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Updated: October 3, 2011 17:19 IST

In her guru's footsteps

Ranee Kumar
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Odissi performer Sujatha Mohapatra. Photo: V. Ganesan
The Hindu Odissi performer Sujatha Mohapatra. Photo: V. Ganesan

Sujatha Mohapatra is an extension of late Kelucharan Mohapatra's dance philosophy.

Today, she sets the benchmark by which Odissi dance can be judged by anyone who is fortunate to view her performance just once. That is Sujatha Mohapatra for you. Call it the grace-centric body kinetics or the clarity in footwork or the fluidity in expression, every move in Sujatha pulsates with a divine life force. Yes and this is what sets her apart from the entire tribe of present-day performers.

Meet her and you will find that the person is but an extension of the dancer. Devotion to her art is her forte and all personal choices revolve round this single feature in her life. “My core being is dance. There's nothing more that I would like to do. It's indeed a blessing that this girl from Balasore (indicating herself) was destined to be the disciple-daughter-in-law of the greatest maestros of our time, Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra. Now that ours is a dancing family with Shibu (Ratikanth, her husband) and my daughter Preetisha, my mother-in-law (erstwhile dancer), my passion has also turned into a missionary zeal, viz. to keep the flag flying high. The great treasure trove of dance has been bestowed upon us by my guru and we have to safeguard this. It is a dance gharana and a dance khazana. It has to be passed on to the next generation in all its purity. It was his dream and it's mine too,” she says with earnestness.

How did she chance upon such a great guru when she actually belonged to distant Balasore? “My mother Kumudini Mohanty was my first guru. I had to come to Cuttack to do my Masters in Oriya literature. The Odissi Research Centre at Cuttack drew my attention. My turning point in life came when I happened to meet Guruji at the centre through Kumkum Mohanty. I was lucky to get a Central scholarship and joined Guruji for Odissi dance.

I vividly remember his words on the very first day of my entry as I touched his feet, he said, “yei kaali (meaning dark one) where are you from?” and on hearing my native town, he commented that ‘Balasore people were not good.' That very moment, I vowed to myself that I would prove him wrong.

In the very first class, I knew that here was an impeccable man, a great guru and a magnetic performer for whom I would willingly lay down my life. I wanted to serve him with dedication and devotion and it was as if the Gods had heard me. I consider myself lucky that while his other students had access to him for the few hours of their class, I could be with him 24 hours a day. I observed every move of his, every habit, his personal choices, his nature and each made me admire him and worship him. In a word, he was a guru who could mould anyone into a dancer. All that was needed was discipline, determination and diligence,” her eyes speak all that her tone expresses.

One's admiration only increases as Sujatha opens up. Today, she is a full-fledged dancer who has done umpteen trips abroad and over the country. Sujatha has imbibed his natural ease, his emotional potency to get under the skin of the character she portrays, his graceful but precise moves, his classicality and what more his intense devotion to dance.

“Not just these, I have watched him teach with patience. I was told he was a task master but with me, I think I got slapped only once for showing a wrong mudra to a set of students in class. I took it in the most positive manner. The wrong, if not nipped in the bud, would reflect in 20 others who would carry it forward to another such number. He was the most affectionate father to us at all times. In my total surrender to him, I have got back God in human form! I feel his protective hand even now, whenever I perform. If I am hailed as a good dancer, it all goes to him there,” she points out heavenwards.

She cites an instance to underline her immense faith in her Guru. “I was to perform at Mumbai on the theme of nayaka and I chose Lord Rama. My performance was pitted against young handsome male dancers from Kalakshetra. I prayed in earnest to my Guruji to make me into Rama for one hour on stage and went ahead to do my dance. Yes, he answered me. It was like I came out of my reverie with the standing applause thundering all over me. What more could I ask?” she questions sweetly.

Sujatha is a woman of calibre, gentle yet strong, adaptable yet with courage of conviction, not swayed over by either adulation or neglect, but steady in her purpose. “I am focused and in order to work for the end which my guru envisaged, I know it involves lot of sacrifice on the personal front. But then, the goal is set and all else has to fall in line ,” she says with conviction.

She is busy teaching at Srjan and has also opened a dance school ‘Guru keerti Srjan' in Balasore. She stays put in Bhubaneswar but invitations keep pouring in to perform elsewhere. Her friends often ask her how she manages these reputed programmes; all she says is, “God is my PRO!”.

Keywords: Odissi dance

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