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Guru Banamali Maharana and Odissi music-Inseparable
- Ratikant Mohapatra
Photos: Ganesh Sahoo

November 20, 2018

To be a Guru, is to touch a life forever. Their teachings live on, not only in their transference of an Art, but also in the humanity, sincerity and love that they bequeath to each and every soul they touch. It is with a heavy heart that the Odissi community grieves the loss of one of the finest masters of the Mardala and a legendary Guru of Odissi music, Guru Banamali Maharana. On November 17, 2018, Banu Dada breathed his last at Sum Hospital, Bhubaneswar. He was 77. He is survived by his wife, son and grandchildren.

Guru Banamali Maharana was the younger cousin of Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra (Guruji) and as my uncle, a father figure to me. Born on May 16, 1941 in the famous artistes' village of Raghurajpur in Puri district, Banu Dada was responsible for developing the grammar and codification of the Odissi Mardala, and giving it a special identity and establishing it as a solo instrument in the realm of Odissi music. He learnt under Guruji, and later became a pioneer in the field of Odissi music.

Ratikant Mohapatra setting microphone for
Guru Banamali Maharana before the program

Banu Dada was known for his unique method of teaching, and his Mardala style and technique are deeply ingrained in the playing style of all his disciples. His thoughts, vision and simplicity, and his mastery of the instrument, coupled with his devotion and conviction in playing the Mardala, truly made him a great Guru.

His passing leaves a void that cannot be filled by mere remembrance. Banu Dada was like a tree, bearing perennial fruit, each of which was sweet and healthy. Whoever he bestowed his blessings upon, and imparted his training to, have becomes masters of playing the Mardala. And all his disciples have always returned this respect and regard with the sincerity, dedication and devotion that he displayed, lifelong.

Guru Banamali Maharana has brought immense pride to Odisha as one of the foremost contributors to the rich Art and culture of our state and society. During his career as a percussionist spanning over half a century, he was conferred with numerous prestigious awards such as the Orissa Sangeet Natak Akademi Award (1994), Central Sangeet Natak Akademi Award (2004), and Vadya Saraswati (1997) from Sangeet Sudhakar Balakrushna Das Foundation. In 2008, in recognition of his services and eminence, he received the Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra Award from Srjan for his immense contributions to the field of Odissi Music.

Guru Banamali Maharana receiving Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra Award 2008
from Sri Debiprasad Mishra, Minister, Culture & Tourism, Odisha

Guru Banamali Maharana
playing a solo recital in Tala Vadya Utsav

As he approached the dusk of his life, his health declined steadily and he suffered greatly. However, all his students and well-wishers stood by him and his family through these hard times. The family also received financial support from the Government of Odisha for his treatment. But all this love, reverence, and regard seem inadequate in comparison to all that he has given us. Instrumental in keeping the Guru-Shishya parampara intact through the changing times, the teachings of Banu Dada have done wonders in preserving and promoting this parampara and the rich culture and heritage of Odisha, in an era when the values and society are changing. We feel proud to call such a maestro our own- a maestro who built exemplary guideposts for the present and future generations to follow, for a way of life in Art.

My fondest memory of Banu Dada is the image of him walking into the Rabindra Mandap auditorium, dignified and elegant, dressed in a beige kurta, spotless white trousers, and white sandals. He would never deny an invitation to attend any function. And as he entered Rabindra Mandap, he would walk down the right aisle, blessing all those who bowed down to him in pranam before taking a seat in the front row, escorted by a few loving disciples. This memory is etched in my mind forever.

Guru Banamali Maharana inaugurating Antardrishti Festival
in memory of Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra

Guru Banamali Maharana
in Rabindra Mandap Auditorium, Bhubaneswar

Dada, you were so wonderful, loving, and caring. Your loss has left an irreplaceable vacuum in my life. I thank you Dada, because you made me a part of your life and your Mardala Academy, loved and cared for me as my uncle, respected me as a Mardala player and dancer, appreciated my work, and always blessed the Srjan family with your love and good wishes. Dada, you may not be here physically but your spirit and memory live on, till eternity and beyond.

Guru Banamali Maharana
with Srjan Ensemble

Guru Banamali Maharana & his granddaughter Shilpika Maharana
playing a jugalbandi in Mardala Academy's festival

In your heavenly abode, I am sure you will meet my father, and both of you will watch over us, as we humbly, and with your blessings carry forward the legacy that you have left with us.

Ratikant Mohapatra is the Artistic Director of Srjan, Bhubaneswar

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