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A tribute to the legend - Adi Guru Sri Pankaj Charan Das
- Durga Charan Ranbir, Bhubaneswar (Translated by Rahul Acharya)

June 16, 2005

Guru Sri Pankaj Charan Das, the man who was responsible for bringing Odissi out of the temple precincts into broad daylight. He was the man behind the renaissance that nurtured and enriched Odissi into one of the foremost classical dance forms of India. Born on 17th March 1925 in the holy town of Puri, he was blessed to be a part of the Mahari family and moreover a part of the vast antiquity of the Jagannath tradition. Being adopted by Ratnaprabha Mahari, he was taught devotion to Lord Jagannath through dance. Guruji or Pankaj Sir as he was fondly known was the “Adi Guru” of Odissi dance i.e. all present day dancers and gurus were his disciples at some point of time, having learnt from him directly or from one of his disciples. His dance was laden with Bhakti Rasa and each of its movements spelt the holy name of Lord Jagannath.

My association with Pankaj Sir dates back to the day when I was struggling to get admitted at the Utkal Sangeeta Mahavidyalaya, where he was the dance teacher. I came from an orthodox Kshetriya family where boys were taught martial arts and use of weapons. Dance and music were damned. When I raised this issue of wanting to learn dance before my father, I was severely chastised. But I was adamant; no amount of thrashing could stop me. Seeing my obstinacy my father hid my admission form. As a result, I was unable to apply for the admissions because the last date was already over, by the time I found my form. Even then I visited the Mahavidyalaya hoping to convince the then Principal, Dr. Minati Mishra. On the way, I found an umbrella that was supposed to be Pankaj Sir’s (that is what the gardener told me). A tall framed man was walking by the stairways when the gardener pointed out that he was Pankaj Sir. I mustered all courage and walked up to him. I greeted him politely and introduced myself. He said he was already informed about my situation and suggested that I go and meet the Principal. The Principal agreed and I was admitted into the college. My days of practice with Pankaj Sir and my Guru, Late Deba Prasad Das, started.

Pankaj Sir was a very disciplined and strict teacher. No one was allowed to dilly dally in the class. Anybody found to do so was severely chastised and reprimanded. His intention was to infuse dance into each one of his students, to make them perfectionists. He was very successful at that. Beyond the class, he was the ever loving father, and all the affection he showered on each one of us, can never be forgotten. I revered him a lot and used to seek his blessings and suggestions in everything I did, though by then I was being trained under Deba Sir. After I had become a Nrityacharya and built my own group of disciples, I used to request Pankaj Sir to choreograph group items for me. He was a mastermind at that.

Pankaj Sir was an adept dancer as well as a choreographer. He strictly followed the Mahari style in his dance. Being an adept in the different treatises on dance and having experienced the practical aspects, he exploited the female form in its complete tenderness. Be it the Shankaravaranam Pallavi or the Panchakanya, each item had an aura of complete feminism. His Pallavis showcased the gracious form of a Nayika, at the same time compositions like the Panchakanya and Matru Vandana dealt with the Shakti aspect of the female, exhibited with full vigour. He was especially adept in group choreographies and has left his indelible impression on masterpieces like Glani Sanghara and Balagopalashtaka (specially composed for my disciples). Pankaj Sir never compromised with dance. His house, at Kumuti Sahi near Amala Club in Puri, was always reverberating with the sound of Mardala and Ghungroos. His expertise dealt with both Oriya and Sanskrit language with equal ease and both of them enriched his imagery and took shape into strikingly brilliant compositions.

He was a gift of Lord Jagannath, to the world of Odissi, sent to propogate the essence of dance, which is the highest form of worship. Being a creative genius he created masterpieces that can never be reproduced. His departure has created a void, a loss of effulgence that has left people blindfolded.

My eternal Pranams to you. May I too achieve the lotus feet of Lord Jagannath.

Mannatho sri Jagannatha mad guru sri jagadguru
mad atma sarva bhootatma
tasmayi sri gurave namaha!!

"This article pays tribute to Guru Pankaj Charan Das, commemorating his death anniversary on 11th June. It is a translation of what my Guruji said about his association with Pankaj Sir. I have never worked with him. By the time I came to be known as a dancer and was introduced to him, he was too old and feeble. So I thought this was the best way to pay a tribute to him through my Guruji."
- Rahul Acharya