Recently honoured with the Devadasi National Award 2013, Odissi dancer Sujata Mohapatra talks of her devotion to her art and her guru.

Style, confidence, technical exactitude and creativity are embedded in Odissi dancer Sujata Mohapatra who wrecently conferred with the prestigious Devadasi National Award (2013) for Odissi at Bhubaneswar. One of the finest dancers of the present generation and recipient of the Sanjukta PanigrahiAward, the Mahari Award, and innumerable others, Sujata has been trained by the legendary Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra and epitomises the splendours of his style with ardent devotion. Excerpts from an interview:

What does this award mean to you? Has it come late?

I am very happy, honoured and proud to receive this award because there is so much glory in it, specially as it is for Odissi and has come from Odisha. I never think my time is going away and am not bothered whether I get something early or late. I accept it happily at the time I get it. I got it because I am good and deserve it.

Whom do you owe this to?

I definitely owe this to my guru, Kelucharan Mohapatra. He is my biggest and strongest pillar to make me reach this level. I am also thankful to my mother who may be a smaller pillar but is the first pillar and root of my life. I started with my mother and ended with Guruji. In between I learnt from Gurus Sudhakar Sahoo, Lingaraj Behera Raghunath Dutta but in the end I met Guruji and I didn’t switch over to anyone; I felt this is my destiny. Guruji’s contribution to my success as a disciple and daughter-in-law was very tender. I was in Odissi Research Centre learning under him and from the very beginning he had a liking for me. I always feel that my “shradhha” and the way I loved him helped me very much. I didn’t know that he wanted to make me his family member. From that day I realised that even though he has imparted his knowledge to all of his shishyas, he also wanted that from his home we should be capable of giving his knowledge in the right way.

What do you mean by the right way?

See, being Kelucharan Mohapatra’s daughter-in-law I might think that whatever I do, people would accept me. But it’s not like that! Guruji wanted that you identify yourself by your own qualities, having him as a support, as guru and as a father-in-law. If it is family support then there are definitely advantages as well as disadvantages. The advantages are that such a big name is associated with you. For example if there are 10 people in the jury where your application goes, there will a bit more focus on yours as the daughter-in-law of Kelucharan Mohapatra than others. The disadvantage is that if you do not live up to that expectation of the name, you are gone So it works both ways.

Did you get special training?

I can say (it was) a bonus in a way. Students would come and stay in our house to learn, and after a couple of days they would go away. But I stayed there permanently and would learn with whoever came to learn, but never went away with them. I continued, perfected and digested whatever I learnt in front of the expert eyes of the person who was the “Father-Architect” of this dance form and that too my guru.

In a way he gave you special attention....

I can say yes, indirectly, but never in a class. He gave attention to everyone but more to the weaker students and simultaneously would keep an eye on others so that they didn’t do anything wrong. I would practise with whoever came to learn an item and that way my skills got well polished in the grind. Dance needs regular riyaaz — sadhana. My experience in learning and watching Guruji perform, combined with my inner understanding, made me a dancer, a strong person and an artiste. I have been learning and simultaneously teaching from a very young age and that helped me a lot later in life Through teaching I am sharing and showing — this is Guruji’s work.

Any quality of Guruji which is hardly known?

Guruji had done a lot of research on bhangis. When he used to draw them, I would normally be at home and he used to call me “Ma come here, tuck your sari and stand in this pose — bas!” He had done a lot of work on my body as a dancer — like twisting, how to give a sculpturesque feel and what should be the emotion. I remember once I went with him to Konark temple and on the walls there was a nayika in an arrogant pose. Stones don’t speak, but sensitive people like Guruji understand the mime expressions of the sculpture. Guruji said “Sujata, see this bhangi, I have used this in some of my abhinaya pieces. Can you recognise and tell me what this is?” I replied that I think have not learned this item but I have seen you doing this in an ashtapadi. “Yes you are right,” he replied. “It was in ‘Kuruyadunandana’ in the last pose when I sit as the Swadhinabhartika nayika. See the way the body has tilted in the sitting position which has given it the arrogance of the nayika who has full command over the nayaka.”

Did he teach you from the temple carvings?

Yes, but not always. He took me to Konark, Mukteshwar, Raja-Rani temple. Sometimes others used to go also. Particularly he mentioned the poses when he taught an item. He remembered which wall, which wheel has what carvings, what poses, as he had done a lot of research on poses in temple carvings and justified poses like “Biroma”, “Chibukamandana” and others through dance. So with all this knowledge I need to develop my work with determination, dedication, discipline and precision.