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Presentation of Guru Debaprasad Das Nrutya Ratna-2019
- Nita Vidyarthi
Photos courtesy: Tridhara

August 22, 2019

If one understands the significance of Guru Purnima, one also understands the significance of the age-old tradition of Indian classical music and dance and its philosophy. The Guru has played a vital role in the music and dance history of India and in spite of innumerable invasions and foreign domination, has stood the test of time. The institution of the Guru has to survive in order to perpetuate the music and dance tradition. So there could not have been a better way to celebrate Guru Purnima than to devote an exclusive evening to honour the gurus, all veterans and watch them perform.

This year Tridhara, Bhubaneswar, under the initiative of Guru Gajendra Panda, director and custodian of the institution established by the legendary Odissi Guru Debaprasad Das, has taken a big step forward by presenting Debaprasad Das's senior-most disciples, all of whom are renowned gurus now, with the 'Guru Debaprasad Das Nrutya Ratna' at a specially organised ceremony at the Rabindra Mandap, Bhubaneswar. The day was in another way special as it coincided with the death anniversary of Guru Debaprasad Das and the annual day-long '33rd Shradhanjali Samaroha', a festival of Odissi dance organised by Tridhara, in which dancers belonging to the Debaprasad Gharana pay tribute to the guru through dance.

The evening was inaugurated by Minister of Culture and Tourism, Jyotiprakash Panigrahi and Principal Secretary, Manoranjan Panigrahy, Odia language Literature and Culture. Altogether, fourteen gurus out of 19 invited were present, but only seven performed. There were no reminiscences by the recipients, only celebration. Illuminated happy faces with twinkling eyes - some wet ones - said it all. They expressed their happiness and praised the touching gesture and concern of Guru Gajendra Panda. He appeared to them as the visible hero!

Slide show
Braja Kishore Mallick Anita Singhdeo

The opening performance "Bosi kanda thiba manini" in ektali, penned by Kavi Samrat Upendra Bhanja was an Odiya abhinaya by Braja Kishore Mallick. He impressed as the Nayak who says that in Basanta ritu the nayika is pining and weeping for him. The dancer encompassed an astonishing range of emotional intensity of thinking and wondering with a measure of personal expressiveness. Elegant movements with passionate expressions, enhanced by Ghanashyam Panda's singing, revealed the soul of the poet with the final stance in the sitting position, thinking!

A very fulfilling, sensitive and poised performance of Jayadeva's ashtapadi "Rase harimiha bihita vilasam" in raag Kaphi, taal Jati by Anita Singhdeo displayed how this stately, graceful and mature dancer enjoyed an easy balance between inspiration, training and her technical resources with the live music. Her entry with delicate steps was carefully featured with her sounding ankle bells following a single melody. The control and visualization of expressions were obviously the result of her experience.

Chapala Mishra presented Guru Debaprasad Das's timeless composition "Ganga Tarang'' which is a Kashi Vishwanath dhyan. Her portrayal of Ganga flowing through Lord Shiva's matted locks showed fluent command of the mechanics of the composition with fine body inflexions embracing the mobile points of Odissi with chiselled movements. After this sloka in obeisance to Lord Vishwanath, which went on a rather slow pace, she presented the riveting Ravanakruta Shiva Tandava "Jata kata hasambrahma" translating the words of the famous sloka into a torrent of vigour with impactful singing by Sukanta Kundu. The piece was set to raag Darbari, ekatali.

It was a real privilege to watch Guru Debaprasad Das's first student, the 84 year old Guru Sudhakar Sahu perform a soulful abhinaya piece "Eh ghora barasakaley priyarasa" with such romantic glances. The Upendra Bhanja composition in taal triputa, replete with shringar rasa was about the pining of one's beloved during the heavy monsoon and was expressed with intense subtlety, the lyrics articulated by captivating, delicate and careful movements spiced by the sparkling eyes of the master dancer. His finger dexterity was so smooth and effortless that his hands were never weary.

Nilashree Mohanty expressed the plight of a woman loyal to her husband in a telling manner in the Odiya abhinaya "Dekhile paran jiba chhad mohona" written by poet Gopalkrishna set to taal Jhampa. Her involved enactment of Radha's anxiety when Krishna holds her hand while she is on her way with fruits and flowers to worship the Sun god, apprehending the consequences if her in-laws or sakhis happen to see them, was quite impressive.

Minakshi Behera's impactful rendition of Jayadeva ashtapadi, as the khandita nayika starting with "Atha kathampi yamini biniya" the first segment of the 8th canto and passing on to the precious line "Yahi Madhava, Yahi Keshava" of the classic composition set to raag Bhairavi, ekatali, was brought to life by her experience and mature understanding. Harihar Mohanty, with slow paced movements capitalized on his abhinaya skills to present the ashtapadi "Nindati chandanamindu kiranamanu" in raag Mukhari, taal ekatali. Even though he performed mostly while sitting, his sensitive execution with various expressive resources at different levels was well received by the audience.

It was a great pity that the audience could not enjoy the valuable performances of the practicing gurus present. A consummate dancer, Gayatri Chand could not perform due to her fractured leg. The Bandha Nritya wonder girl Bijayalaxmi Mohanty was also unable to perform. Others present were Niranjan Rout, Bimbadhar Das, Laxmidhar Jena, Prakanta Moharana and Dr. Manoj Kumar Behera. The gurus who did not turn up were Gobinda Chandra Pal, Durgacharan Ranbir, Kalpana Thamba, Dipti Mishra and Dr. Sujata Mishra. Live musical support by well-known musicians was an asset as was the unparalleled steering of the ceremony by Dr. Srinibas Ghatuary (everyone's Milan).

The performances were pictorial and descriptive to a remarkable degree and throw a revealing light upon Debaprasad Das's compositions and his whole aesthetic approach to his dance style. In these pieces, Debaprasad Das painted scenes, portrayed emotions and moods depicted the most elusive shades of meaning that were expressed by the words actually anticipating the idea behind the song style of the poet.

It was an advantage to watch the fruits of first-rate teaching which stemmed from direct contact of these able dancers with the legendary guru. The viewer has to be sufficiently aware of the composer's style to be able to appreciate the aesthetic triumph of their ultimate solution. Above all, it was an evening of stalwarts paying shradhanjali to their revered Guru through dance, replete with joy, emotion and a feeling of togetherness.

Dr. Nita Vidyarthi is a veteran critic of performing arts and writes on dance, music and theatre in leading publications.

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