Mahanayaka Bijoyananda
- Tapati Chowdurie
Photos: Arabinda Mohapatra

December 21, 2016

Sometimes a nickname is better known than the actual name. So is the case with Bijayananda Patnaik, who is better known as Biju Patnaik to the world and simply as Biju Babu by the Odia people. Maker of modern Odisha, Biju Patnaik’s birth centenary in 2016 was commemorated ostentatiously with a finely choreographed dance drama in Odissi by Srjan guru Ratikant Mohapatra in Bhubaneswar. In a rare endeavour, Ratikant had to burn his midnight oil to study the life and times of the great leader and have a perfect understanding of the statesman before launching this exceptional choreographic work.

‘Mahanayaka Bijayananda’ as the dance drama was titled, was divided into five sections. The story of the great man retold in the vocabulary of dance started from the year India gained freedom from British rule in 1947. A tribute to the great architect of Odisha was penned in a song in Odia by Sanskrit scholar Pt. Nityananda Mishra eulogizing him. The song was in genuflection to this exceptional good human being. He is the charioteer who is born to lead, says the song.  He was a god-send for Kalinga who brought about a sea of progress to the state. The performers did justice to the song with their impeccable dance. The production was audio visual, which seemed indispensable in highlighting the personality of the great man. A well scripted piece by Jayadev Das in the hands of a talented choreographer is the best combination you may think of. Debiprasad Misra, who is an up and coming light designer, did a good job, considering the fact that the piece had moments when the story could be taken forward only by a good light designer.  Voice-over by Aditya Mahapatra helped in bringing the story alive.  

The second section of the production delineated an epoch making incident, which had far reaching effect in the history of India. According to Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s instructions, Biju Patnaik had piloted the first plane to land at Srinagar airport, when Baramulla had been occupied by Pakistan. He had taken seventeen soldiers from the 1st Sikh Regiment, commanded by Lt. Col. Dewan Ranjit Rai. The pilot flew low over the airstrip twice to ensure that no raiders were around. Taking a full circle, the DC-3 flew at ground level. Soldiers peered from inside the aircraft and found the airstrip empty. The raiders were too busy distributing the war booty among themselves. It took two weeks for the Indian army to evict raiders and Pakistani regulars who had almost reached the gates of British India’s summer capital Srinagar, and on the 9th of November 1947 the enemy was driven out. This unusual feat of Biju Patnaik was intelligently choreographed by Guru Ratikant, who believes that classical dance is self sufficient in its vocabulary to express everything. Therefore rather than taking resort to any props, he devised formations with his dancers to show Biju Patnaik piloting his plane. The uniqueness of choreography was seen when dancers doubled up as boats and sailed through Mahanadi. Gun toting movements of dancers were telling indeed.

Biju Patnaik’s reign is considered to be an era of development for Odisha. What did he not do for Odisha?! The third section of the story of the work life of Biju Patnaik included re-establishing trade between India and Indonesia. For this he built Paradip Port, for the inauguration of which Pt. Nehru was himself present. This was shown through audio visuals. In the dance-drama was included ‘Bali Jatra’ on Kartick Purnima, which celebrate sailors going sea-faring to distant lands for the purpose of trade. The colourful ‘Boita Bandana’ ritual - bidding an auspicious start with aarti - was showcased too. This festival was re-established in 1992 by Biju Patnaik giving the sadhavas – seafarers - an auspicious start to their trading venture to distant lands. Biju Patnaik is credited with building at least four textile mills, Kalinga Tubes, Mig factories, Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd, and Rourkela Engineering College. He also set up the famous Odisha Sangeet Mahavidyalaya. This section displayed his quick decision making quality in the language of Odissi.               

The last scene showed his end. People who went in procession with his body from Bhubaneswar to Swargadar in Puri where he was cremated was more in number than what gathers for Rath Yatra in Puri, such was his glory. It was a kind of unannounced Rath Yatra.

‘Mahanayaka Bijayananda’ was a sincere offering of Guru Ratikant Mohapatra towards one of Odisha’s greatest sons, Biju Patnaik. It was a one-of-its-kind neat and descriptive presentation, watched spellbound, a production of archival value. 

Tapati Chowdurie learnt dance for almost 10 years from Guru Gopinath in his dance institution Natana Niketan in Madras. For a brief period, she was with International Centre for Kathakali in New Delhi. Tapati has a Master's degree in English Literature and Bachelor's degree in Education. She has a regular column in The Statesman, where she writes on dance and music. She also writes for The Hindu and Sruti. Presently, she is a freelance writer.