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Slick virtual presentation of 26th Kelucharan Mohapatra Awards Festival
Photos courtesy: Srjan

September 24, 2020

Few festival designers can compare with Ratikant Mohapatra's efficient programming and layout of events and despite the pandemic restrictions necessitating a virtual event, the latest Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra Awards Festival in Bhubaneswar, carried the same trademark of a slick and neat presentation of an eclectic mix of events, where time honoured classicism lived in proximity with a more trendy modern approach, on all the five days. Very appropriately dedicated to the recently departed musical prodigy Pandit Jasraj and to light expert Jayadev Das who for years was the man behind the scene illuminating many an Odissi performance, this year's event in true flamboyant style, had Hema Malini, the dancer/matinee idol/turned Rajya Sabha member inaugurating the festival with a few appropriate words, paying homage to Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra.

Madhusmita Mohanty

An Odissi start to the festival was provided by Bismillah Khan awardee Madhusmita Mohanty, a student of Gangadhar Pradhan and his students Aruna Mohanty and Bichitrananda Swain. Her perfectly etched poses in the Mangalacharan, with its homage part being the Krishna Stuti culminated with the depiction of Jagannath in the chariot being pulled by the devotees. The nritta part comprised the Kelucharan Mohapatra choreographed Keerwani Pallavi. After a long time, it was satisfying to see a dancer bring out the rhythmic intricacies knit into the main refrain of this Pallavi with complete control over laya and dance line. Created by the late guru for his student Kumkum Mohanty (during late seventies or early eighties), mastery over its laya permutations and combinations, is not easy. The ukkutas were recited with a feel for the music of rhythm by Bijay Kumar Barik and singer for Madhusmita was Roopak Kumar Parida. The abhinaya based on the Gita Govinda ashtapadi "Madhave makuru maanini maanamaye" with the eloquent music composed by Subhas Pani, and dance interpretation by Aruna Mohanty, projected the sakhi entreating Radha to shed her injured pride needlessly condemning her heart to loneliness, and to join Krishna eagerly awaiting her arrival. The dancer's expressional allure as the persuasive sakhi softening Radha's hurt pride, ended by imploring her instead to feast her eyes on the glory of Hari and to end the composition the words harimivalokaya safalaya nayane were interpreted with signature postures portraying Dashavatar.

Pt Vishwa Mohan Bhatt

After a long time, one really enjoyed Vishwa Mohan Bhatt's Mohana Veena performance with raga alap, instead of that Grammy award-induced fast playing which seems to have become of late, his general style - and which for this critic, kills the melodic sensitivity, in which this musician has so much to offer. The short compositions with alap in ragas Yaman, Ramdari Malhar, Tilak Kamod, Jajijaiwanti, Pilu and Hamsadhwani, despite only a self adjusted metronome device for rhythm instead of a live tabla accompaniment (thanks to the pandemic), the music was sheer bliss to the ears.

P Praveen Kumar

P. Praveen Kumar's Bharatanatyam despite the absence of a varnam which often features as the dancer's strong statement had its moments. A start with the Adityahridayam prayer depicting the Sun God, travelling across the expanse of the sky in his horse driven chariot from east to west, ushering in light, its rays making earth and the lotus petals bloom, was followed by the Jatiswaram in raga Abhogi, a composition of Rameshwaran in adi talam, which Praveen's previous Guru Narmada had set to dance and this nritta item underlined the immaculate Bharatanatyam technique which is one of the distinguishing aspects of Praveen's dance. With vocalist Srivatsa doing the honours, the next Purandhara Dasa Devarnama, a ragamalika, featured two episodes, one of Krishna as the butter thief and the next of the god in one of his incarnations as the dwarf Vamana humbly begging the arrogant Bali for enough space to take three steps. Measuring the Sky and the Earth in two giant steps, he looks for space for the third step when the humbled Bali, realising he is dealing with the almighty, offers his head on which to place Vamana's foot, thus seeking mukti. With a hint of the Kurmavataram where the God manifests as the giant tortoise bearing the weight of the mountain as the spinning rod round which the rope of Vasuki, the serpent, becomes the rope held at two ends by devas and asuras churning ambrosia from the ocean, the recital concluded.

Pt Dhaneswar Swain

The mardala recital by Dhaneswar Swain trained under Shyamsundar Kar and Banamali Maharana, was a brilliant demonstration of adi tala with the lehra on the harmonium provided by Muralidhar Swain - demonstrating what strides this percussive instrument has made in the last half a century compared to its very elementary role at the time when the journey to Odissi began.

Gauri Diwakar

The choice of dancers from amongst the SNA Bismillah Khan awardees was wise - for this assured the festival of an even standard. Gauri Diwakar's Kathak has now acquired a mature quality. Her recital on the Nayika, Dheera in a quest for beauty within and without, set to four parts, began with Chabili Nari, wherein the heroine perplexed with her own beauty is trying to come to terms with it. Accompanying Ghulam Sabir Khan Saheb's text set to raga Shudh Kalyan, the dancer to slow music in teen taal vilambit through movement slowing evolving in thaat and upaj with some alluringly poetic freezes caught the 'sundar chhabi muskara' images, as if the dancer was becoming aware of the potential of her physicality in the body opening out. The next scene was a thumri of Bindadin Maharaj, popularised by Pandit Birju Maharaj, set to raga Hameer - "Sab ban than aayi Shyam pyarire" wherein Radha adorning herself yearns for Krishna to manifest. Comprising graceful chaals, and the improvisations round each line, the recital next proceeded with a Meera Bhajan demonstrating the response of the Nayika's ultimate sublimation in love with Krishna manifesting. Set to music in Maru Behag, Jog, Todi and Rageshri by Samiullah Khan, the choreography by Gauri along with Dheerendra Tiwary was described as 'a work in progress'. The scene built round Surya Kanti Tripathi Nirala's poetry, "Beeti raath sukhta bathome nainke dore laal gulaal bhare" portrayed love in fruition with the swadheenapatika in a celebration of love. Choreographed by Aditi Mangaldas with music set by Samiullah Khan, the physicality of love here can accommodate all the nritta ecstasy of Kathak. While the dancer ably presented in the order mentioned, the announcements saw the last item spoken of as the third and the third item as the last. Since the theme was sringar, one in the form of love in renunciation and the other in its physical glory, presumably viewers found no difficulty in following.

Abhishek Raghuram

Abhishek Raghuram's Carnatic recital, with its melodious improvisations in solfa passages or in raga alap, began with Tyagaraja's "Nenarunchira napai nee chala" in raga Simhavahini set to adi talam, followed by "Durmarga charata mulanu" in roopaka talam in raga Ranjini. The third lyric again a Tyagaraja composition was "Nee vaadane gana nikhilaloka" in Saranga. The singer concluded on a moving spiritual note with Gopalakrishna Bharati's composition "Idu tane tillai sthanam, ithanai naalum ariyene". He was ably supported on the violin and mridangam by Mysore V Srikanth and Anantha R Krishnan respectively.


Vilasini Natyam, the dance tradition practiced by hereditary female dancer-singers of Telugu origin in temples, courts and public performance spaces, revived by dancer Swapna Sundari, had this year its first exposure in the Kelucharan Awards festival through Purvadhanashree. With its soft ardhamandali (as compared to Bharatanatyam), and dalamu or gentle upper torso movements, 'forward, upward, sideward, downward'movement of chest and shoulders, and typical method of traversing performance space, this graceful dance demands both musical knowhow and dancing abilities in a performer. Purva who learnt from Swapna Sundari, began the performance with items of Sevika from the temple ritual tradition with Choornika in Arabhi and Jatiswaram in Kalyani. Pushpanjali during the Bala Bhogam in the daily offering to the Lord in the temple comprised different types of flowers being offered to the deities each day of the week - Japa, Kusuma, Punnaga, Drona, Ketaki, Jaati and Bakula. The Bhajana Sampradaya songs were often used by the performer devotees in the Pallaki Seva wherein the Lord was carried in a palanquin to be paraded in streets binding the temple precincts. Sans the ritual of the palanquin, Purvadhanashree performed to a Bhajan composition of Sadashivabrahmendra, "Kreedati Vanamali". The devotee offers salutations to Vishnu who is the protector of Brahma and Prahalada. The composition touches on the Lord's interaction with Hanuman, Jambhavan and Parashara.

Having gained appreciation for her manodharma and improvisatory strength in abhinaya which in Vilasini Natyam has pride of place, Purva's sringar interpretation based on ashtapadis from the Gita Govinda has always had a special evocative appeal. The two ashtapadis selected, with music composed by late Balamurali, one in the raga Vasanti set to Chatusra ekam tala and other in Kosalam set to khandachapu (soulfully rendered by Sudha Raghuraman in the recording used) are quintessential sringar compositions. The sakhi describing to Krishna the pathetic condition of lovelorn Radha's yearning in the ashtapadi "Radhika tawa virahe Keshava" chanting Krishna's name all the time ("haririthi haririthijapati sakaayam..") was followed by the sakhi urging Radha to join Krishna, "Manjutarakunjatalakelisadane vilasa ratirabhasahitavadane pravisha Radhe Madhava sameepamiha" earnestly urging Radha on, to enter the intimate world of Madhava. The signature line at the end hails the union of Padmavati and poet Jayadeva even as Radha enters Madhava's intimate world. The dancer's interpretation provided an example of sringar at its most intense.

Tarun Bhattacharya

Tarun Bhattacharya's Santoor recital, his brilliance notwithstanding with all the razzle dazzle of speed, missed out on the musical eloquence and enchantment of slower alap touching the listener's innermost cords.

On the last day, the presentation of awards with the Odisha Governor himself doing the honours, was a well knit, organised event. The honourable Governor Prof. Ganeshi Lal, a scholar, entered the mood fully, making a very enthusiastic speech - mentioning tradition of music and dance as being sacred and of Kelucharan Mohapatra as the 'Sugandhith Pushpa' of Odisha. He mentioned Sangeet as 'anhad Nada' in its pravah and of our Gods themselves portrayed as singers and dancers. As for dance in literature, there was Kalidasa's Meghadootam, Kumara Sambhavam, Wordsworth's poem The Daffodils. Dance was a universal phenomenon in the five cosmic elements found in thundering clouds, murmuring leaves, dancing waves. The talk touched on the five arrows of Cupid, and on Confucius who stated that one who does not know how to dance should never be a ruler! And after this flowery speech the award was presented to cinematographer and photographer Raj Gopal Mishra. The Yuva Pratibha Samman went to Pravat Kumar Swain for dance and Himansu Sekhar Swain earned it for music.

Raj Gopal Mishra

Pravat Kumar Swain

Himansu Sekhar Swain

Host Ratikant Mohapatra's Srjan Ensemble (the only group offer of the festival) presented Anweshana as the finale for the five day event. The 'neo-classical' fare (as the composer titles his dance) had its greatest asset in the perfect symmetry of the group - where six to seven dancing bodies appeared as one unbroken line - so totally in unison were the movements. Rendered to Vyzarsu Balasubramaniam's contemporary music, the Tarana impressed the most. The interpretative part of the group offer was devoted largely to Rama worship -'Antar Rama' (original composition by Nikhil Ghosh set by Roopak Kumar Parida in raga Jogiya and tala adi) underlining the total devotion of devotees like Hanuman "Ram bina kachu janat nahi" portraying a universe permeated by the presence of this godhead with Rajashri Praharaj, Ritu Sengupta, Aishwarya Singhdev and Sipra Swain as the dancers had its moments. The other devotional offer to Rama by the redoubtable Tuldidas' "Sriramachandra Kripalu Bhajman" set to music by Pradeep Kumar Das, with Bijay Kumar Jena as singer, was given an episodic treatment with dancers Rajashri Praharaj, Ritu Sengupta, Aishwarya Singhdeo, Sipra Swain, Riyanka Chakrabarty, Preetisha Mohapatra and Reebdhita Barua. In the swayamvar scene showing suitors struggling with the feat of lifting and stringing the Shiva Danush, Preetisha as one of the failed suitors was convincing, though with countless performance offers down the ages, this scene tends to become stereotyped.

Srjan ensemble

The one item where this group for this critic, did not quite measure up to the interpretative element was in the Gita Govinda ashtapadi "Rase harimiha vihita vilasam." Singer Mahalakshmi Iyer sang what was musically composed by late Pandit Jasraj. Rajashri, Aishwarya, Sipra Swain, Preetisha were coordinated and did not fault in their movements. But the poetic ecstasy of Jayadeva, in the group treatment got lost. Assumed here is Radha watching while Krishna, playing his alluring flute, with the earrings playing on his cheeks, sports seductively with the Gopis. A line like 'vipula pulaka bhuja pallava layitaballava yuvati sahasram' describing Krishna's throbbing arms like vines encircling a thousand cowherdesses, does not register in such a group.

With the pandemic imposing its restrictions, Srjan can pride itself on the planning and execution of this festival.

Writing on the dance scene for the last forty years, Leela Venkataraman's incisive comments on performances of all dance forms, participation in dance discussions both in India and abroad, and as a regular contributor to Hindu Friday Review, journals like Sruti and Nartanam, makes her voice respected for its balanced critiquing. She is the author of several books like Indian Classical dance: Tradition in Transition, Classical Dance in India and Indian Classical dance: The Renaissance and Beyond.

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