- Tapati Chowdurie

April 22, 2017

Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra lives on in his pupils, who are spread all around the globe. No other guru’s day of exit from this world, has been reminisced more than his. Come the 7th day of April, the disciples of Kelubabu observe the day with fond memories of him. His son and disciple Guru Ratikant Mohapatra observed the occasion in a befitting manner. This year, on the eve of the 13th anniversary of the guru’s passing away, past students of the grand master came together to reminisce of their time with him in ‘Anuchintana’, at GKCM Odissi Research Centre, Bhubaneswar. Present were the current students of Ratikant Mohapatra, who were all ears lapping it all up with utmost interest.

The evening’s program which was much looked forward to, was staged at IDCOL Auditorium, where the guru’s prized dance compositions were performed solo by his senior disciples, with the accompaniment of live musicians. The small hall virtually transformed into a temple with a garlanded portrait of the guru on the right side of the stage with the auspicious lamp lit by the dancers Rajashri Praharaj, Itisri Devi, Pranati Mohanty, Ileana Citaristi and Rajib Bhattacharya. They came in with the chanting of the shloka, “Gurur Brahma, Gurur Vishnu, Gurur Devo Maheshvarah, Gurur shakshat para Brahma tasmai shree Guruve namah.” The performance commenced with a Pallavi by Rajib Bhattacharya, elaborating Hamsadhwani raga in pure dance form as visualized by his guru. His regal bearing was at first in the typical languorous slow movements that classical Odissi is known for, soon to make way for an increased tempo showcasing the beauty of fast paced rendition.

Rajib Bhattacharya

Itisri Devi

The two brightest stars of Odissi dance and music, Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra and Pandit Bhubaneswar Mishra had choreographed and composed “Brajaku chora” that has stood the test of time and is evergreen no matter how many times it is rendered by good performers. Itisri Devi took the audience to the world of Yashoda and young Krishna, symbols of eternal ‘mother and child.’ To induce sleep in her problematic child Krishna she tried all her ingenuity before she could actually succeed. Tellingly the dancer tried bringing fear into the boy saying that he may be taken away by Bakasura or an eagle might come swooping down on him to lift him away, as he does to other naughty boys. She scolded and cajoled him as she kept swinging the cradle gently. The child was still awake. She was able to show the ordeal and persistence of Yashoda.

Italian born Ileana Citaristi who has made India her home since 1979 has been an ardent disciple of Odissi under Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra. She made her offering to him with the ashtapadi “Dheera samire Yamuna teere vasati vane vanamali” from Jayadeva’s Geeta Govinda, where as the emissary of Krishna the sakhi urges Radha to go to him and relieve him from the despondency of separation.  With clarity, Ileana emoted Krishna’s condition of lying on the ground and tossing, as he moans distraught, while the spring breeze wafts across the woodland and myriads of blossoms open up. Even the cool rays of the moon burning him were explicitly shown through abhinaya. ‘He awaits you, Radhika,’ was the sakhi’s plea.

Ileana Citaristi

Rajashri Praharaj

Kelubabu revealed the power of his dance vision in the composition of Adi Shankaracharya’s Ardhanariswara where the combination of prakriti and purusha are shown through dance movements and the power of abhinaya without any change of costume or one half of the face painted like Shiva and the other half like Parvati. Rajashri Praharaj’s dance says it all. She’s a senior disciple of Ratikant Mohapatra, who has deftly done his duty of following the guru-shishya parampara of passing on the great art of his guru to his most able shishya. There was Rajashri covering one half of her face with the palm of her hand as she performed the male and female roles separately. With perfect body control she described Shiva and Parvati alternately, with absolute ease in tandava and lasya nritta as well as acting out the male and female characteristics.

Sikata Das, a well known disciple of the great legend, ably enacted the role of Radha in Odiya abhinaya “Patha chhadi de.” She was at great pains to prevent Krishna from stopping her to gather flowers for her prayers. She begged him to move out of her way with all humility; when that failed she chided him, telling him that it was wrong to proclaim their love publicly. But the relentless Krishna allowed her to go only when she promised to come back to him after her puja. A wonderful abhinaya piece emoted wonderfully, even after years of not being able to practice regularly.

The last dancer of the evening was the very talented Pranati Mohanty who was poised to take off as a full-fledged dancer when marriage came in between. She performed the very challenging “Kuru yadu Nandana” from Jayadeva’s Geeta Govinda. Bhakti sringar was at its peak and she sailed through the piece smoothly urging Krishna to paint with his hands, a design with musk on her breast with his hands cooled with sandal paste; to paint back the mascara of her eyes which has been removed with kissing; to put flowers in her disheveled and radiant hair; and put ornaments, clothes and jewelled girdle upon her passionate hips. She did all this with relish. However it is one thing to reproduce the works of the guru, but to take the next leap is what a dancer is expected to take and this was lacking.

Sikata Das

Pranati Mohanty

Srjan ensemble

Ratikant Mohapatra said that the form of Odissi dance was virtually handed down to him and the other disciples neatly packed. It came in a platter to them, so to say. But a creative mind does not allow itself to be a clone. He makes his own contribution and like the water of a river flows with the rich content that is there and takes along with it the rich soil that it gathers as it goes on its journey downstream to the ocean. Possibilities are therefore plenty. On the 7th of April at Rabindra Mandap, Ratikant Mohapatra presented his ‘family of dancers’ as he calls them lovingly, in ‘Anugamanam’ in a bouquet of dances, some of which were his guru’s choreographic work, while others were by him. The transition was clear.

Rajashri Praharaj & Aishwariya Singhdev
A proper ambience was created for savouring the flavour of all that was to come with a dedicatory duet dance, ‘Madhava Bhajan’ by Rajashri and Sanjay Kumar Behera, dance and   music compositions of which was by Ratikant Mohapatra and Laxmikant Palit respectively. As the name suggests ‘Samakala’ referred to contemporary times. Ratikant Mohapatra and musicians Agnimitra Behera and Srinibas Satpathy used a modern syntax to give the piece a modern look from every aspect.  Every age has its own unique emotional response to their surroundings and hence there is a change in expression. Though great art is eternal and for all times, there will be developments and growth and art will definitely reflect it. This uniqueness in experience in this age of technical revolution reflected in the choreography of ‘Samakala.’ The choreographer’s note says it all - “We have made an attempt to heighten some unusual elements of body language with classical Odissi.” Set to adi tala the composition was based on a musical fusion and did not pertain to any particular raga. Variations of movement stressed rhythmic novelty never seen before. Creation of geometric patterns through a great deal of agility was its defining feature.

‘Synthesis’ was also an innovative choreography of Ratikant Mohapatra. Thoughts have no limiting factor; it goes through an incessant process of creation. The old makes place for new and life continues. Old order of course is used, but is rejuvenated with a new thinking process. Innovation in music was noticeable. ‘Synthesis’ introduced Shraddha Sukta to pay homage to Kelubabu. Sanskrit scholar Nityananda Misra helped the dance guru in selecting the piece and lending its suitability to dance with a script. In all humility the dancers prayed to Shraddha who is personified as a Devi supposedly dwelling at the pinnacle of all fortune and blesses him that seeks with faith and affection. Shraddha is eternal and is an embodiment of timelessness which was evoked through dance that used classical elements as a launching pad to take off to the contemporary. Annada Prasanna Pattanaik and Satyabrata Katha played an important role in the making of the musical score.                                 

Poetry has always been a bridge which has been used by sculptors, painters and dancers to express the outpourings of their heart. In the abhang “Yei ho Vitthale” written by the Varkari saint Namdev, Vitthala was zealously hailed by the dancers who were the epitome of devotees praying for salvation. The group danced with great zest. The dance choreography is in keeping with modern sensibilities and Ratikant has definitely taken a step forward towards what he terms neo-classicism. His movements, though based on the model of classicism, which he was totally exposed to and taught painstakingly, is simplistic, fast-paced without the undue languorous style of previous masters. A sort of minimalism is to be noticed in stage decorations. Costume colours are chosen so as not to draw people’s attention away from the dance itself.

The celebrations of the occasion included the guru’s own memorable choreographic works. Both Vande Mataram and Ardhanariswara had the clear stamp of Guru Kelucharan, with some adaptations by Ratikant Mohapatra. The stylization of Kelubabu’s brand of Odissi which rose from humble sources has marked swerves of the torso movement, while the body below the waist remains static. Dance lovers had the chance to see both classicism and neo-classicism on the same platform. Little innovations made by Ratikant in Ardhanariswara were a visual pleasure, like two bodies practically merging into the other was adapted with some degree of finesse. Dancers Rajashri Praharaj, Arpita Swain, Aishwariya Singhdev, Sipra Swain, Preetisha Mohapatra, Riyanka Chakrabarty, Pragna Parimita Das and Sanjay Kumar Behera were all in top form.  Jaydev Das and Debiprasad Misra contributed greatly with their lighting effects.

Tapati Chowdurie learnt dance for 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. Presently, she is a freelance writer on the performing arts.