pics: Lalitha Venkat, Chennai
It has been
more than 10 years since I last visited Orissa and that was as manager
of the Arangham Dance Troupe when we performed at the Konark Dance Festival.
It was all work, fighting for more rooms for our large troupe, trying to
book a return ticket for a musician who in Konark, insisted on travelling
back one day earlier and expected me to perform miracles (which I eventually
managed to!) and a little bit of sightseeing thrown in. This time, as the
guest of Guru Ratikant Mohapatra and Srjan for the 16th Annual Guru Kelucharan
Mohapatra Award Festival, I could bask in comfort, do some sightseeing
despite the scorching mid day sun and just enjoy the wonderful programs
of the last 3 days of the fest.
a city of beautiful temples and no sooner had we reached our hotel than
we set off to take in the beauty of the deserted, well maintained Parasurameswar
temple (7th century) and the exquisite Mukteswar temple (9th c), set in
sylvan green surroundings. In the latter, one should just be firm with
the priests who insist on your doing special pooja inside the sanctum!
On the evening of Sept 3, Kathak dancer Aditi Mangaldas presented 2 pieces
'Through Meera Bai' and 'Through Hazrat Amir Khusrau' that were hailed
as innovative, yet traditional! This was followed by a flute recital by
GS Rajan. The haunting strains of Rajan's flute had the audience asking
Early in the morning
of Sept 4, we left for Konark to see the majestic 13th century Sun Temple,
about 90 minutes away. It is built in the shape of a chariot, but each
time I visit this temple, it is sadly more dilapidated and the carvings
more eroded (Supposed to have had around 4000 erotic carvings but quite
a lot of them have been eroded!). The first hour was pleasant enough and
then the sun blazed with such a vengeance, but we were lost in the beauty
of the sumptuous sculptures, despite being scorched and almost having sunstroke!
We cooled down a bit after having some coconut water and taking in the
pleasant breeze at the Chandrabagha beach a few minutes away, watching
the fishermen coming in with their catch.
and the boys doing Surya puja
Our next stop
was the Konark Natya Mandap of Guru Gangadhar Pradhan. The Guru's wife
and nephew Munna welcomed us warmly and after we had some fruits, showed
us around the Gurukul. There were 8 young boys, freshers who are learning
Bandha Nritya there as part of the Gurukul project, the rest having gone
to Kerala for performances. It was heartening to note that the Bandha Nritya troupe of boys aged 6 to 16, have a full calendar up to February 2011.
A couple of the boys did a little demonstration for us after doing Surya
Puja, that they all have to do thrice a day, at 5.30am, 12 noon and 5.30pm.
The Gurukul has dance halls, staying quarters for the children, rooms for
guests, a library, and its own kitchen garden and cows too. The Gurukul
complex gate opens out into an open air seating space, the stage is inspired
by the Sun temple pagoda and this is where the annual Konark Dance and
Music Festival (different from the Govt run fest) has been taking place
for the past 7 to 8 years. This festival has been running for 25 years
and Guruji's son Shibashish Pradhan, whom I met later in Bhubaneswar, spoke
fondly of supporting his father's vision through ("My father's life has
been one of constant struggle.") and to continue with his work of giving
life to the dying art forms of Orissa. This means more work with the rural
people and regular workshops are conducted with gurus of these dance and
music forms. After a wonderful lunch, we took leave and stopped at Dhauli
with its Buddhist links, to see the Shanti stupa, and Asoka's edict that
dates back to 270BC. Above the edict emerges the forepart of a little elephant
that is one of the oldest carvings in India.
It was a lovely
evening of dance and music at the Rabindra Mandap. Astad Deboo performing
for the first time in Bhubaneswar, chose 3 items titled 'Aahavan,' 'Stepping
Out' and 'Every fragment of dust is awakened' that is an extract from a
longer version based on Rabindranath Tagore's poetry. In the last item,
Astad actually performed a mind boggling 321 chakkars! The lady sitting
next to me was transfixed. She snapped out of her trance when I asked her
if she liked it. "It's extraordinary! We in Bhubaneswar are lucky to see
such a performance! It's like dance meditation. So magnetic, especially
the whirling dervish technique. It is wonderful that he started in tradition
and developed his own expressions of dance vocabulary." She was artist
Doreen Schnürr, who grew up in Orissa but has returned after 42 years
in Germany, and loving it! "Europe is boring, it's a lateral society. Here
it is a vertical society. I'm now in the right place, doing the right thing
at the right time and couldn't be happier!"
The dance program
was followed by Pt Vikku Vinayakram on the ghatam, his son Mahesh on vocal
and the rest of his troupe. They presented songs on Shiva and Chandrashekara
swamigal. The atmosphere permeated with the devotion in the music. Towards
the end of the recital, Pt. Vinayakram involved the audience in keeping
the beat and the audience rose to the occasion with great enthusiasm. It
was the first time the group was performing in Bhubaneswar and Mahesh was
very thrilled with the experience. "I have worked with so many different
musicians and performed in so many places all over the world, but this
one is very special for me as I performed my father's compositions with
my father. The audience participation was amazing and it was great to see
them all stay till the end of the show though it is already 10pm! This
is my first trip to Orissa and I am so amazed to see the people here retain
their culture, especially the way they greet with a namasthe."
Vinayakram & Pt Vikku Vinayakram
Sept 5 saw us
visit the Lingaraja temple first thing in the morning. Cell phones and
cameras (as well as non-Hindus) are not allowed inside the temple. It was
nice to hear MS Subbulakshmi's suprabatham playing softly on the speakers!
There is a platform outside the temple from where we get a good view of
the temple complex. One can take photographs from here. After that, it
was a climb up the well maintained caves at Udayagiri, weaving in and out
of the cells used long ago by Jain ascetics. There were a lot of langurs
here amidst the wooded area and it was interesting to watch their almost
human behavior! Across the road, Khandagiri was not very clean and the
caves there were all messed up with graffiti and trash. What a contrast!
The 11th century Raja Rani temple is set in lush green lawns and we also
managed to see the Brahmeswara temple. All these temples have a wealth
of exquisite, delicate carvings, especially sculptures of dancers and musicians,
and are a photographer's delight.
The program that
evening started with a formal function that had an introduction by Ratikant's
poised and confident 11 year old daughter Preetisha, clad in a sari, her
choice of garment for the evening! Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik
honored musician Prof. Mohini Mohan Patnaik and costume designer Bhagirathi
Das with the Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra Award for 2010. It was noteworthy
that everybody kept their speeches short. The dance program Tantra was
presented to recorded music by artistes of Srjan with choreography by Guru
Ratikant Mohapatra. It was rather interesting because the costumes had
borders that glowed in the dark and the graceful movements of Odissi made
for some interesting visuals. Instead of the guest appearance, it would
have been nice to see Sujata Mohapatra perform more in this production.
The grand finale was a violin concert by Dr. L Subramaniam, who was accompanied
that evening by his son Ambi. The maestro recalled that he had been honored
to have once shared the platform with Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra.
Naveen Patnaik (Chief Minister of Orissa) and Guru Ratikant Mohapatra
Lighting was very
good for the dance programs, but if the hall lights had been dimmed for
the music concerts, it would have added to the atmosphere. It must be
mentioned that the highly appreciative audience stayed on every evening
till the end of the program at nearly 10pm, much to the surprise of us
folks from Chennai who see a stream of steady walkouts from 8pm onwards!
Also, all the artistes were given a standing ovation. Srinivas Gatwari
was a good compere with his brief introductions and smiling countenance.
I actually started understanding a bit of Oriya!
presented by Srjan troupe
Subramaniam & Ambi Subramaniam
The chief guests
of each evening spoke a few words about the festival. To sum up their words,
with his pioneering work, Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra put Bhubaneswar on
the world map. The Oriya people are used to watching music and dance only
on television but with a landmark festival such as this, the people of
Bhubaneswar are now able to enjoy performances by great artistes in person.
Headed by Ratikant babu's right hand man Deviprasad Misra, a team of dedicated
volunteers including a student of Jhelum Paranjape, who had come all the
way from Mumbai, helped ensure smooth running of the festival.
the man behind the festival, Guru Ratikant Mohapatra, an incredibly gracious
host, who did not perform but stuck to playing host and director of the
festival. We are generally used to seeing the volunteers do the major work,
but Ratikant babu was everywhere, personally meeting guests at the airport,
calling them up morning and evening to ensure that all was well, greeting
guests at the venue entrance, coordinating with the lights and sound technicians,
up on the stage honoring the artistes... Not once did one see him ruffled,
or impatient. I mentioned this to Sujata Mohapatra, who travelled back
with us on the way to Kerala for a performance. "These are the values taught
to us by Guruji. We must honor our guests. Guruji himself never hesitated
to sweep and clean up a room if a guest was expected. He was such a humble
As she was
sniffing with a cold, I asked her how she would manage the performance
in Kerala. "If ever I feel tired with jet lag or am feeling unwell before
a performance, I remember Guruji. I know he's up there watching and immediately
I feel fresh energy surge in me that carries me through the performance.
I cannot let him down with a shoddy performance. Guruji's choreography
is in my body. It gels with me. It is my duty to present his choreographies
to the world, in its pristine purity." In whatever she said, devotion to
her guru was paramount.
Venkat is the content editor of www.narthaki.com