The 22nd Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra Award Festival
- Lalitha Venkat
Photos: Arabinda Mahapatra

September 12, 2016

In a city of festivals, Srjan’s Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra Award Festival has a special place in the hearts of the people, not only because it is dedicated to the revered maestro but also because of the impeccable arrangements and execution of the festival in all aspects. The 22nd edition took place from September 5 to 9, 2016 at Rabindra Mandap, Bhubaneswar. As in earlier years, the brevity of the inaugural function was impressive. The stage decor was minimalistic with on the right corner, just one big b & w image of Kelubabu with folded hands and a beatific expression on his face. There was a one minute silence observed to the memory of scholar and painter Dr. Dinanath Pathy who passed away recently.  

The inaugural evening took off with a riveting performance by the three celebrated Odissi dancers Aruna Mohanty, Sujata Mohapatra and Meera Das, clad in attractive white costumes with different colored borders. They commenced with a Mangalacharan to lord Jagannath followed by Hamsadwani pallavi, the group coordination and perfection of their movements holding the audience spellbound. The main piece was Nari, conceived by Aruna Mohanty with script by Kedar Mishra. The 3 strong women characters were originally conceived as Sita, Radha and Meera but adapted to replace Radha with Shabari depicted movingly by Sujata, thus taking on a devotional hue. Aruna’s expressive depiction in the role of Sita and Meera Das as saint Meera was much appreciated. They choreographed their individual pieces while Shabari was choreographed by Ratikant Mohapatra. The artistes had ample scope to show their abhinaya skills in these solos interspersed with linking scenes conceived imaginatively. The main incidents in the lives of the 3 women unfolded through the evocative choreography, ending in a pure dance item imbued with joy. The enthralled audience gave them a standing ovation.   

The distinguished accompanying artistes, all in black, included Ratikant Mohapatra and Bijaya Kumar Barik on mardala, Rupak Kumar Parida on vocal, Ramesh Chandra Das and Agnimitra Behera on violin, Srinivas Satpathy on flute and Ekalabya Muduli on manjira. At times, the sounds of the mardala overwhelmed the rest of the music ensemble. Light direction was by Jaydev Das.

Meera Das, Aruna Mohanty, Sujata Mohapatra

Kanya Kumari and group

In the second half of the evening, the mellifluous tones of A. Kanya Kumari’s violin reverberated through the hall. She started with Vathapi ganapathim in Hamsadwani followed by a Thyagaraja composition Sogasu chuda in ragam Kannada Gowla, Paratpara in Vachaspati, Krishna nee begane and a few other pieces. She asked the audience to guess the ragam of the main composition and it was interesting to see the music composers sitting in front of us guessing and enlightening us! She was accompanied by Pt. Rajendra Nakod (tabla), B. Rajashekar (morsingh) and T.K. Shekar (thavil). The joy with which they played added to the charm, seeing the second standing ovation of the evening, but one wished there could have been more relaxed passages in the recital. Originally scheduled saxophone maestro Kadri Gopalnath was indisposed and hence Kanya Kumari who was to accompany him, gave the main recital. 

Day two commenced with a dance theatre Rama Katha, conceptualized by Usha RK and performed by Bangalore based Sathyanarayana Raju. The story of Rama was enacted through various characters who impacted his life and Sathya switched roles with ease, his superb body language for each character so distinct from the other. Be it the devoted mother Kausalya, harassed father Dasaratha, scheming Manthara, the demanding Kaikeyi, Sathya’s theatrics were impressive. A specially charming scene was when Manthara pours out her schemes into Kaikeyi’s ears. Other events that impacted Rama’s life like the boatman Guhan episode and the moksha for Shabari were well visualized. In the depiction of the devoted Anjaneya and his heroics in Sri Lanka, Sathya’s gait as the monkey god was compact and not overly done. After the vanquishing of Ravana and the reunion of Sita and Rama, ending on a brief thillana in praise of Rama, the production could have just ended instead of extending to an aarathi for the bow and arrow hung on a prop (in the form of a tall cross that somehow did not gel with the theme). It was a delightful experience of a familiar story where theatrics dominated dance and Sathya was rewarded with extended applause and a standing ovation. Brilliant lighting by Surya Rao enhanced the appeal of the presentation. Familiar Thyagaraja compositions and bhajans were sung soulfully by DS Srivathsa, the composer of Rama Katha. He was ably accompanied by Shakuntala Prabath on nattuvangam, Gurumurthy on mridangam and young Kartik on flute.

Sathyanarayana Raju

Ustad Shahid Parvez Khan

The music program of the evening was a brilliant sitar recital by Ustad Shahid Parvez Khan accompanied on the tabla by Mukesh Jadhav. The maestro said that music is not only entertainment but also touches the heart. He chose the raag Charukesi and his varied improvisations of various phrases, down to the softest tones, had the audience burst into ecstatic applause every few minutes till they finally settled down to drown in the magic of the music. His happy smiles and the enthusiasm of the tabla player added to the charm of the evening and the audience responded with a standing ovation.

On day three, Odissi dancer Rahul Acharya started his performance with a Mangalacharan on Hari Hara along with the Hari Hara shabda of the shabdaswarapata of the Deba Prasad repertoire. In this there is a description of both Hari and Hara. On one side he holds the conch and on the other he holds a skull; on one side he wears a resplendent garland of pearls and on the other he wears a garland of bones; one lives in the opulence of Dwaraka whereas the other invades the cremation ground. Originally choreographed by Guru Deba Prasad Das, it has been reworked by Rahul’s guru Durga Charan Ranbir. The Pallavi in raga Chakravaka was choreographed by Guru Ranbir with rhythm composition by guru Niranjan Patra and music by Nirmal Kumar Mohapatra. Rahul chose ashtapadi Priye Charushile that he has choreographed with music composition by Sukanta Kumar Kundu in raga Desh and tala rupaka, conceptualized and visualized by Pt Nityananda Mishra. He concluded with Mokshya with an invocation to the wellness of the world with the shloka Sarvsham Swastir Bhavatu. The musicians were Guru Durga Charan Ranbir on manjira, Niranjan Patra on the mardala, Ramesh Chandra Das on violin, Sukanta Kumar Kundu on vocal and Srinivas Satpathy on the flute. Obviously the dancer was a bit under the weather and despite being backed by a distinguished orchestra, though he showed his technical expertise through conscious precision of movements, he seemed too restrained in his emotions and somewhat detached with none of his usual charisma and joy in his dance.

Rahul Acharya

Pt Yogesh Samsi & Tanmay Deochake

Tabla maestro Pandit Yogesh Samsi confessed to performing for the first time in Bhubaneswar. His fingers flew over the tabla in vilambit, madhyama and drut laya and his bandishes were received with much delight by the audience. He was accompanied by Tanmay Deochake on the harmonium and together they created great music for the evening.
Day four began with a Kathak performance by Guru Asimbandhu Bhattacharya from Kolkata, who started with an invocatory piece in honour of Lord Shiva followed by upaj, tihai, thaat and aamad. He concluded with an abhinaya item to a soulful composition by Jagjit Singh - Tere khushboo mey basey kath - sung soulfully by Debashish Sarkar. This item saw more chakkars than actual abhinaya and Bhattacharya finished the item dramatically by snuffing out the candle light (placed on a low stool along with the love letters) with his bare palm! He was accompanied by Subhankar Banerjee on tabla, Chandrachur Bhattacharjee on sitar, and Ranjani Bhattacharjee on manjira.

Asimbandhu Bhattacharya

Satyajit Talwalkar & Praveen Godkhindi
The flute recital by Pandit Praveen Godkhindi filled the auditorium with a peaceful aura. From the moment he started with raag Maru Bihag, he held the audience enthralled and a standing ovation coupled with an encore for one more had the maestro play a number in raag Mishra Pahadi to a second standing ovation. He was accompanied on tabla by Satyajit Talwalkar.

The final day of the festival featured the most important aspect of the festival - conferring of the awards. For the last 21 years Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra Award has been presented on an annual basis in the field of dance, music, theatre and cinema to exceptional individuals who have dedicated their lives to their art with a cash prize and a citation. Two such awards are presented each year. From this year the award amount has been increased to 1 lakh rupees per awardee. Since the National Aluminum Company (NALCO) agreed to sponsor the awards, the awards carry as prefix the name of the company. The ‘NALCO Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra Award 2016’ for lifetime achievement was presented to Odissi Guru Kishor Kumar Mohanty in the field of dance and Jharana Das in the field of cinema. The ‘NALCO  ‘Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra Yuva Pratibha Samman’ carrying a cash prize of Rs 25,000 each was awarded to four meritorious young artistes in the area of classical dances and Odissi music for their exceptional diligence and accomplishment. The awardees are Rajib Bhattacharya (Kolkata) and Madhusmita Mohanty (Bhubaneswar) for Odissi dance, P. Praveen Kumar (Bangalore) for Bharatanatyam and Rupak Kumar Parida (Bhubaneswar) for Odissi music. Another award ‘Nrutya Kala Samman’ with a cash prize of Rs 35,000 went to Odissi dancer Madhubrata Satapathy. The awards were given away by Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik.

Guru Kishor Kumar Mohanty receives the award from the Chief Minister

Jharana Das receives the award from the Chief Minister

Rajib Bhattacharya

Madhusmita Mohanty

P. Praveen Kumar

Rupak Kumar Parida
As a grand finale to the festival, the meticulously trained 8 member Srjan repertory premiered Tyaaga, choreographed by Ratikant Mohapatra in Odissi style and adapted to Odiya Geetinatya art form employing its typical musical and theatrical elements. The production is based on the popular drama Lakhyaheera by Kartik Ghosh. The script and lyrics are by Jaydev Das and the music by Lakshmikant Palit, who used to act in Geetinatya. 

Tyaaga is a story about 2 women, the twists and turns in their lives and the way they deal with extreme situations, showing the value of devotion and sacrifice. The story starts with a prayer to lord Jagannath. Anusuya is a beautiful and devout princess and when she has nothing to give a beggar (a leper) outside a temple, she unthinkingly gives him a garland of lord Shiva and thus by an accident of fate, she is deemed married to the characterless leper Bishnu Das, much to the shock of everybody. Anusuya considers it her fate, accepts it and is a devoted wife. The sutradhars then tell the story of Radha who goes to visit her parents with her husband’s friend Bishnu Das. When Das tries to act physical with her, she curses him and he becomes a leper. She is turned away by her husband and in-laws and with no way to support herself, Radha becomes a high class prostitute and calls herself Lakhyaheera. To appease the lust of her husband when he sets eyes on Lakhyaheera by the river, Anusuya is prepared to surrender her body to a dissolute king for one lakh diamonds. The king asks her to seek her husband’s permission and the shameless man does so to attain what he wants. This shocks the king who considers Anusuya’s sacrifice supreme and regards her as a mother figure from then on. Lakhyaheera in keeping with her commitment also prepares to make the unthinkable compromise of surrendering herself to the leper’s lust. Fortunately, Bishnu Das who takes the plain water rather than scented water offered by Lakhyaheera to quench his thirst, sees sense and returns to his wife. Thus both king and leper are transformed by the nobility and devotion of the two women. But the happy couple is cursed by a meditating sage that Das will die by sunrise. Anusuya wills the sun not to rise. Lord Vishnu arrives and requests Anusuya to take back her words for the good of the world, Das dies but with blessings of Vishnu, he is revived and also cured of his disease. 

In Geetinatya, dancers sing and dance but here recorded track is used since the dancers cannot sing. Geetinatya has significant music and movement and a signature tune. Instruments used are dolki, clarinet and harmonium. During interludes, actors cross each other. One could see all these elements in the presentation along with folk elements. As a child, Ratikant had attended these recitals in Cuttack, in which his father Kelubabu used to act and also play the dolki. Sutradhars are used to convey the story and they also play the characters. The dancers were asked to use their imagination to portray the characters. No character costume is used, only simple Odissi  costume (by Baikuntha Das) since the challenge then is far greater to portray a character. Of less than an hour duration, the compactly edited story was flawlessly executed by the superbly trained dancers who excelled in both the nritta and abhinaya segments, their precise movements and coordination impressive and a pleasure to watch. Rajashri Praharaj as the devout Anusuya, Preetisha Mohapatra as the depraved king and garuda, Shipra Swain as the king and rishi, Aishwarya Singhdev as Lakhyaheera, Sanjay Kumar Behera as Bishnu Das, Riyanka Chakrabarty, Pragna Parimita Das and Ritu Sengupta as sutradhars - each character was delightfully enacted and the exits and entries smooth and aesthetic, proof of the high standard of training at Srjan, where the repertory rehearses through the year. Lighting by Jaydev Das and Debiprasad Mishra added to the appeal of Tyaaga.

Music accompaniment had Ratikant Mohapatra on mardala, Lakshmikant Palit, Rupak Kumar Parida, Mitali Chinara, Khitiprakash Mohapatra, Bandish Pait, Tapu Mishra, and Ira Mohanty on vocal, Prabir Sarkar, Soumitra Byapari and Agnimitra Behera on violin, Srinivas Satpathy on flute, M. Simadri on flute and clarinet, Bhabtosh Mohanty on surmandal, Rabishankar Pradhan on sitar and Bibhuprasad Tripathy on keyboard.

Slide show
Tyaaga by Srjan Repertory

The affable Srinibas Ghatuari and the poised Nazia Allam (who is more known as a vocalist) kept the program together with their brief announcements in Odiya and English. To mount a festival of this magnitude every year requires the all important funding which is getting more and more difficult, confesses Ratikant Mohapatra. To honor the memory of his father who inspired and touched the lives of so many, Ratikant is determined to continue his contribution to the arts by presenting this festival where “the platform deserves only the best” and to expose the Odiya people to the talents of great maestros. The Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra Award Festival is fittingly considered the best organized festival in Odisha thanks to the organizational skills of Ratikant Mohapatra and Debiprasad Mishra (Tikki) and one wishes them all the best for future editions of the festival. 

Lalitha Venkat is the content editor of