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Dr Dhirendranath Pattnaik
- Rahul Acharya, Bhubaneswar
e-mail: rahul_acharya@rediffmail.com

January 2, 2009

The great scholar and historian of Odissi Dance, Dr Dhirendranath Pattnaik, passed away late yesterday night (1st January 2009) at his Cuttack residence. Dr Pattnaik was 75, when he breathed his last. He was perfectly active till his last breath, having attended the National Festival of Odissi Dance and Music held in Bhubaneswar from the 28th till the 31st of December 2008. Dr Pattnaik attended the festival on all the four days, not only in the evenings but was present throughout the day during the seminars and morning performances. He was the most important pillar, involved in the reconstruction and resurgence of Odissi. The man who was actually responsible for giving Odissi a classical status is no more. With him, ends an era of Odissi dance.

He traced the history of Odissi till the present form and brought out its birth and transformation through the years to its present position. Till the fifties of the last century Odissi, in its unfiltered form, was confined with the Maharis and Gotipuas. Dance was never meant for socially known families. During this period the founder fathers of Odissi, Late Guru Pankaj Charan Das, Late Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra, Late Guru Deba Prasad Das and Guru Mayadhar Raut were all part of professional theatres called "Jatras." Dr.Dhirendranath Pattnaik along with Late Kavichandra Kalicharan Pattnaik, gathered all the Gurus, and together they started the reconstruction of what, was mentioned as Odra Nrutya in the Natya Shastra and other scriptures of Indian Dance. It was Kavichandra Kalicharan Pattanik who coined the term "Odissi," meaning, unique to Orissa. It was due to the tireless efforts of these great people that Odissi was popularized in every nook and corner of the globe.

Dr. Dhirendranath Pattanaik started his lessons in dance from his school teachers, Late Dinabandhu Majhi and Late Bir Hanuman Shastri. He, along with Dr. Priyambada Mohanty Hejmadi, were the first onstage performers of Odissi. The duo created history having performed for the Inter University Youth Festival in New Delhi in 1954. It was during this time that the outside world took notice of this dance form through the writings of the Hungarian critic, Dr.Charles Fabri, who mentioned the antiquity of this form. In 1955, Dr. Pattnaik was the first Odissi dancer to have won the National Scholarship from the Department of Culture, Government of India. This fuelled the fire within him that persuaded him to quit his job and concentrate fully in researching about Odissi. He traveled to the interiors of Orissa and collected all available information on dance. Together with the legendary Gurus, he formed 'Jayantika,' an association aimed at the development of Odissi dance, in 1957. His contribution to the field is immense, as he was the only historian of the dance form. He gave Odissi, the academic status it deserved In 1964, Odissi got its first recognition as another school of classical dancing at a seminar organized in Hyderabad, where Dr.Pattnaik presented all his research work on Odissi.

Throughout his life, Dr. Pattnaik was involved in the propagation of Odissi. Very supportive and encouraging in his nature, he made it a point to attend every dance performance he was invited to. His presence was an encouragement to the dancers. Having rewritten the history of Odissi, he was himself a walking history. All practitioners of Odissi, be it young or old, were directly or indirectly associated with him. All his life he received accolades for his contribution. His work made him the Vyasadeva of Odissi Dance.

Today, the living encyclopedia is no more. Anyone who came in touch with him knew fully well that they were facing history. With him, ends an era of the founder fathers.

We all members of the Odissi fraternity pay our respectful homage to this grand master. May Lord Jagannath put his soul to rest.


Rahul Acharya is a senior disciple of guru Durga Charan Ranbir.