally wear Orissa silk saree or use "Bonkai" saree to make our Odissi costume. We wear silver jewellery.

Do you believe in preserving Odissi in its traditional form or are you going to modernize it?
I believe in preserving Odissi in its traditional form.

Have you choreographed any dance items?
Yes, I have choreographed some dance items like Tagore's songs in Odissi.

Your favorite dancer....
Guru Kelucharan Mahapatra, Sanjukta Panigrahi and Birju Maharaj.

Your future plans....
To continue my dance and go on performing my dance, spread the form of Odissi around the world.

( As told to Sapna Rangaswamy, Baroda )