Accomplished dancers brought alive the tradition of Sambalpuri dance on stage.
After the spectacular success of the first ever Gotipua Dance Festival in November, the Department of Culture and Tourism, Odisha, mounted a Sambalpuri Dance and Music Festival and a Sankeertan (devotional choral music) festival that received rave response. The recently-concluded Pala and Daskathia (centuries old ballad arts exclusive to Odisha) festival in Bhubaneswar was the latest venture that put the spotlight on these ancient art forms.
The well planned and neatly executed three-day festival staged at the tastefully decorated Rabindra Mandap witnessed unprecedented turnout of connoisseurs despite the rainy weather. The festival featured three Dasakathia and six Pala presentations by professional troupes from across Odisha. While each evening commenced with a Dasakathia performance, it was followed by a Pala performance led by a lady exponent that compounded the excitement of the audience as women were never performers of this age-old traditional arts form. The most touching feature of the festival was the inclusion of physically challenged Pala exponent Kumudini Patel who received a standing ovation for her courage and her commitment to the art form.
As usual, all the presentations revolved round episodes from Ramayana and Mahabharata or inspired by mythical tales, though the narratives were amply interspersed with references to contemporary social issues. Humour and satire proved to be the most captivating elements in these concerts that dealt with interpretation of Sanskrit and Odia literature and songs sung to traditional Odissi tunes. While the Dasakathia troupes were confined to the tradition of two members — one leader and the other the follower — the Pala troupes varied in its numbers from five to seven.
Interestingly, all the three Dasakathia troupes were from the southern Odisha district of Ganjam that is known for its legacy in folk arts. It was touching to witness the presentation by 70-year-old Sudarsan Padhi, who impressed by dancing and singing defying his age. Excellent elaboration of the typical raagas and taalas of Odissi music was the hallmark of his concert. While Balakrushna Mishra’s presentation was neat, Rabinarayan Satapathy’s concert had an overdose of humour that often drifted the focus from the basic narrative.
Woman Pala exponent Santilata Sahoo from Jagatsinghpur district emerged as the find of the festival with her stylised singing and dancing in addition to excellent articulation of the emotions and actions of various characters in her plot on Hanuman. Similarly, Manorama Panda, the other woman Pala troupe leader from Nayagarh district, won hearts for retaining the traditional elements in the repertoire apart from her amazing ability to articulate theatrical dialogues with intense emoting. However, in Kumudini's presentation, we witnessed certain deviations and dilutions from the tradition in the dance patterns of both the woman accompanists and their costume.
The three well known male Pala exponents who were featured in the festival with their troupes — Judhistira Parija from Puri district, Madan Mohan Jena from Cuttack district and Laxman Charan Rout from Bhadrak district — lived up to expectations. Touching the hearts of the artistes, the festival honoured several old exponents of both the ballad arts traditions.