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Learning with a legend: My training under Guru Mayadhar Raut
- Aadya Kaktikar, Delhi

October 4, 2009

One day, in the year 1960, in Orissa, Guru Mayadhar Raut was travelling in a bus with Late Balkrushna Das, noted vocalist and music composer and the legendary Pt. Hari Parasad Chaurasia. They were returning to Cuttack after an Odissi program in Rourkela on the occasion of Upendra Bhanja Jayanti. They were travelling with other artists and students. As they stopped for water and refreshments, Balkrushna Das asked Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia - "Tell us, Chaurasia, why are Mayadhar's compositions so difficult to grasp and pick up? The students pick up items of other Gurus so easily, but why are Mayadhar's compositions so complex?"

Panditji agreed with him but could not answer his question. Balkrushna Das said, "Arre, it is because they are based on anubhav (experience)! It is not mere imitation of life. To imbibe his compositions you have to live them."

Over the last twenty years, I have come to slowly understand and appreciate the depth of thought and feeling that Guruji puts into his compositions. A hard taskmaster, he unravels his thought process slowly over the years, giving you time to digest, understand and imbibe his philosophy. Behind every action (especially in his Sanchaari compositions) is a profound spiritual and philosophical reason; something that he has thought about and dwelt on for a long time before composing. Every time I do an Abhinaya piece in front of him, he introduces a new layer, a subtle dimension. Every such little nuance adds another facet to the rich tapestry of movement and philosophy that he weaves.

Each Abhinaya piece composed by Guru Mayadhar Raut, whether it is an Ashtapadi or an Oriya song, is not merely an aesthetically beautiful piece of art; it is also a statement in the essence of the Vaishnav bhakti philosophy in which Odissi is steeped. This is especially true of his Geet Govind compositions. One day a senior dancer had come to him to show him her choreography of "Yahi Madhav, Yahi Keshav..." Guruji patiently sat through the item. Radha has been waiting for Krishna all night long, and when he comes to her in the morning she runs to hug him. As she holds him, she notices signs that show that he has spent the night elsewhere. Angry and upset she chides him saying, "Yahi Madhav...." This is what the dancer had composed. After watching the whole dance piece, Guruji said, "You have a major flaw in the composition. Radha pines for Krishna. She is angry because she wants him. But she is not female and Krishna is not male. It is not a human union. The relationship of Radha and Krishna is symbolic of the need of the soul (Jeevatma) to unite with the supreme Godhead (Paramatma). If you understand that, then as Radha touches Krishna, the soul merges with God. Then why will there be any Yahi Madhav....tell me?!"

What a profound philosophy! When I heard this incident, it forever changed my perspective of Jayadeva's Geet Govind. That is what Guruji's compositions do to you; they change your outlook towards life. In his teaching, Guruji is not content with his student just mastering the physical actions of his choreographies. He continuously keeps pushing the emotive boundaries of the student. It took me time to understand what he wanted to get out of me. But now, the experience of having even a short class with him is extremely fulfilling and exhilarating. He shows me what is possible for me to do and gets extremely upset if I am unable to reach the goals he has set for me. He shows me the possibility of reaching my full potential, and it is a very exciting journey. Guruji always says, "Main to sabhi ko gyan deta hun. Aap mujhse kitna le sako, seekh sako, ye to aapke uper nirbhar karta hai." (I give knowledge to everyone. How much you can take from me, learn from me, depends on your capability alone). Today if I am able to begin to understand Guruji and his work, it is because of my teacher Madhumita Raut. It is she who has moulded me, guided me and made me go through a rigorous training, in mind and body to help me tune into Gurujiís way of dance. She has been my channel to imbibe Guru Mayadhar Raut's Paddhati of Odissi.

Guruji says dance is not in your body alone, not in your hands, legs or your face. It exists in your mind and comes from your heart. After you have mastered the basic body language you need to be able to take your dance to the next level; that is emotional and sacred. Only then will you be able to communicate those feelings to the audience. It takes a dedicated dancer and a discerning audience to do full justice to Gurujiís compositions.

An extremely sensitive person himself, he is very tuned in to the moods and thoughts of his students. He is of the firm opinion that a dancer should live and experience the full spectrum of life. A family man himself, he encourages and supports his students to take on parallel careers, get married etc. I am still dancing today due to Guruji and my guru, Madhumita. They have seen me through difficult times with my kids, adjusted classes, rehearsals, and programs for me and even looked after my kids during programs. For all his deep thinking and philosophical outlook to life, Guruji is a very simple man. He does not want much in the material world and does not seek attention or the limelight. But he expects the world from his students as far as dance is concerned.

An honest, straightforward, soft-spoken, hardworking, sensitive person, Guruji is not merely ahead of his times, but a complete dimension of time and space himself. At a time when dancers are highly competitive, politically suave and when very often good media and public relations decide the career graph of a dancer, Guruji continues on his own path, steering his students away from the commercial art world. He has created around him his own special universe that thrives on honesty, hard work, humility, discipline and unbound creativity. The very few who measure up to his standards in all respects get a glimpse of this extraordinary universe.

I feel truly special as learning under him has taught me the true meaning of dance as a sadhana, where the dancer does not dance for the audience alone. My Guru has made dance for me not a means of external expression but a process of internalisation of energies within myself.

Aadya Kaktikar has been learning Odissi in the Mayadhar Raut tradition under Madhumita Raut for more than 15 years. She is also studying Abhinaya under Guru Mayadhar Raut. She is working on his biography which would be released on his 80th birthday in 2010.