Tribute Srihari Nayak devoted his life to popularise Chhau dance.

If the unmasked Chhau dance style of Mayurbhanj in Orissa has gained global recognition today, much credit should go to its celebrated exponent Srihari Nayak, who passed away in his home town of Baripada recently.

The Guru was 76 and was ailing for more than a year. Yet, his absence was felt heavily by the Chhau artistes' community, for, he was a guardian whom everyone looked to for guidance. His passing away created a permanent void, observed Laxmi Narayan Das, the best known scholar on the martial dance style that flourished under royal patronage of the kingdom of Mayurbhanj.

Guru Srihari took to dancing like a duck takes to water. In fact, kids in Baripada town, the erstwhile kingdom of Mayurbhanj and at present the district headquarter town, always took pride in being trained in Chhau dance that their forefathers used to practice for generations. However, unlike many who do it as a mere hobby, young Srihari took it as a passion and profession. He was so obsessed with dance that he even quit the secured job of a policeman and accepted the uncertain career of a dancer.

Teaching dance

His talent and reputation as a brilliant dancer fetched him a job as the faculty member at Utkal Sangeet Mahavidyalaya, Orissa's premiere college of performing arts, in Bhubaneswar from where he retired as the head of the Chhau dance department. And the placement at the state capital facilitated promotion of the hitherto regional dance form of Mayurbhanj to gain the attention of the Nation and even the rest of the world. He not only groomed a whole lot of young dancers but also performed frequently abroad that made the dance form familiar in far off Europe, erstwhile USSR, UK and USA.

“He has been a wonderful teacher, very patient and loving. And a wonderful dancer too. Nobody will ever dance Shiv tandava the way he used to do”, recollects Bhubaneswar-based Italian Odissi and Chhau dancer-choreographer Padma Sri Ileana Citaristi who was trained under the Guru.

Be it the character of the hunter or warrior Arjun, monkey-king Jambaban or the diplomat Krishna, he could comfortably come under the character, she added.

Though Chhau was the exclusive domain of male dancers, Mayurbhanj Chhau opened its gates for the females more than 15 years ago and one of the few exponents who advocated and facilitated entry of women into Chhau was Guru Nayak.

For his pioneering contribution to Chhau, he was conferred the Central and State Sangeet Natak Akademi Awards.