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Dhauli-Kalinga Festival epitomises peace and unity amidst diversity
Photos courtesy: Odisha Tourism

February 22, 2017

Watching audiences of over two thousand strong, comprising a large percentage of youngsters, enthusiastically applaud a performing art event makes for a heartening experience, particularly at a time when dance events in the auditoriums are facing dwindling audiences. What was initially started thirteen years ago in the Peace Pagoda atop Dhauli as the Dhauli-Kalinga Mahotsav featuring only martial art forms, has expanded in scope, bringing under its sponsoring umbrella classical, folk and martial art forms. What better venue than one watered by the river Daya, which centuries ago ran red with the blood of slain soldiers in the Kalinga war (the carnage converting conqueror Ashoka into Dharma Ashoka) to spread the message of peace? The festival now mounted at the foothill of Dhauli, is inaugurated with the symbolic act of six to seven chief guests on the dais with backs to audience, facing the lighted Peace Pagoda and the adjacent Shiva temple atop the hill, each raising the burning torch held in the hand paying obeisance, as an oath to peace. Today the Mahotsav (Feb 6-8) sponsored by Odisha Tourism is organised by Orissa Dance Academy in association with Art Vision, the original organisers of the purely martial arts version.


Fitting the general theme of unity in diversity was the opening 'Aikatana,' a confluence of seven schools of Odissi, where the thematic bonding fluidly accommodated stylistic differences, if any. Aruna Mohanty's thematic idea based on the chain of concepts associated with numbers 1 to 10, with libretto researched by Kedar Misra, and with both Aruna Mohanty and Ratikant Mohapatra as dance composers, the entire production amazed the audience with the unruffled efficiency in which various streams came together. The starting point was with representative dancers from each of the groups depicting Brahma as the absolute void marking the very start of creation with the union of the individual (jeevatma) and cosmic (paramatma) entities. The number 3 symbolising Tri-shakti, in the powerful female manifestations of Mahakali, Ugratara and Dhumabati was performed by Niranjan Rout's group from 'Nupur'. Number 4 represented time divided into the four ages of Satya, Tretaya, Dwapara and Kali. The dance representation by Utkal Sangeet Mahavidyalaya under Lingaraj Pradhan took on a vivid and neatly rendered narrative form, with events from mythology like Narasimhavatar, Ramavatar with the destruction of Ravana and of Krishna coming to save Draupadi in the Dwapara Yuga. Pancha Indriya or the five senses of sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste were interestingly interpreted by dancers of Ileana Citaristi's Art Vision, the music having no sahitya or word element. Very well rehearsed and sure of their moves were the dancers of Srjan presenting Shada Rupa (number 6) depicting the six evils besetting man of Kama (desire), Kroda (anger), Lobha (greed), Mada (intoxication), Moha (overpowering desire) and Matsarya (malice, jealousy spite) .The seven notes (sapta swara) and seven colours of the rainbow were brought out with synchronised dancers from Gunjan Dance Academy under Meera Das. Then came the only limp part of the production in Ashta Shambhu, one of late Debaprasad Das' finest creations, which Pitambara Biswal's disciples from Suravi made a damp squib of. Aruna Mohanty's Odissi Dance Academy, in Navarasa (an edited version of an older production) had all the slickness associated with her productions - the finale featuring the whole cast with all the groups was a colourful sight - the movement designing intelligent, with dancers positioned at various levels of the performance space, with each group retaining its individual identity and yet becoming part of a whole. It must have involved herculean effort to achieve such neat spacing and orderly presentation. Amidst differences for so many schools of Odissi to come together was a fine achievement!

The impressive and significant martial art aspect of the festival was 'Budhayan' led by Binash Kumar Mishra from Malkangiri, in Odisha. One who represented India in 2009 Beijing Olympics, he is a magician, a martial artist and a dance choreographer, who on completing his MSW has dedicated his life to social service. Investing his earnings in an NGO for which he works, a school started by him is dedicated to sports, arts and education, his AOMAA or martial arts academy working for the tribals in far away Malkangiri (the south-eastern most part of the state of Odisha). From tiny tots to grown-ups participating in martial arts largely Kung Fu was an experience in itself. In a place like Malkangiri, Binash Kumar's philosophy of martial arts for disciplining mind and body of largely deprived youngsters comes as a surprise. The music had a Chinese feel to it and the Buddhist chants echoed Binash's faith in the religion.


Dhaneswar Swain and group

Another example of unity amidst diversity was the rhythmic feat and percussive delight by Dhaneswar Swain and Group, in a tala vadya concert. Featuring mardal, jodi nagara, dhol, ghatam, tabla, kohl, and cymbal talam, it was a downpour of rhythm wherein the Chhanda that Oriya literature and music are famous for, the Paatha, the Kavit were all brought within the tala system of classical Odissi. The Odissi flavour in this rhythmic feast never sagged. Dhaneswar's own recitation of the ukkutas with the changing accent on bols to provide rhythmic patterns, in itself provided tonal music.

The Manipuri part of the festival took the form of 'Devatmya,' a production by Bimbavati Devi, built round depiction of the journey of woman. In the taped music (very Manipuri in its character) and in the entire dance narrative beginning with Creation with powerful chants forcing the throbbing life force out of Guru Sidaba, with creator and creation united - followed by woman's birth, growth, marriage and childbirth and playing with the child, one could feel the indirect influences of Manipuri's Meitei festival Lai Haraoba, in which all facets of life are portrayed through dance. Woman's graceful beauty is described through epithets surrounding the Lotus - the Kamala. She is regarded as the embodiment of divinity and harbinger of prosperity as Annapoorna, she is Shankara prana vallabhe, and she is also the indomitable beholder of Time as Kali, playing with skulls in her hand. The use of the 'Pena' music contributed so much to the general mood and Bimba's dance composition with cholom/kartali like interludes and parengs of delicate grace, and the group's synchronised execution with dainty gliding and spinning movements, deserved complimenting, along with her own performance.

A ''contemporary martial art work'' as it was called , woven round the theme of Fire or Agni in various manifestations, by Janardhan Raj Urs and group from Bangaluru drew inspiration for body language from Thang Ta, Kalaripayattu and Japan's Ninjutsu. The present artistic Director of Stem Dance Kampni, his work became a confused mass of too many images amounting to too little in the end. Convoluted movements against a video screen filled with diagrams of geometrical patterns, shadow play, and verbose introductions on tape which never transferred to movement images, along with fire effects were enough to give the viewer a brain fag. The dancers obviously had trained bodies. But the work needs to be thinned out drastically for any impact to emerge out of the tangled mass of images.

Bimbavati and group

Janardhan Raj Urs and group

Vaibhav Arekar and group

Vaibhav Arekar and his group from Sankhya Dance Company gave a Bharatanatyam recital epitomising aesthetic understatement. His solo movements along with group formations by the students in one frame, had minimalism written all over, with none of the fulsome nritta or abhinaya sanchari-s the performers of the usual Bharatanatyam margam today delight in. Perfect stage spacing with the same movement executed by three or more students, drawing impeccable geometry of lines on stage meant much rehearsing and having dancers of experience. In Ardhanarishwar based on the well known kriti in Kumudakriya, Vaibhav's solo interpretation was an acme of simplicity - using just a bhangi, or a hand stretch, to show lasya and tandava complementing contrasts of the Ardhanarishwar motif. The Tillana in Poorvi "niri niri gamagarisa" came as a perfect finale. Strangely for this dancer, the fly in the ointment was the taped music - which very often sounded off sruti, with the vocalist and mridangam and musical instruments not in microtonal alignment.

Spotting groups from various parts of the country, and recognizing expertise in various disciplines from dance writing to art forms by conferring awards named after Guru Gangadhar Pradhan, the father of Odissi Academy, and having a well oiled channel of communication with institutions luring senior students to come to Dhaulagiri to watch the festival, and spearheading cooperation among various schools of a discipline, this festival would seem to be one of its type.

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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