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From the foothills of Dhauli a bouquet of arts for peace and cooperation
Photos courtesy: Odisha Tourism

February 21, 2018

Started in 2003 as a Martial Arts Festival held in the open space within the verandah of the Peace Pagoda on the Dhauli hilltop in Odisha, the Dhauli-Kalinga Mahotsav's enlarged version now with its venue at the foothills, embracing dance and other performance traditions, has its greatest asset in bringing together several art disciplines like poetry, music, dance incorporating rural and classical traditions, martial arts, and above all for an animated active audience of over two thousand eagerly watching the proceedings on each of the three days (Feb 9-11, 2018). And this in an isolated place far from the capital of Bhubaneswar! With special buses arranged (courtesy Orissa Dance Academy under Aruna Mohanty, now organising the festival for Odisha Tourism, taking over from Ileana Citaristi, the original organiser of the martial arts festival at the hilltop) to ply to and from Bhubaneswar during the festival days, it is the young students from various colleges and training centres who form the audience - a very heartening trend and one not seen in other cities for dance events.

Dance comes as the final expression incorporating many disciplines, like poetry, music, rhythm, along with the consciousness of body lines depicted in sculpture and drawing - and in the Guru Gangadhar Pradhan Smruti Samman (in memory of late Guru Gangadhar Pradhan), the selection of awardees highlights this approach of recognising all inputs contributing to the dance. This year's selection had Dr. S.K. Tamotia (Dean, Director General and Vice Chairman of Bhavan's Centre for Communication and Management), Atulya Mahakud (lyricist, actor, script writer for Odiya cinema), Doordarshan and for dance, Dhaneswar Swain, the brilliant mardal expert whose contribution to dance is immeasurable, and Bhagiratha Das Odissi Bastra Karigara (designer and maker of costumes).

The poetic start to the proceedings, after the oath taking ceremony paying homage to Peace, was reading out a Poem on the River, the theme for most of the dance productions (the author being one connected with the corporate sector) by Paramita Mohapatra, a post graduate in Personal Management and Industrial Relations from Utkal University - whose wide range of accomplishments include introducing the Annual Sarala Award for Odia Literature and Ekalavya Puraskar for budding sports talent, apart from starting the Panda Centre for Alternate Healing. The river as an entity woven round human lives, with fine visuals screened to go with the recitation of the poem was a moving experience.

The start each evening was heralded with poetry reading. The other poems were by Subroto Bagchi, business leader and illustrious author and co-founder of Mindtree and now Chairman of Skill Development Authority. The other poet was Devadas Chhotray, an Odia poet and academician, and the first Vice Chancellor of Ravenshaw College, Cuttack.


Shivagni Ensemble, a recently started effort comprising a pool of exceptionally gifted classically trained instrumentalists hailing from Odisha, is rapidly becoming a potent artistic force with its innovative musical forays taking off from a raga foundation but evolving into out-of-the-ordinary musical journeys. Led by flautist Srinivas Satpathy, and violinist Agnimitra Behera, the ensemble has Sameer Ranjan (percussion), Bikasita Sahoo (drums), Biswaranjan Nanda (tabla), Ramesh Chandra Behera (keyboard), Debaranjan Nayak (guitar) and Kshiti Prakash Mohapatra (vocal).The beauty of the compositions rendered lay in the way each instrument got its solo space within the collective effort. From a Misra Bhairavi start where music caught the mood of a dove spreading its wings in full and flying in the air, to rapid violin and flute playing in tunes resembling Irish ditties, to the feel of a high speed tempest based on Vasant Mukhari, and the pure joy of a Keerawani inspired composition and much more, it was a pure delight of melody wherein the voice of Kshiti Prakash brought in its own throb. But these youngsters need to curb the exuberance of youth, limiting themselves to an hour's performance instead of going on for too long, cutting into the time of other artistes. Each item needs to be edited. Learning to stop when the listener wants more is the best way of creating optimum appreciation.

Priti Patel and group

The river as theme in various classical group endeavours began with the Manipuri Dance production Turel - Listen to the River by Priti Patel and group with the choreography by Priti assisted by Imocha Singh, with music by Suraj Kumar and Ratan Singh. The poetic text urges listening to the river, the waters of which have absorbed the harmonised tones of Hindu mantras, Buddhist chants, pealing church bells and prayers from the mosque - a true symbol of harmony and peace. Man is endorsed to learn from the river which is sure of where it is going and is in total harmony with Nature. While chic sequences of Thang-Ta, Dhol and Pung Cholom and superbly graceful Manipuri dancing were all on view, one failed to see the connection with the river, despite recitation of a couple of slokas, script based on Suryakanti Tripathy's poem on cherishing the river and its life nurturing qualities and the mention of the Konjom river, very significant to Manipuri history - but nothing was translated into the dance. The visual aesthetics apart, the thematic element translated into dance terms, was totally missing.

Also disappointing was Dancing Rivers, which was supposed to be a Kuchipudi / Kathak conjunction, connecting rivers through dance. Conceived and produced by Churchill Pandian, the artists involved were Kathak dancer Vidha Lal and group and Kuchipudi dancer Prateeksha Kashi and group. Neither group would seem to have researched to discover intellectually challenging poetry on the theme and the dance did not go beyond oft rendered imagery and ideas. While the Kathak group which concentrated on the Ganga thought of Shiva and spirituality of the river, the dance shown had the usual virtuosity, with even references to the Ganga not finding any dance visualisation barring nritta. One expected more of real choreography from Vidha in the designing. It should not look as if without the nritta prop, Kathak finds itself rudderless. Prateeksha, tethering her dance to the Jamuna river went into Krishna adulation and the Kaalinga nartana (Oothukadu Venkatasubbaiyer verses set to Nattai, made so famous by Aruna Sairam through her singing) built round Krishna dancing on the serpent. Thematic treatment needs more than the convenience of myth. Poetry based on the river, with some thought on how to translate these words into the medium of dance in a man/river connectivity was missing. With Vyjayanthi Kashi's choreography, one expected more. Dipping into readymade items in the traditional repertoire of a form like a Tarangam, making it fit into a thematic requirement, is not what is needed. Dancers must go researching into the sahitya aspect more.

Prateeksha Kashi & group

Prateeksha Kashi's & Vidha Lal's group

Leela Samson & group

Subhashree Mukherjee's Chhau group

The dancer who very intelligently made use of the vast treasure of poetry in the Indian languages on the 'Nadi' and its many qualities was Leela Samson, whose group work Nadi - The River had a pan Indian perspective on the river, based on poetry in several languages of Tamil, Kannada, Hindi, Urdu, Sanskrit and Bengali. Starting with 'Adidano Ranga' to Rabindranath Tagore's 'Ogo Nadi' (rendered by the Bauls of Bengal), old Tamil poetry of Sangam literature (c 400 BCE to 300 CE) describing life on the Vaigai river, to Girish Karnad's 'Neerina mele' (one cannot write on the river which without memory lives in the eternal present), the Benares Thumri, 'Kinare Kinare' based on an old bandish by Ustad Taanras Khan's duaiyannazm on Hazrat Khisar in Islam, to Muthuswamy Dikshitar's Keertanam 'Gangai maam pahi', one was treated to how the greatest of minds, from time immemorial, in voices of love and longing have responded to the physically changing moods of the river, and of the deep philosophical insights into life the river provides - metaphorically and factually so intertwined with the warp and weft of man's life. Images like the tree growing and sprouting leaves, flowers, fruit, while anchored to its place, quizzically watching the restlessness of the ever flowing river; of the devotee in supplication addressing the river goddess, entreating help to anchor his boat; of the varying moods of the waters now carefree and rippling in joy, now tempestuously flowing and now narrowing like the slender-waisted woman (while flowing between Assi and Varuna) - all sensitively suggested in the group choreography where the group working with the same aim, does not imitate movements of one another. Each dancer stands out as an individual and yet part of the totality. With a composer like Rajkumar Bharati who retained some old tunes and added some of his own (the music presenting a host of styles - Carnatic, Hindustani, Tagore music, folk music and the Benares thumri style singing of a dadra) was rendered by melodious voices of Keertana Vaidyanathan, Srikanth and Sharmishta Chatterjee. Clarity of announcements in strong voices, added to the total impact and without a doubt, this production watched with keen interest, represented for the 2000 strong audience, the best of the festival.

Martial arts have always been part of this festival. Pancha Bhuta (the five elements) in the Mayurbhanj Chhau style visualised by Ileana Citaristi with music composed by Shantanu Mohapatra and Niranjan Bhol and performed by a group led by Subhashree Mukherjee featured well trained male dancers with good group understanding - proof of the success of the project Chhauni in Baripada.

Ranjan Mohanty's Mallakhamb Paik-Sahi Jatra in Puri is the only one of its kind in Odisha. Ma Buxi constituted a martial art display combining Mallakhamb with balancing tricks on the pole or khamb by sturdy men, along with Paika Akhada exercises. Trim bodied youngsters doing exercises came together to feature varying group pyramidal formations. The Paika tradition had its start in Jairaj guru, the minister handing himself to the enemy in order to save his King Mukund Dev, and being tortured to death by the enemy. Buxi vowing revenge years later is also incarcerated in jail from where he spreads the Paik message during confinement. The creation of the Paiks ultimately proved useful in fighting against the British. This festival provides a fruitful platform for these youngsters, trained in various methods to showcase their expertise.

Ranjan Mohanty's Mallakhamb group

Madhu Nataraj's group in 'Aikyam'

Aikyam - Invoking equipoise was the Contemporary Dance offer from Stem Dance Kampni led by Madhu Nataraj based in Bengaluru. While the dancers were well trained, their movements inspired by Kathak, Contemporary Dance technique, Yoga, Kalaripayattu, Thanga ta, folk/ritual dance, geometrical motifs and mime, all accompanied by Praveen Rao's music, the theme was to show that in a world polluted with animosity, the togetherness fostered by dharma, yoga, ahimsa and a live and let live respect for diversity alone could give man back his equipoise. The abstract notion of sacred geometry and moving from darkness to light, adharma to dharma and polarities getting united, as a concept is not easy to translate in movement terms. So barring a general idea of dancers showing equipoise in their movements, deciphering individual sections of the production was difficult.

The Odissi representation in the festival featuring dancers of Odissi Dance Academy founded by late Guru Gangadhar Pradhan and now led by Aruna Mohanty was Ahimsa - an Ode to Gandhi. The script by Kedar Mishra, based on works of Narsi Meheto, Sumitra Nandan Pant, Harivansh Rai Bachchan, Radhamohan Garnik, was to catch the idea of Gandhi and the symbolism behind him rather than a biographical narrative. With an enormous cast, the dancers, trained to a finish (whether in Odissi, Gotipua or Chhau) moved in perfect discipline, suggesting Non-violence, Truth, Swadeshi, Swaraj and Self-Realisation - a feather in choreographer Aruna Mohanty's cap. Music was by Ram Hari and the nritta sequences were contributed by mardal expert Dhaneswar Swain. There were some starkly contrasting scenes as when on a higher level of the stage, waving the tricolour flags there are scenes of dancers rejoicing heralding India's Independence, while on a lower floor level, a weeping Gandhi moves among the corpses of persons slaughtered during Noakhali. This spectacular production for special days and as education for students in schools and colleges is wonderful. But for this critic that grace of classical Odissi and poetic subtlety of a Pallavi or an abhinaya item are missing. The music too, fitting the theme, has a heralding quality - away from the melting melody of Oriya geet. But for the painstaking and mammoth effort of creating a work, which is perhaps badly needed in today's world, the producers must be congratulated.

Odissi Dance Academy's 'Gandhi'

And as a crowning event, the festival conferred on Dr. Sonal Mansingh, the Ruchi Budha Samman for her pioneering work in Odissi and her work as a social activist.

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.

Dear Leela ji,
We are extremely grateful to your review of the recent concluded Dhauli-Kalinga Mahotsav in posted on 21st February 2018. Here I would like to clarify certain point mentioned in the review.
1. This is to inform you that the Orissa Dance Academy has been organizing Dhauli Mahotsav, a classical dance & music festival since 2003 at the foothills of Dhauli. And the festival has been founded by my Guru Shri Gangadhar Pradhan.
2. The Kalinga Mahotsav, the martial dance festival was started in the same year 2003 by Odisha Tourism in collaboration with Dr. Ileana Citaristi of Art Vision at the hill top of Dhauli.
3. In 2011, the Tourism Department passed a proceeding to merge the Kalinga Mahotsav with our Dhauli Mahotsav venue constructed by ODA at the foothill of Dhauli. The Board of ODA agreed to the proposal of Govt. and since then this festival is coined as Dhauli-Kalinga Mahotsav. Dr. Ileana Citaristi was also present during the meeting when merger was finalized.
4. After the merger she has been given due credit as all the publicity material mention Tourism Department of Odisha & Orissa dance Academy organizes the Dhauli Kalinga Mahotsav in association with Art Vision.
I would appreciate if you will make necessary changes after receiving the above information.
Aruna Mohanty (Feb 27, 2018)

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