The revered legend Pt. Raghunath Panigrahi
- Ratikant Mohapatra
Photos courtesy: Srjan
September 2, 2013
Every morning, we wake up to Raghu bhaina singing Geeta Govinda but today, it is just not we, the world has lost the legend who owned that voice.
Born on 10th August 1932 at Gunupur in Koraput district, Odisha, Bhaina was initially trained in music under the tutelage of his father Neelamani Panigrahi. Later, he learnt from various prominent gurus in Odisha and South India. Raghu bhaina’s efforts to popularise poet Jayadeva’s ’Gita Govinda’ (which has been hailed as the fountainhead of Odissi music, not just in the state but worldwide) has been praised by his admirers. He was the only singer/composer of our Odisha state to be honoured by the French government for his ‘Gita Govinda’ composition way back in the ‘70s.
The soft-spoken and ever smiling bhaina, however, was a man of determination when it came to taking bold decisions in life. He decided to give up a very successful and lucrative career in Chennai as a playback singer for South Indian films to team up with his newly married wife Sanjukta Panigrahi (Sanju nani), who was then struggling hard to establish herself as a dancer. Together they successfully launched a worldwide campaign to popularise the classical Odissi dance form, and established a firm imprint of Odissi in many parts of the world. It was a long struggle for both of them; together they faced many obstacles of which the then existing financial problem was only one of the issues they had to tackle. But Raghu bhaina refused to crack under pressure and continued to pursue the ‘great dream’ together with Sanju nani.
Fortunately, my grooming in Odissi dance and music was surrounded by the people responsible for establishing Odissi dance and music globally - Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra, Pt Bhubaneswar Mishra, Pt. Raghunath Panigrahi, Sanjukta Panigrahi, Kumkum Mohanty and Rakhal Chandra Mohanty. But later when I started performing, I spent more time with my father, Raghu bhaina and Sanju nani. I have wonderful memories of travelling worldwide, performing and accompanying bhaina and nani. In my school days, watching Raghu bhaina singing for my father and Sanju nani had a life enhancing impact on me. At that time, I understood very little about music but somehow his singing could move me deep inside. He had a special quality like a magician and could mesmerise people’s mind and soul, taking them to sublime heights.
Before each performance he used to sing “Matru Vandana.” As soon as he began singing, the packed audience with their noisy chatting would go into pin drop silence for hours till the end of the show. Truly he was the blessed son of goddess Saraswati.
My long association with Raghu bhaina has left me countless memories which will last me a lifetime, since he was a captivating and interesting human being. His childlike love for electronic gadgetry, his passion for enjoying pizza on trips abroad, his love for telling hilarious stories embellished with infinite exaggeration, and his endearing sense of humour – all this and more made travelling with him and Sanju nani a thoroughly enjoyable experience. And in the years to come, fortunate co-travellers like me will continue to regale our families, friends and acquaintances with the charming, mildly quixotic and very affectionate aspects of the incomparable Raghunath Panigrahi. The many people I know and I feel truly blessed in having lived a large part of our lives with him.
I have witnessed the passing of many stalwarts of Oriya culture and been the pall-bearer for such people as Pt. Bhubaneswar Mishra, Sanjukta Panigrahi, my father Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra and now I had to accompany Pt. Raghunath Panigrahi to his final resting place. I do not know whether it is a blessing or a misfortune that I was present at the final moments of these great people’s lives. I remain, however, with the strong feeling that such people have enriched my life in more ways than I can count, and I cannot imagine how impoverished my life would have been without their generous presence in my life. Absence only makes the heart grow fonder.