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Pandit Raghunath Panigrahi (Aug 10, 1934 - Aug 25, 2013)
- Compiled by Lalitha Venkat

August 28, 2013

Classical vocalist, composer and Odissi musicologist Pt Raghunath Panigrahi passed away in Bhubaneswar on Aug 25, 2013. He was born on 10 August 1934 in Gunpur of Koraput District in Orissa. Pt Raghunath Panigrahi learnt from his father Nilamani Panigrahi, the classical way of singing Gita Govinda as preserved in the temple of Jagannatha in Puri and is known for his lifetime contribution towards promoting, propagating and popularizing the life and works of Jayadeva in the Orissa style.

He met Sanjukta Panigrahi at Kalakshetra where she was learning Bharatanatyam and married her in 1960. A regular artist of the All India Radio since 1948, Panigrahi also lent his voice in playback to several films produced in Orissa and in South India. He sang when he was only 19 in the film 'Ilavelpu' for superstar N T Rama Rao. The song was a super hit. He even sang for Tamil and Kannada films and his voice became an instant hit. He left a promising career in film music in Chennai to provide vocal accompaniment to Sanjukta Panigrahi for her Odissi programs and together the duo enchanted the audience for many years from the 70s till the 90s. In 1976, they jointly received the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award. After the death of Sanjukta in 1997, he was associated with Nrityagram and composed music for many of their productions. In 1999, he formed the Sanjukta Panigrahi Memorial Trust to promote the cause of Odissi dance. Since 2001, every year on her birth anniversary, the trust has been giving away scholarships to budding dancers, and awards of excellence in the field of Odissi dance.

Pt Raghunath Panigrahi was honoured by the French Government in 1976. In Nov 2008, he received the first Jayadeva Samman, Padma Shri in 2010. On August 23, 2013 Ravenshaw University awarded him an honorary doctorate at his residence.

I called him Guruji. That was his position in my life. In our lives. We had implicit faith in him and he believed in us. The first time he came to Nrityagram, shining in his colourful kurta, bright red vermillion on his forehead, he looked strong and vital. A mischievous twinkle in his eye and a smile that reached out from the depths of his being. We were instantly won over. It was our first independent production and we had invited a legend to compose the music for it. I was hesitant and scared to work with him. A man of his stature and experience. How would I start? Why would he be interested in my little ideas?

I needn't have worried. He was open and engaging - like a child. Willing to listen, he instantly put me at ease. His love for his art, far greater than his ego. And from them on we built an artistic rapport that seemed pre-destined. Just like the first song he composed for us. We were sitting at his doorstep, excited and full of nervous anticipation. I had been listening to a Raaga for months hoping to compose a piece based on it. Before I could gather the courage to ask him, he said "I feel we should go with Charukeshi." Completely dumbstruck, I turned sharply towards Bijayini who was the only person who knew what I had been thinking of. She stared back at me, mute - an awed expression on her face. It was magic! How did he read my mind? That set the tone for all the work that was to follow. We created 6 full-length productions together and that was the most precious time of my life.

We worked for many hours on composition, feeling our way through ideas, discovering startling new spaces and often taking ourselves by surprise. We sat at his feet, waiting for his genius to pour forth. Day after day, he astounded us with his command over the many facets of traditional Odissi music, along with his depth of knowledge in all other aspects of Indian Music. He had an instinctive understanding of word and language, often amazing us with the spontaneity of his creative process. He looked at a verse, measured the meter and intuitively sang the whole song at once! And usually the first attempt was the finest!

At times when I felt we hadn't quite made the perfect union between the dance and music, I would nudge him gently to dig deeper into his endless reservoir. Even if it irked him, he never doubted or undermined my intentions. At such times he would humour me and we'd keep trying, until finally he would miraculously find the perfect solution that uplifted us all. He was the inspiration to the dance I created because his music compelled us to move like no other!

Several times I have felt that I may never be able to choreograph another step without his music. There is no one who comes to mind that can follow in his footsteps or fill his colossal shoes.
Whom will we turn to now? Odissi music is never going to be as sensuous, romantic or grand again. He was the last of the old guard.

When we heard of his illness my first thought was, "There is so much music left in him. Will we have enough time to enjoy it?" But there was no more time. We have lost a friend, a teacher and a great artist of exceptional talent. His loss is irreplaceable and our hearts bereft. And yes, at Nrityagram we do feel orphaned. Once again.
- Surupa Sen (With Lynne Fernandez & Bijayini Satpathy)

His music lives on by Leela Venkataraman

A man of maverick simplicity, oblivious of his own genius and greatness lived a complete life of eternal music. He played whatever roles life prompted him to play and amazingly he set extraordinary heights for every sojourn of his creativity. Famous playback singer in Odia and Southern films, maestro in Odissi style of singing, composer, teacher and devoted lover of Odissi art, Pt. Raghunath Panigrahi redefined every line of his artistic life with verve and vigor. No doubt he was a great musician but he was also a man with a kind heart, a hero who never cared for his heroic aura. Music was his prime identity, but for his fans and followers he was the loveliest and kindest human being. Like a divine fragrance he embraced all who came across his fold. He was like the tender breeze of spring, soothing, loving and a healing touch to a wounded heart. His death has created a huge vacuum in the world of music. Odisha and Odissi have lost one of its most treasured musicians.
- Kedar Mishra

The world of Odissi loses the indispensable maestro Pt Raghunath Panigrahi. Together with his wife, the legendary Sanjukta Panigrahi, they created waves of magic and cast a spell whose shroud can never be removed. The man who popularized Geeta Govinda worldwide is no more.
- Rahul Acharya

Two great legends of Odissi, Sanjukta Panigrahi and now Raghunath Panigrahi have left this world with the indelible footprints of their achievements to be cherished eternally.
- Satish Suri

He was a gem of Odissi music.
- B Dash
(Sept 7, 2013)

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