This year’s Guru Kelucharan Award Festival in Bhubaneswar was dedicated to the late Raghunath Panigrahi

In a strange historical twist, the tribute to a stalwart dance guru also became homage to a just departed musical genius, as Srjan’s annual Kelucharan Mohapatra Award festival, meticulously mounted at the Rabindra Mandap of Bhubaneswar, was dedicated to Pandit Raghunath Panigrahi. It was very fitting, for Odissi in the last half a century has recorded some of its most treasured moments with Guru Kelucharan’s unmatched creative prowess as choreographer and mardal player, with music composed and sung by Raghunath Panigrahi, with the dance visualisation by the likes of legendary Sanjukta Panigrahi and other disciples.

With a vocalist like Jatin Kumar Sahu whose totally evolved singing of Raghunath Panigrahi’s musical compositions did full justice to being groomed under this guru “who loved his Gods and celebrated them”, as stated by dancer Bijayini Satpathy of Nrityagram, “Shivashtakam” in the majestic stillness of frozen moments and abandon with control in the dance movements, was proof of this dancer’s unbelievable command over her body. Shiva, ferocious and benign in turns, kept the audience spellbound in her performance. As for the nritta, “Ritu Vasanth”, Raghunath’s creation with Surupa Sen’s choreography, evoked in the performance of Bijayini the enchantment of mood in pure movement, weaving mesmeric circles — the instrumental support completely in tune with the dancer — Shivshankar Satpathy’s mardal in the interlacing of soft and strong tones, Srinivas Satpathy’s delightful flute and Sanjiv Kumar’s sensitive violin touches. Raghunath Panigrahi would move people to tears with his rendition of the Odiya song “Manasijamana Mohana”, portraying the sakhi conveying to Radha the urgency of Krishna’s longing for her. His desire quickens and blooms like the quivering petals of the slowly opening tender bud which remind him of her. Perhaps a less sprightly, and more leisurely, treatment by Bijayini would have done greater justice to the evocative nature of Krishna’s quickening love.

Deepak Maharaj in his Teen tala upaj, aamad and in his very fast yet unfailingly clear padhant enunciation and rhythm was most impressive, the clear toned ankle bell sounds indicative of laya mastery. His ladhi ‘Takitakitadhin’ has always been a strong point. The “Na dhin dhin na” footwork, while impeccably correct, failed to have the usual effect, because the dancer in his too fast paced rendition from start to finish lost out on giving the softer touches to the nritta aspect. The ginti tihai and all the Badal and Bijli with the peacock gat, had their moments but with the inevitable comparison with his father Pandit Birju Maharaj, there is always an obstacle for the dancer. While he is certainly evolving in rhythm, the dancer’s bhav aspect missed the same level. The virtuosity of a malleable face and eyebrows which can be raised singly needs to be used with discretion so that the total impact is not lost. The opening Ardhanariswar invocation with all the bodily tandav/lasya contrast required more refined abhinaya. So too was the thumri “Tori mein na maanoongi” in need of more nuanced mukhabhinaya, though the singing by the dancer himself at the start was impressive and showed that this part of his art has certainly grown. He had reliable support in Pran Chaturlal’s tabla and Anirvan Bhattacharya’s vocal support with Misra on sarangi and Swapneshwar on sitar.

Bharatanatyam dancer Rama Vaidyanathan’s Mayur Alarippu set the tone for a spirited recital. The Swati Tirunal keetanam “Pannagendra Shayana” through the Shankarabharanam, Kambodi, Neelambari, Bhairavi, Todi, Suratti, Nadanamakriya and Bhoopalam passages, was an involved rendering, the nayika’s declaration of passion and devotion for the Lord Padmanabha coloured by quickly changing moods. The cool breeze and chirping birds seem to torment her in the absence of the Lord and even as friends ridicule her, she begs the compassionate Lord to make her his. Unlike the earlier treatment, the dancer has worked on this marathon item and fine tuned it. The majestic grandeur of the elephant-like walk of the Lord was imaginatively captured. While the solfa passages saw well set movements, the sudden freezing on the sama on the line “Pannagendra’’, for this critic had mixed resonance, at times dramatically effective and at others less so. The Kalyani Purandaradasa composition “Saddumaadalu Bedavo”, with the nayika snatching away Krishna’s flute, from producing mesmerising tones invading people’s sleep and generally distracting them from their work, was well visualised in the light-hearted interpretative treatment. It was an intelligent move to have as finale,just one line “Jeevaha Shivaha Shivo Jeevaha” enlarged into several images with the repetitive line tapering away into silence. K. Venkateswaran’s excellent vocal accompaniment was a feature with Shiva Kumar’s nattuvangam. Arun Kumar’s mridangam and Biju Sivanand’s violin were equally supportive.

The last evening’s Odissi by Srjan in the dance drama “Geetamritam”, a reworked effort of an earlier composition by Guru Kelucharan with the music of Raghunath Panigrahi and Bhubaneswar Misra with added scores by Satyabrata Katha and music arrangements by Tarakant Panda was a truly professional effort, with eleven dancers in painstakingly rehearsed symmetry and coordination with additional choreographic insights by Ratikant Mohapatra. The aesthetic light blue and white costuming in Odissi style with characterisation depending only on the dancing, with excellent light effects, could not have been better. The only drawbacks, if one can call them so, came for the purists in the inflated body provided to the otherwise classical music with the mardala given full space, through the synthesiser and bass guitar — the transgression from strict solo convention perhaps allowed in a dance drama. The choreographic image as Krishna and Arjun entered in the ratha with the horses was superb in design. The dancers led by Rajashri Behera as Krishna and Bijayalaxmi Satpathy as Arjun were all proficient, though one would have liked the first dancer, while explaining through movement the nature of the imperishable soul and Krishna’s place in this Universe, to be given a raised platform, which would have created the impression of a taller physical presence — particularly beside a strong tall dancer like Bijayalaxmi as Arjun.

The music part of the festival had its most classical components first in tabla maestro Pandit Nayan Ghosh’s leisurely expansion of Teen tala with the arithmetical combinations of 3,4,5,7,9 and his compositions of the great ustads of Farukabad, Delhi, Ajrada and Lucknow gharanas, and next in the Hindustani vocal concert of Pandit Ulhas Kashalkar, his Behag in its Khayal expansion unforgettable, with Pandit Suresh Talwalkar on the tabla. Purbayan Chatterjee on the sitar on raga Nand in the alap, jodh and jhala held the audience spellbound. Though Pandit Ronu Majumdar’s fusion music has its many admirers, and his influences range from the Maihar gharana to Mozart, with collaborations with George Harrison, Phillip Glass and many others, the recital, along with a fine set of musicians on pianica, drums, and tabla, though it had its moments, was clearly over-stretched. And generally one wonders why instrumentalists have a weakness for singing every now and then when few sing as well as they play.

Full marks to Ratikant’s organisational abilities!