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Tribute to Odissi Guru Bijoy Kumar Senapati
- Ambika Docherty

December 23, 2011

On Thursday 8th December 2011, our dear Guru Bijoy Kumar Senapati passed away at the age of 75.

For almost a year, he had been suffering from ill health and had spent several months in hospital earlier this year. Recently I visited him in Orissa in October and I was shocked to see how much he had deteriorated. He is survived by his wife, two daughters, a son, two sons-in-law and a grandson.

Guru Bijoy Kumar Senapati and his wife (1998)

Chandrabhanu first met Guruji in 1974. It was Geoffrey Goldie who insisted that Chandrabhanu should learn Odissi dance from him. For many years, Chandrabhanu and Geoffrey travelled to Puri, in Orissa, spending much time with Guruji and the art of Odissi dance. Guruji visited Melbourne on three occasions and presided over three grand Odissi productions presented by Chandrabhanu and the Bharatam Dance Company:
1991: Odissi The Sensuous Spirit, George Fairfax Theatre, Victorian Arts Centre 1992: Where the Eyes Go, George Fairfax Theatre, Victorian Arts Centre
1997: Odissi Odyssey, National Theatre, St. Kilda.

During the time spent in Melbourne, Guruji shared with us his knowledge of Odissi. Chandrabhanu's Odissi dance repertoire is highlighted with many of Guruji's heritage which he acquired when studying at the Kala Vikash Kendra, the premier Odissi academy in Orissa. Guruji was born in Baripada, Orissa, and was the son of a Chhau dancer. He was selected to study Odissi at the Academy and was tutored by all the Jayantika gurus: Pankaj Charan Das, Deba Prasad Das, Kelucharan Mahapatra and Mayadhar Raut as well as Bijoyalakshmi Mohanty.

He was appointed the Odissi tutor at the Orissa Sangita Parishad in Puri, one of the oldest cultural institutions in the state. In his teaching he remained true to the early development of Odissi, particularly in the Mahari tradition which he studied under Pankaj Charan Das, and in the tandava aspect represented by the Sabda Swarapata male repertoire taught by Deba Prasad Das. He remained at the Orissa Sangita Parishad in Puri for a very long period of time, until he was recalled in 1995 by Kala Vikash Kendra to teach his repertoire of heritage dances at the Academy. At this stage, the Orissa Sangita Parishad appointed his daughter Malavika, who had graduated from Kala Vikash Kendra to take over his position. In 2000, Guruji received the Orissa Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in the Odissi dance category.

His repertoire of Odissi which Chandrabhanu has inherited includes the quintessential Dashavatar, the ten forms of Krishna, the Sthais, Kalyana Pallavi, several Sabda Swarapatas, Ganesha Tandava, Ashtapadis and Oriya abhinaya pieces. In addition, Guruji guided Chandrabhanu in several of his major choreographic works including the Dashamahavidya, the Pallavis and the Ras Leela.

Back row L to R: Ramesh Chandra Das (violin), Guruji Bijoy Kumar Senapati (manjira)
Front row L to R: Sarat Kumar Rath (pakawaj), Krushna Chandra Ray (vocal/harmonium), Nityananda Mahopatra (flute), Anushree Jain (sitar)

Guruji will be fondly remembered for the Orissa Sambalpuri folk dance that he taught to Bharatalaya students during his visit in 1997. The lively Sambalpuri folk dance has been presented several times by the students of the Chandrabhanu Bharatalaya Academy, including for India's 50 years of Independence celebrations in 1997 at the Victorian Arts Centre, Moomba Tram Parade in 1999, the Australia Day celebrations at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl on January 26, 2010, and at the Nrityanjali annual school show celebrating the 30th and 35th anniversary of the Chandrabhanu Bharatalaya Academy.

"Guruji was a man of humility. He had no desire to be rich or famous. He taught Odissi to his best ability. I am infinitely grateful to him for his love and affection for me throughout the time from when I became his student until his passing. My name 'Chandrabhanu' (the moon and the sun) was given by him, and it would change my life in unimaginable ways; but he would always call me Jaimini, his affectionate name for me. He was not a famous guru of Odissi, but I consider myself most fortunate to have been his student, and to carry on his heritage."
- Chandrabhanu

The legacy of his life that was dedicated to Odissi dance will continue through Chandrabhanu and the Chandrabhanu Bharatalaya Academy.

Really happy to know about Sir from this blog. He may not be a renowned Odissi Guru of Odisha, but for me, he was the ultimate of Odissi dance. He taught me Odissi so beautifully that the rhythm flows in my blood till date. He was very disciplined. I owe my dance skills to him. He taught me how to find rhythm in every simple thing. Thank you, Sir, for introducing dance in my life. Your memories are a treasure for me.
- Madhusmita (Jan 6, 2021)

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