After Kolkata, Delhi and Mumbai, if Bengaluru has emerged as a citadel of Odissi in recent years, then much of the credit goes to young Odissi dancer-trainer Madhulita Mohapatra, founder-director of the Bhubaneswar-based Nrityantar Academy of Performing Arts, who has made Bengaluru her home.

Barely four years ago, the Academy was founded with just four students of Odissi. Today it boasts of four branches across Bengaluru with 140 students. It hosts an annual national Odissi dance festival titled Naman featuring the best of Odissi dancers. It also holds at regular intervals workshops by exponents of Odissi like Aruna Mohanty, Sangeeta Dash, Ratikant Mohapatra, Sujata Mohapatra and Meera Das. In a short span, Nrityantar’s Odissi troupe has emerged as the most sought-after ensemble of Bengaluru’s cultural calendar.

Quality and not quantity matters for Madhulita, who works with a feverish zeal for promotion of Odissi. “I have been watching her presentations and students at various venues. The level of perfection in her students is of a high standard,” observed eminent Odissi exponent and Guru Aruna Mohanty, who watched Nrityantar’s presentations in Bhubaneswar and Bengaluru. Internationally acclaimed star-dancer Sujata Mohapatra who visited Nrityantar and conducted a workshop for its Odissi students emphasised, “Her ability to motivate the dancers and their parents to embrace Odissi in a region that is known for its affinity to Bharatanatyam is amazing. It is like sowing seeds of Odissi in the land of Bharatanatyam”.

As aptly observed by Sujata, Madhulita’s trainees include aspiring dancers from diverse age groups, professions and social strata. The age of the dancers vary from three-year-old Sinika (who gave a public performance in Bengaluru this year) to 50-year-old Jyoti, a doctor by profession. At least 40 of Madhulita’s students are homemakers who initially came to her dance classes escorting their children but eventually got enrolled as students themselves. Some of her students are from poor families of farmers and daily labourers whom she discovered through her outreach programmes in the schools in the suburbs of Bengaluru.

What made this dancer in her early 30s from Odisha’s Kalahandi district a missionary of Odissi in Karnakata? “I think I was destined to love and serve Odissi”, is her answer. It is an irony that Madhulita hailed from a region that is yet to have an Odissi teacher. Enamoured of the enchanting Sambalpuri folk dance of the region, she would disobey her strict father and would get beaten up for going to the dance class skipping her school homework. She had her first brush with Odissi dance at age 19 when she came to Bhubaneswar for her post graduation. “It was too late for me to begin but the inspiring words of my guru, Gangadhar Pradhan, made all the difference and it is for him that I am here today,” she acknowledges with gratitude and tears in her eyes for the late legendary Odissi guru and best known promoter of Odissi who had come to Bengaluru for the launching ceremony of Naman Odissi festival and had danced to inaugurate the event two months before his death.

“I wish my disciples spread the beauty of Odissi across the globe in a big way. But, it is my wish that they should reach out to the underprivileged who can’t afford to learn the dance style — these words of Guru Gangadhar Pradhan made Madhulita commit to the mission of propagate Odissi, disclosed the dancer who moved to Bengaluru after her marriage five years ago. “I was sad about leaving the land of Odissi and Guru Gangadhar Pradhan’s Odisha Dance Academy where I was being groomed. My husband suggested that I do something for Odissi in this city where he was posted as an IT professional. I then started informing people about my offer of Odissi dance training through leaflets, posters and banners. I also went to government schools in nearby suburbs and villages to introduce Odissi to the children. Constant effort gave me a positive response,” she recollects with a sense of content.