The 17th edition of Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra Award Festival
Text & pics: Lalitha Venkat, Chennai
September 18, 2011
It was a rainy afternoon on September 7, but the evening fortunately turned out to be clear so the expected full house gathered at Rabindra Mandap for the inauguration of the 17th edition of the Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra Award Festival in Bhubaneswar. The driveway was flanked by photos of the Guru on one side (by Avinash Pasricha and from Srjan archives) and photos of the festival performers on the other. The stage designed and constructed by Kirti Kishore Moharana, was like a mandap with 2 evocative images of Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra on either side that looked as if he was appreciating the artistes performing on stage!
Shri Murlidhar Chandrakant Bhandare, the charming Governor of Orissa, inaugurated the festival. He said he was very happy to be the chief guest since he has been following the festival since its inception in 1995. “What started as a one day festival has now grown into a 5 day fest that aims to preserve and promote our classical dance and music. I am impressed with the ambience and the artistes who mesmerize with their performances. Kelucharan Mohapatra’s contribution to dance made him a legend in his lifetime. I never missed any of his performances and the memories are still fresh in my mind. I will always be spellbound by his rhythm and composition. His every move came from the heart. It’s rightly said that dance was his sadhana and teaching was his dharma. It is because of gurus like him that Odissi has become so popular today. It is most heartening that even our small children are dancing so magnificently. Hard work and dedication will make them great artistes. Different music and dance forms are our national treasures. Music and dance unite India. Let the GKMA Festival be a trendsetter,” said the Governor to thunderous applause.
The fest got off to a melodious start with Pravin Godkhindi’s flute recital. He was invited to perform at GKMA Festival when Godkhindi and Ratikant Mohapatra were both featured earlier at a festival in Karnataka. It was a dramatic intro as muted light fell on Pravin Godkhindi’s curly locks, and on hearing the first strains of the flute, there was a cheery applause. “Vaathapi Ganapathim” in raag Hamsadhwani that is popular in both Carnatic and Hindustani styles was followed by a bandish in theen taal. ‘Midnight trek’ in raag Malkauns, a number from his jugalbandhi with saxophone maestro Kadri Gopalnath a few years ago, combined shades of western music, jazz and some folk elements too. Some passages were an exercise in supreme breath control and the audience asked for an encore!
Krishna is the name of his fusion band and the composition in raag Bhoopali was also titled ‘Krishna.’ The audience was invited to say ‘Krishna’ at appropriate moments and the end of the piece had the sporty Bhubaneswar audience clapping in tune. Godkhindi ended his recital dramatically by yelling ‘Krishna’ with his hands held aloft. He got a standing ovation. Flamboyant, yet not going overboard, Pravin Godkhindi stood while playing the flute, even moving a little bit around the stage. He was accompanied by his brother Kiran Godkhindi on tabla, Umesh on keyboard and Padmanabh Kamat on octopad.
It was ghazal king Jagjit Singh to entertain us next. Though the sound seemed fine to us in the audience, there was so much of mike adjustments happening with Jagjit Singh singing with a pained expression on his face. He even wondered aloud if the sound engineer was taking revenge on him for a wrong done in his previous birth! It was almost 45 minutes later that the concert gained its tempo and mood, though adjustments were asked for on and off. Jagjit Singh sang soulful numbers like “tere aane ki jab khabar mehke,” “juki juki si nazar,” “chaand bi dheka phool bi dheka,” “kal chaudvin ki raath thi,” “thera chehera kitna suhana lagta hai,” “kuch na kuch tho zaroor hona hai,” and “chitti na koi sandes.” It was already 11pm now, but the audience had requests, and the maestro obliged happily. “Tum itna jo muskura rahe ho,” “ye daulat bhi le lo,” “zindagi tumne bana saya,” “honton se choo lo tum,” and a medley of his numbers, with the audience singing along with him, so melodiously too! And guess at what time the concert got over? At 11.50pm with a sizeable number of diehard fans still drenched in the soulful music! Jagjit Singh amused us through the recital with anecdotes and light humour that made up for the earlier stress. Every artiste is gifted an Orissa craft shoulder bag and the maestro slung it over his shoulder as he left the stage! It was amazing to see that the Governor stayed for most of the recital.
I spent the day of Sept 8 visiting the various heritage temples of Bhubaneswar. There was hardly anyone in Lingaraja temple and it was so nice and peaceful (no cameras or cell phones allowed!). The Bindu Sagar is like a small lake bordered with the beautiful Ekamravan and you can identify the 13th c Ananta Vasudeva temple near it by the number of people outside. There were more people in the adjoining prasad hall than in the temple! It’s a beautiful temple whose ambulatory is unfortunately cluttered with logs and utensils and what not. The exquisitely carved 11th c Brahmeswar temple with a small water tank behind it has beautiful sculpture of dancers, musicians, graceful ladies and erotic couples. The 12th c Megheswar Dev temple at Badagada in Bhubaneswar is small and serene and I had the temple all to myself! I completed my outing with a visit to Nandankanan Zoo, where the enclosures were big and the animals were healthy, especially the big cats!
The evening started with the 'Siva Tandava' CD release of Pt Bhawani Shankar because he wanted it to be released in the land of Lord Jagannath. This was followed by an Odissi recital by Kumkum Mohanty, this year’s awardee. Clad in a powder blue costume, she offered flowers in front of Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra’s photo and the audience burst into applause. She performed Hamsadhwani Pallavi choreographed by Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra with music by Bhubaneswar Mishra, and an Oriya poem “Are babu syama” of Bhakta Charan Das, where she delineated the motherly love of Yashoda towards Krishna. She was accompanied by Sachidananda Das, Muralidhar Swain on mardala, Sanjib Kumar Kundu on violin, Nityananda Mohapatra on flute, Mitali Chinara on vocal.
Wearing a pleasant sea green costume, Kathak dancer Uma Dogra, a disciple of Pt Durga Lal of Jaipur gharana, spread cheer with her vivacious personality. Starting with a Ganesha vandana, followed by reciting a shaayar she has composed, she performed some pure dance in taal dhamaal. The stage at Rabindra Mandap has a panel that runs along the front, one foot higher than actual stage level, so we cannot see the feet of the dancer, only hear the ankle bells! She said a dancer who does not do padhant is not a Kathak dancer at all. Uma Dogra then performed an abhinaya piece that was composed by her guru in 1989 for a 3 day festival in Mumbai, where each performer had to depict a nayika. She said her guru died on stage of a heart attack when he was just 42. He had never portrayed a thumri or a nayika, he was a Shiva devotee. He would say he had no Vishnu in him. For the fest, he had to portray a khandita nayika and after a discussion with her and composer Asit Desai, Pt Durga Lal performed it directly on stage! She was performing the charming piece after 21 years! Her accompanying artistes were Kalinath Misra on tabla, Manoj Desai on vocal, Sangeet Mishra on sarangi and Srinibas on flute.
September 9 saw me visiting more temples. I learnt that unless you know the local names, there is no way you can locate many of the temples. What is known as Mausima temple locally is listed as Rameshwar temple in tourism literature and across it are the 6th c Bharateswara, Lakshmaneswara and Shatrughneswara temples – Ramayana names, but they all have Shivalinga and nandi facing the sanctum! Nobody knows the 8th c Vaital temple dedicated to Chamunda. Ask for ‘Tinmundiya Deula’ and everyone can point out how close it is to Lingaraja temple! It was a prominent tantric temple and it is said human sacrifice was prevalent in days of yore! The tower is different; it is pyramidal, surmounted by a plain vault and 3 finials. The adjoining shrine in the same compound is the 8th c Sisiresvar temple dedicated to Shiva, also exquisitely carved. Being at a much lower level, the ambulatory was filled with water from the continuous rains, so I had to just admire them from the road.
The evening started with a scintillating Bharatanatyam recital by Priyadarsini Govind for whom Kelubabu was not just a guru for Odissi but for all artistes of India. She was accompanied by Priti Mahesh on vocal, MS Sukhi on mridangam, Sashilal on nattuvangam and Ganesan on violin. The invocation to Karthikeya was in the form of a kavuthvam in Shanmukhapriya composed by Madurai Muralidharan. This was followed by 2 abhinaya compositions. One was a Telugu composition “Sivadiksha paruralanura” as a padam, about a parakiya nayika who has committed to a life serving Shiva but her heart belongs to Krishna. One day she is in her hermitage praying when Mannaruranga enters unannounced. She pleads that she can’t go against her guru, can’t glance at him with the same love, can’t submit her lips to his passion, and not to disturb her while she is praying. Please go away, say her lips, but her eyes say the opposite.
The next item was a javali “Nee matale mayanura” about a strong heroine. The dancer decks herself happily when there is a knock on the door by the man in her life. The whole conversation takes place at the doorstep. He has promised her many things but does not keep them. “What happened to the promises you made? You pinched my cheek and promised me a nose ring. Have your words been written in water or blown away by the wind?” After she speaks to him, she shuts the door on his face, and bolts not one but 3 bars across the door and walks away jauntily! This item was a big hit with the audience. Priyadarsini completed her recital with Balamuralikrishna’s Kadanakuthuhala Thillana. It was a compact 45 minute recital that concluded with Vande Mataram (a surprise addition!) to thunderous applause. “I was mesmerized by Vande Mataram,” said a chief guest. There were however some who were disappointed that Priya had not done a ‘nritta’ item, and some who said they wanted to read more between the lines than the exact depiction of the story.
The music program featured Pt Vishwa Mohan Bhatt on mohanaveena and Pt Kumar Bose on tabla. “Wherever I have performed, there’s great respect for Kelubabu. He was a great performer and a great human being. If there’s god, god is in him. Simple living, high thinking. From him, we learnt to be honest and loyal to one’s art. When Kelucharan Mohapatra was alive, I performed for him. We present our humble notes to him this evening,” said Pt Vishwa Mohan Bhatt before commencing the recital. A piece in Maro Behag, the sound of the peacock, a popular maand from rajasthan “kesariya baalam aavo ni padharo” that he also sang and then his 1992 composition ‘Meeting by the river’ that got him an award, was rounded off with Vande Mataram for Anna Hazare and “Jana gana mana” for which the audience had to stand up and this merged into a standing ovation!
Apart from enjoying the concert, it was enjoyable watching others enjoy the music (by now we have become used to the inevitable sound adjustments!). It seems everywhere musicians find fault with the sound system! According to the organizers, while the sound was being monitored by the sound engineer, the musicians on stage were also adjusting their own controls and this created a lot of confusion. Perhaps the musicians don’t realize that they not only stress out the sound engineer, they stress out the audience too!
The next morning took me on a two hour drive (90km) to the Udayagiri (the hill of sunrise) and Ratnagiri hills in Jajpur district where the Buddhist remains date from 7th to 12th century. The Chinese traveller Hiuen Tsang visited this area in 639AD and referred to it as Pusi-po-kili (Pushpagiri) in his travelogue which embraced the 3 viharas of Ratnagiri, Lalitagiri and Udayagiri. Udayagiri has a brick stupa, brick monastery, a stone well and many beautiful rock sculptures. It was called Madhavapura Mahavihara in ancient times. Behind an ornate doorway is enshrined a colossal Buddha. There is a one km climb uphill through thick foliage to see some more sculpture on top of the hill but the heat was so oppressive that we could not complete it!
Ratnagiri is just 5km away and one has to climb up a few steps first. The magnificent ruins comprise 2 quadrangle monasteries, a single winged large brick monastery with a beautiful doorway, a sanctum with a colossal Buddha, an enormous head of Buddha, and many Buddhist sculptures. There are brick shrines, a large stupa with numerous smaller stupas around it, and a tall Buddha sculpture placed dramatically in front of a banyan tree. Ratnagiri was a great Tantric centre of Buddhism. Both these places are beautiful, now in ruins amidst lush greenery but the view now from the hills showed a landscape inundated with floods - water as far as the eye could see. The visit to the Ratnagiri museum and to Lalitagiri is for the next visit to Bhubaneswar!
The Jajpur village people staged a dharna in the middle of the road protesting against govt inaction while people were starving due to the floods, and it was after 90 minutes that they allowed our cab to move (as a special concession), resulting in our missing a part of the first performance of the evening, Mohiniattam by Sunanda Nair from Texas. Clad in a beautiful white costume with maroon border, she presented one full length item “Bhavayami Raghuramam” depicting the story of Ramayana. The sethu bandana scene had Sunanda heaving and throwing rocks so realistically, we could almost envision the bridge shaping up. One could see touches of her Kathakali training now and then. The item ended on decorations being made for pattabhishekam and welcoming the royal couple with music and fanfare. Sunanda was all praise for the appreciative audience and hailed the GKMA Festival as one of the important dance festivals of India.
There was no fuss, the expressions on their faces was serene, the color of their clothes was pleasant and it was an evening of tranquility as we immersed ourselves in the soothing music of Kala Ramnath and Md Akram Khan on violin and tabla respectively. It was not only pleasant to hear them but also to see them as they presented numbers in raag Behag, raag Dipchandi and a song “dekho dekho re saiyaan” that Kala Ramnath also sang on request from the audience! She has been involved in the background score of many Hollywood films including ‘Blood Diamond.’
The final day of the fest saw the Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra Award and a purse of Rs. 50,000 bestowed on Odissi dancer Kumkum Mohanty and veteran stage and cinema actress Gloria Mohanty. Kumkum Mohanty spoke about starting Odissi Research Centre in 1984 for purpose of documentation and how her Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra composed many items for her, with Shankarabharanam Pallavi being composed during the year Ratibabu was born! She presently runs her institution Gita Gobinda in Bhubaneswar. Gloria Mohanty was trained in dance under Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra and in music at the National Music Association, Cuttack. Even now at 79 years of age, she is actively involved in film and television as a busy actress. The awards were given away by the Chief Minister, Shri Naveen Pattnaik, who said a true artiste belongs to the world and is an asset to civilization. Shanta Serbjeet Singh recalled how she had seen Kelucharan Mohapatra and Birju Maharaj perform at the Victoria Memorial at Kolkata before the monument was closed to such events. Prafulla Samal, Minister for Culture and Tourism, said Kelucharan Mohapatra deserves a posthumous Bharat Ratna.
The first performance of the evening was ‘Swagatham Krishna’ by the young artistes of Srjan. Arpita Swain, Preetisha Mohapatra, Pooja Bhattacharya, Sipra Swain, Riyanka Chakraborty, Aparimita Jena and Rinku Sahu presented a well choreographed and coordinated recital on the handsome god of Mathura, the prince of romance, who has conquered Mastikasura and Chanura, overpowered the dreaded serpent Kaliya and provided protection to Gokula. “We sing with you, we sing for you, we dance with you, we dance for you. Your body carries the fragrance of divine flowers. We find you irresistible.” Choreography and mardala accompaniment is by Ratikant Mohapatra, vocal by Satyabrata Katha, sitar by Rabi Shankar Pradhan, sarod by Sunando Mukherjee, violin by Surmani Ramesh Chandra Das and Agnimitra Behera, flute by Srinibas Satapathy, bass guitar by Bhabotosh Mohanty and synthesizer by Subrata Routray and Iraj Kumar Rath.
Every year, Srjan presents a new production for the festival. Ravana is a central character in Ramayana and this year, Srjan’s production ‘Ravana’ projected him as the hero who chose death in order to attain moksha. The sutradhar group wove the twists and turns in the story while Ratikant Mohapatra, clad in a black costume with maroon border, essayed the title role of Ravana. A serene Ravana conducts the mahayagna to get a glimpse of his destiny, then cuts off one of his heads and throws it into the flame as an offering. He strings a few blood vessels, fashions a veena and plays celestial music on it. Lord Brahma appears and says Ravana is destined to live forever and can attain death and salvation only if he abducts the pious Sita. Ratibabu scored with appropriate abhinaya, looking crafty as Ravana donning the orange robe of a sadhu to lure Sita to step out of the protective line in front of her house. The abduction of Sita (Sujata Mohapatra) was beautifully choreographed. When his wife Mandodari (Bijayalaxmi Satapathy) pleads with him to let Sita go, Ravana says he is prepared to die at the hands of Rama, the incarnation of Vishnu, to attain his moksha. The battle scene was portrayed suggestively with restraint and eventually the fearless Ravana falls dead. Ratikant Mohapatra impressed as he just collapsed on his back! The sutradhars appear for a final scene extolling the majesty of Ravana, who even in death, emerges as a devoted and valiant king who displayed rare courage, integrity and perseverance.
Concept and choreography was by Ratikant Mohapatra, music by Debasis Sarkar, script and Sanskrit rendering by Manmohan Acharya, English narration by Aditya Mahapatra. It was a brief role but Sujata’s expressive face reflected beautifully the yearning to have the golden deer, the terror at being abducted and entreating Ravana to free her. In fact, the minute Sujata entered the stage as the beautiful Sita, there was thunderous applause! Rajib Bhattacharya played the roles of Brahma and Rama changing his body language accordingly, Subikash Mukerjee was Lakshmana. The sutradhars were Rajashri Praharaj, Bijayalaxmi Satapathy, Geetanjali Acharya, Kaustavi Sarkar, Manosmita Panda, Swagatika Sahani, Rajneeta Banerjee and Aishwarya Singhdev. The group sequences were well choreographed and coordinated and the costumes aesthetic. The presentation was wonderfully edited to a compact 45 minutes with clear focus on Ravana and suggestion of other connected episodes of the Ramayana through the sutradhars, but one felt something more was needed to bring out the intensity of Ravana’s heroism. The ever changing bright lights from red to blue to green to yellow was distracting, especially when powerful scenes were being portrayed.
It was a well planned festival and the classy souvenir edited by Aditya Mahapatra features information on this year’s performing artistes, some articles and beautiful patachitra paintings. The hospitality was wonderful and ambience at the venue pleasing, with Ratibabu personally attending to all this. We were surrounded by smiling people everywhere. Debiprasad Mishra (alias Tikki), who has been in charge of management of Srjan institution and its activities for 12 years, is an invaluable asset and is ever smiling and unflappable. The announcements for the festival by the smiling and amiable Srinibas Ghatuary (who is also a Kathak and Odissi dancer) were brief and to the point. We usually see flowers placed by dancers before an idol of Nataraja. In this fest, all the artistes placed their floral tributes in front of Kelubabu’s photo! Despite there being 2 chief guests and inauguration formalities every evening, it never took more than 10 minutes and security for VIP chief guests was very much there but without being oppressive. All speakers were brief and to the point. The only problem was, most of the announcements and speeches were exclusively in Oriya and a couple of lines in English would have helped non-Oriya speaking audience members!
With so much administrative work to do, Ratikant Mohapatra is clear that he must not lose focus on dance. He and Sujata Mohapatra recalled their first GKMA Fest and how difficult it had been to get sponsorships then and for many years after that too. Now the festival is considered one of the most prestigious in India. They spoke with reverent affection of Guruji, how their presenting their Guru’s choreography keeps his works alive and in like fashion, the annual GKMA Festival keeps his memory alive in the hearts of the people.
Lalitha Venkat is the content editor of www.narthaki.com