“Samsmaranam”, presented in Bhubaneswar by disciples of Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra ten years after his demise, highlighted the vast range and contribution of the Odissi pioneer

It was an intimate three-day festival “Samsmaranam”, a decade after Kelucharan Mohapatra left this world, mounted by Srjan in conjunction with Art Vision at the Rabindra Mandap, Bhubaneswar. Disciples from all over gathered to relive the magic of those halcyon days with the late guru. Typical of the organisational capabilities of son Ratikant Mohapatra, the lobby of Rabindra Mandap greeted one with an excellent photographic exhibition of the guru’s life — portraying his warm relationship with family and students and interactions with the great in the world of art, politics and what have you, the pictures speaking loudly of the sheer joy of life and humility of this unforgettable genius. Wisely, no VIP presence with lamp-lighting formalities intruded into the in-house ambiance of an event offering homage to one who lit the lamp of life through his own deeds.

The 10th anniversary of Samsmaranam — fittingly — featured as the curtain-raiser Kumkum Mohanti, the senior-most living disciple, whose close ties with the guru (who composed the maximum number of compositions for her) no student can rival. Yashoda’s motherly love and exasperation with child Krishna dodging sleep in “Brajaku Chora” in Anandabhairavi (composed in 1981) began with Kumkum embracing the photograph of the guru on stage as loved being. While her interpretation of the lyric had expertise, one doubts her guru’s approval of the sloppy aharya — an ill-fitting costume pinned clumsily, and hairdo weighed down by jooda and flowers, with tahia falling off at least three times.

Senior Kolkata dancer Aloka Kanungo, whose presence and well-preserved figure are a lesson for other dancers, in the ‘Kha’ champu “Khelalola Khanja Nakhi” in the line “Kharap tu helu re” wherein the sakhi chides and makes fun of Radha for aspiring for Krishna’s love, giving the analogy of one playing with a serpent and asking to be bitten, notwithstanding underplayed abhinaya, was convincing.

Reena Jana in presence and dance style certainly resembles Sanjukta Panigrahi from whom she learnt. But she must curb her over enthusiastic bounce and jerk, particularly while constantly changing levels which distracted from the Behag pallavi. Sharon Lowen’s pleasant interpretation of the ashtapadi “Sakhi he” triggered nostalgic memories of the time when this was composed for Kumkum (1967) by the guru. Of the two male dancers, Panchanan Bhuyan performing Bhubaneswar Misra’s Keerwani pallavi (again choreographed for Kumkum in 1981), showed, despite a broadened stance and amplitude in movements, sound technique, though again, the jumps need to be less effusive. The other male dancer Rajib Bhattacharya (attending occasional classes of Ratikant Mohapatra), in the Kalyan pallavi lacked the chauka half-seated square posture — the entire presentation done standing almost erect.

Veteran gurus who trained under Kelucharan like Ramani Ranjan Jena and the now very senior Minati Mishra, demonstrated their homage to the maestro. Both presented mangalacharan, Ramani Ranjan Jena rendering “Manikka Veena” composed in the mid-’60s for Sonal Mansingh by Kelucharan. Minati Mishra with Ghanashyam Panda’s vocal support on tape presented Jagannath Ashtakam. The broad chauka she presented is now no more seen in Odissi.

Stage presence and grace are Sharmila Mukherjee’s plus points, though less of the overplayed smile would have enhanced impact of the Mohana pallavi rendition. For sheer poetic grace and aharya elegance, it was hard to beat Madhavi Mudgal’s rendering of “Prana Sanginire”, first sung by Balakrushna Das, the item composed for her in 1976 by Kelucharan. Presenting a lyric very significant in Odissi history (first danced by Laxmipriya, who made it so popular) “Nahike kari Dela,” Kumkum Lal acquitted herself creditably. Daksha Mashruwala’s “Ahe Neela Shaila” was involved.

There were surprises in presentations. Sujata Mohapatra’s rivetting “Ardhanarishwara” (composed for late Sanjukta by the guru in 1977), given the perfection of technique, stillness of dance and incredible grace of this dancer, bettered her own previous bests.

Rahashri Praharaj showing impeccable technique and stature in the Hamsadhwani pallavi presentation revealed a fast evolving dancer. As for Preetisha Mohapatra, Ratikant’s daughter, she is a natural with signs of excelling mother Sujata Mohapatra’s Odissi, if she evolves the way she should.

Devi Basu’s “Patha Chhadide”, Pranati Mohanty’s “Tolagi Gopadanda Manare Kaliya” and Itishree’s “Dheera Sameere” were all convincing performances. Presenting an ashtapadi like “Kuru Yadunandana” which Guru Kelucharan epitomised through his renditions, Dona Ganguly did creditably well. Those dangling earrings distracted both dancer and viewer.

Meera Das, Guruji’s disciple at the Odissi Research Centre for years, presented her own group creations under the aegis of Gunjan Dance Academy. The history of princess Meera’s love for Krishna, narrated through a stringing together of known lyrics rendered by famous personalities like “Mara Ji Giridhara Gopala”, “Pada Ghunguru” and other popular songs, with interwoven nritta passages composed by Dhaneswar Swain, while not very demanding in terms of artistic imagination, however, in a very simple, involved rendition by Meera, and students who combined well, made for evocative presentation. The nritta item with the students performing in a group was neatly coordinated. The obvious talent in Meera should now concentrate on more challengingly creative ventures.

The morning sessions with Odissi music without which no dance is possible, were a wise move. Guru Satchidananda Das, (whose fashioning as a mardal player was entirely under Kelucharan whose own mardal playing made the percussion recite, sing and dance with a wizardry unmatched) delighted the modest but involved gathering with his play for about 35 minutes — showing how tonal music could be created through changing accents in a “Dha Tin Nda Ta Ri, Ki, Ta” — reciting arasas and demonstrating all technical sequences like khandi, gadi, mana, bani, etc. Ramesh Chandra Das’ violin, while tuneful in rendering “Shyamaku Juharo” and the Jhoolan lyric, took the accent away from Kelucharan and Bhubaneswar Misra, while presenting his very talented son who also played very well.

Bijay Kumar Jena who accidentally stepped into Raghunath Panigrahi’s place in 1982, when the late singer could not make it to a performance, was discovered by Kelucharan. In what was an excellent Odissi music of classical vintage, what was again missing was the accent on Kelucharan compositions. Youngsters of both Srjan and Art Vision, with Ileana conducting the session, demonstrated Kelucharan’s art in transmission, with an impeccably rendered mangalacharn by Preetisha, followed by batu by Reebdhita Barua and Atmaja Bhaduri and Arabhi pallavi by Bharati Kashish and Divya Subakar.

Next morning’s weepy session caught disciples and friends reminiscing on moments spent with the guru, with Kumkum Mohanty providing hilarious diversion through her inimitable mimicry of Guruji and Guruma.

Art Vision’s “Mahanadi”, with group choreography by Ileana, extolling the virtues of the great river, was executed with deeply involved performances.

The closing highlight by the Srjan group, “Samakala”, a musical fusion with no specific ragas or talas, contrary to this critic’s fears, was an outright hit.

In training youngsters and forging them into a well combined unit for group performances, Ratikant’s work is exceptional. Dancing quality left little to be desired with fine group arrangements and aesthetics revealed even in costuming. The abstract second half interpreting textual material (score/singing by Laxmikant Palit) pertaining to the highly esoteric philosophy of Shankaracharya’s “Bhaja Govindam” followed by the formlessness of the Absolute (Aham nirvikalpa nirakara roopa) and the integrated oneness of the Universe expressed in the verses “Poornamadah poornamidam...” was very imaginatively conveyed in the group visualisation. Kudos to Srjan!