Guru Shradha: A defining moment, a legend remembered
- Vishal Ramani, San Jose
Photos courtesy: Guru Shradha

 June 5, 2009 

There are those amongst us that remain in reminiscing the glorious past. We live in yesteryears of experiences of our encounters with shining souls in various fields. There are others that catch the impetus that made gigantic waves, impressing those around with song and dance, glowing once upon our lifetimes. Then there are yet more of us that find a way to create significant waves ourselves, hoping to match the ones that we had witnessed. 
Guru Brahma

It was the 29th of March 2009. The crowd of art enthusiasts that collected in the foyer of the Woodside Theater in Northern California waited to gain entry into the 400 seat auditorium, and to catch a glimpse of the aura of a true 'Guru' of our times, within the closed doors. Guru Shradha, an inaugural recital to pay homage to Guruji was the dedicated effort of Niharika Mohanty, a resident of California, and the director of Guru Shradha, a non-profit organization and dance company.  The company has been launched to continue the lofty mission of a simple man, and his ideologies and visions in the evolution of the classical dance form of Orissa. He is known as the legendary master of Odissi dance, late Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra. 

Vande Mataram
Vande Mataram

His own daughter-in-law, Sujata Mohapatra, artistic director of Guru Shradha, was the visiting artiste from India who is carrying on the mission of Guruji by both dancing and devoting her life to this field. Guruji, as he is lovingly called by his disciples, was the pinnacle of perfection in his brilliant choreographic works, the fluidity of his entire frame exhibiting the mood of the moment, portraying the lyrical contents with every nerve twitching, and with every curve in his ageless frame. To say he was ageless or timeless is not exacting. While in his living years sculptures of ancient temples came alive, today the art world mourns his absence in this mortal world, but he has become one with those carved frozen forms and is watching the world go by. 

For Sujata, this is a great challenge indeed. She and her husband Ratikant Mohapatra find the spotlights suddenly turned upon themselves to continue Guruji's mission. He has set the scales high and they have the immense task of bringing about the same stir in the human souls, the same pangs in the heroines of past eras and work with the same sharpness to become perceptive interpreters that catch the aesthetics of the onlookers. This high degree of expectation set by Guruji is not the only thing they have to be bothered about, but also work with the same sincerity and dignity that made Kelu Babu a rare human being, an ideal Guru. 

I had the immense privilege of hosting such a master performer in my home. The first thing that appealed to me in my mind is his quaint smile and childlike enthusiasm. He was no doubt a revered artiste in the art world, but in the homes and hearts of his loved ones he acted without the affectation that comes from such pride and pelf bestowed upon him, this much sung hero of the Odissi world. 

In the bay area, a flame was lit, a floral offering was made, with the advent of a dance school that would serve the younger generations of dance enthusiasts, whether they are second and third generation Indians or non-Indians.  Stories were told upon the brightly lit stage where Lord Jagannatha decorated the altar, while Guruji's photograph smiled that toothless smile reflecting the joy of the moment. This was no place to mourn his death, but to celebrate his rebirth. The students waited behind the curtains with dancing bells adorning their ankles. There were artistes who had known him and interacted with him, and many others who had had the opportunity to learn under his tutelage. Each of them were dance artistes who are themselves striving, each in her/his field of teaching and propagating the dance forms of India in the United States and Canada, the lands that have adopted them, and are giving them an opportunity to explore further their ethnicities and create a richness and uniqueness in the existing melting pot of mingled cultures. Here individual dance explorations are possible, and while keeping their own identity intact, it is also possible to explore fusions of various dance and musical disciplines. 


The artistes who spoke of their own experiences with the legendary master, each narrating incidents from their past encounters and conversations with Guruji, were Menaka Thakkar, Vishal Ramani, Mythili Kumar, Sima Chakraborty and Jyoti Rout. Dr. Gopal Mohanty, father of Niharika Mohanty, who resides in Toronto, Canada, also spoke his reminiscences about Guruji on that eventful night. The arrangements were absolutely delightful and the costumes of the dancers upon the stage were stunning to say the least.  The young dancers danced to the unmeasured invocatory verses, and then the traditional Pallavi, Batu and the Dasavatar of poet Jayadeva, every student exhibiting her keenness and excitement at the opportunity provided to them by the opening of such an institute. The professional presentations of Yugmadwanda Pallavi and an Oriya abhinaya number were performed by Niharika Mohanty and Sujata Mohapatra. They each performed with a mastery that melted the hearts of the onlookers. While the Jugalbandi in the pallavi danced by Niharika was captivating, the Kede Chhanda Abhinaya of Sujata glowed with a brilliant promise that the future of Odissi is intact, and Guruji's mission has the continuum.  His research work will go on and on and the stage is set for those in his trail to carry on with zest and intensity, the lifeworks of this great master. 

Vishal Ramani is the Artistic Director of Shri Krupa Dance Foundation of San Jose, CA.