Despite glitches, the dance and music festivals at temple complexes in Bhubaneswar brought together Odisha’s performing arts and architectural legacies

The romance of Odisha’s performing arts with the historic legacy of its architectural marvels is never ending. Spurring one of the earliest Odissi festivals is the site of the Mukteswar temple, the 10th Century marvel, with the exquisite elegance of its sculpted gateway or ‘torana’ and caved ceiling. With the evening dew making the performance floor a slippery death trap for dancers and the over-bright illumination to accommodate DD Bharati’s live telecast of the three-day festival pushing the edifices of the temple complex to a darker hinterland, the festival confronts the Tourism Department with its own organisational challenges.

The programme each evening, after a choral invocatory curtain raiser prayer sung to Shiva, comprised a solo recital, a duet and a group presentation, in that order. Of the invocations, Utkal Sangeet Mahavidyalaya’s effort was thwarted by the high decibel level of drums and poor sound balancing, while Shantanu Kumar Mohapatra’s group needed more spirited singing. The best effort was by the group led by Prafulla Kar, “Bhajare maanasa Shaiva padam” sung in raga Mohanam interspersed with crisp solfa syllabic passages, the singing and accompaniment well coordinated.

Solo renditions had the incomparable Sujata Mohapatra, whose recital, given all its elegant perfection, was designed sans any abhinaya accent. The Ravana Shiva Stuti in the mangalacharan — choreographed by Kelucharan Mohapatra to the music of Bhubaneswar Misra — notwithstanding the sensuous grace of Sujata’s movements, needed more of the definitive tandav rigor. The dance tone, also guided by the melody of the verses sung in Bhatiali, automatically invested a lasya flow to the sahitya. Set to Ektali, the Bageshri pallavi, Raghunath Panigrahi’s score, choreographed by Ratikant Mohapatra, was danced with flair, the dancer’s enjoyment in the movements palpable.

Whether it was the sound playing hide and seek that made for poor singing — as Sangeeta Dash seemed to make a less-than-sure entry on to the stage in the Shiva stotram eulogising Neelakantha Shiva — is difficult to assert. But this talented senior dancer’s choreography could include more of the danced element in the rather sketchy narrative of Vishnu as Mohini, craftily denying the demons ensnared by her beauty their share of the nectar churned from the oceans, with everything distributed to the devas. Interwoven into the choreography was Rahu’s pursuit of the moon, which finds shelter in Shiva’s locks. “Mohane deli Chahigo”, the Banamali Das lyric set to Keerwani, portraying Radha describing to her friend that magical moment when she first sighted Krishna, had all the interpretative stillness Sangeeta is known for. But one looked for an item presented less often.

Naba Kishore Misra’s “Chandra Udbhasita Shekhara” had a bristling quality set by the sabda-swara-patha style recitation, as composed by Sukant Kumar Kundu for the mangalacharan. The dancer’s excessively made up face, under the heavy lights, looked like a mask. He needs to go for a more natural look, particularly for an item which is his favourite, like “Kaivata Prasang”, based on Upendra Bhanja’s “Baidehi Bilas”, visualising Guha the boatman’s interaction with Rama, set to Bageshri in Jatitaal and Ektaal.

Impressive duets

The riveting part of the daily programmes were the duets. Rising far above the others were the festival highlights Debashish Pattnaik and Niladri Bhusan Mohanty, disciples of Durgacharan Ranbir. The clarity of movement, the sheer verve and bodily control of reed-slim figures, with excellent understanding between the two performers, make this pair scintillating. Ramahari Das’ Keerwani pallavi with Dhaneshwar Swain’s rhythmic contribution and Durgacharan’s choreography could not have asked for a better visualisation than by these two strong male dancers. The way Neelakantha Shiva was shown and Shankara’s Shivashtakam in Bhairvai and Ektali was rendered by this duo had a magnetic quality that held audience attention.

Lingaraj Pradhan and Sanjukta Dutta’s duet had the practised ease of long togetherness. The nritta in Hamsakalyani (courtesy Ramahari’s music, Dhaneshwai Swain’s rhythm and Bichitrananda Swain’s dance translation) was well-rendered. This was followed by Shankaracharya’s Shiva-Parvati shlokam, the lasya-tandava contrasts emerging with grace despite the too loud and shrill Hamsadhwani music and drum.

Rashmi Raj and Viswabhushan Mohapatra began with the everlasting popularity of the Shankarabharanam pallavi, legacy of the late Kelucharan Mohapatra. The graceful ribcage movements of the dancers and the melodic recitation of ukkutas by the mardal player were the highlights for this critic. The Shiva Shankara stotra choreographed by the late Gangadhar Pradhan, paying homage to the “Divya Kundala Haara”, was rendered with good understanding.

Groups

Amongst the groups, by far the best was the Odissi Dance Academy presenting “Katha Odissi” with thematic research by Kedar Misra, though fewer dancers and less crowding of the performance space would have made movement lines stand out better. It told the Odissi story, with the mahari doing “Bansi keshi hela shanka chakra”, with the delightful little boys doing Gotipua, with glimpses of Geeti Natya influence and other traditions bringing it up to the Odissi of today, with the male dancer dancing in his own right without female disguise, with the pallavi composition and moksha. The narrative was extremely well-knit. The group managed despite the dew-drenched floor. Nazya Alam’s voice was not at its best, though Rupa Kumar Parida sang well. The rasas evoked through the Ramayana episodes, while well done, could do without Rama’s mirth at the defaced Shoorpanakha. Why not use the monkey scene for evoking hasya?

Poushali Mukherjee’s group from Kolkata provided no specially upbeat moments, rendering its package of Kalika Stuti “Jaya Jaya Jaya Janani Devi”, Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra’s “Sita Swayamvara” based on Upendra Bhanja’s work, and Malhar pallavi of Debashish Sirkar visualising Varsha images. Poushali herself provided manjira support.

Vitalina Lobach and Group from Russia (disciples of Srjan and Sujata Mohapatra), who performed the last evening, showed how foreigners are now healthily accepted performing in temple precincts. A brave effort, though the enthusiastic dancers need to evolve more.

East meets South

That Odisha’s aggressive festival blitz has enhanced art awareness can be gleaned from the sizeable audience at the Rajarani temple (named after the Raja Raniya stone used for the edifice) for the East-meeting-South twin offer of Odissi and Carnatic music serenading the Kalinga style 11th Century creation. The “Darbari Gayan” stage ambience in dusk softly brought out the mystic romance of the temple’s sculpted feminine figures in attitudes of love dalliance, leisurely languor and motherly affection. As Shyamamani’s 72-year-old voice in crystal clear robustness sang the glory of Krishna through Banamali Das prabandha, champu and naatyanga, the poetic imagery of the “Taro Chaai ki Chhabi” sent goose pimples down the spine. Ensnaring the large gathering was Mandolin Srinivas’ Hamsadhwani “Vatapi Ganapatim” and Tyagaraja’s “Endaro Mahanubhavulu” in Sri raga with the crowning glory of the ragam-taanam-pallavi in Simhendramadhyamam with a bristling concluding Sai bhajan in Revati in Tisra nadai. But can we not have the Mandolin sweetness evoking rare quietude sans the contact mike?

Untouched by age, Balamuralikrishna’s voice covering all three octaves drew rapturous applause in the four notes of Lavangi in his composition “Omkarakarini”.

Added surprises were the whistling musician Galamurali accompanying the singer’s own composition “Avatarana Margadarshini” in Kantamani raga and Tyagaraja’s Hindolam “Saamaja varagamana.” The maestro’s own tillana in Kadanakutoohalam offered excellent scope to the fine violinist Peri Sri Ramamurthy and, above all, mridangist DSR Murthy with his biting clarity of rhythm. The last evening saw a huge crowd to listen to L. Subramaniam and wife Kavita Krishnamurthy.