If Odissi dance has gone global despite its very Indian roots, the credit goes to none other than the inimitable guru Kelucharan Mohapatra. While most great peoplewho have passed away leave behind a memory, here is a dance guru who has surpassed his mortal coils; he continues to live in each one of his disciples world over.
Today, he has left a rich, unfathomable legacy behind in the form of Srjan, a repository of Odissi nritya where hundreds of dance aspirants take their first footsteps in Odissi classical repertoire only to make big strides in time to come. Srjan, true to its name, is creativity touched by the artistic hands of a master sculptor who breathed life into his creations for decades with a missionary zeal. Srjan started in a modest way as a repository for Odissi dance (nrityabasha) but has spread like the banyan tree, with its shelter reaching wide.
You enter a heritage structure in Bhubaneshwar and the first thing you encounter is a stone edifice in the form of a temple housing a set of deities. The aura that surrounds the adjacent building which is the home of Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra and his family which still lives there is something inevitable to the most sceptical soul. It is not just a home to the guru or his family but a home to all the disciples who migrate there to learn Odissi nritya. Pictures of the Guru in various dance postures, pictures of his celebrity disciples, family photographs — all mounted on stands and walls — make it a veritable museum of old memories! And no big surprise that this house passed on from venu to ghungroo, from Hariprasad Chaurasia to guruji, says Sujatha Mohapatra.
Yes, unlike other gurus, Kelucharan Mohapatra did not envisage an institution of brick and mortar. Every brick of this huge home vibrates with the jingling bells of dancing feet; it is a gurukul of sorts. Nothing ostentatious strikes you as expected of a guru of his stature; it is a huge but humble abode of art. It has created many Samjukta Panigrahis, Minati Hemmadis, Madhusmithas, many Ileanas and many more are being created by the day. A family living by art, breathing art and devoted to nothing but art - this is the ideal household of Guru Kelucharan. Guru ma (his illustrious wife Laxmipriya, the first woman Odissi dancer and stage actor) is still there contently watching over her son Ratikanth Mohapatra teaching and choreographing aesthetic ballets, daughter-in-law Sujata Mohapatra devotedly inculcating dance and performing, grand-daughter Pritisha being moulded into a fine performer too, under the able guidance of her father and mother.
Says Ratikanth presently director of Srjan, “Guruji was a man of vision despite his modest upbringing. He was an ace performer the likes of which we will never come to witness again. He was a guru par excellence. It was his patachitrakar (painter) origin, his percussion expertise, his stage acting vocation and his learning the gotipua dance that sharpened his artistic abilities. His observation of minute details in nature and science, in temple structures and art forms spilled into his creations and that made Odissi a unique dance style. We can only strive to realise his dream; we cannot replace him either by way of performance or teaching.”
“To me, guruji was a father not a father-in-law and above all a divine manifestation in the form of guru. I consider it my only aim in life to pass on this art in the purest form that he taught me and others like me to the next generation coming up under the Srjan umbrella and every performance of mine is his blessing come alive,” says Sujata with utter devotion. The couple are qualified teachers of Odissi along with other faculty.
Guruji’s objectives have not gone unrealised. Srjan is now a brand name in pure Odissi. The two halls with wooden flooring within its abode is home to nearly 100 pupils with nearly 30 foreign students getting enrolled every year. The entire course is spanned across six diligent years and trains for diploma in Odissi dance recognised under the Chandigarh University and Orissa Sangeet Natak Academy. It runs summer workshops during May-June apart from special courses for short duration students. The video archives and library are assets for research candidates. The just concluded Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra Award Festival speaks volumes of the strides that Srjan has taken, by way of its home productions which are statements of art and aesthetics and its veneration of the veterans in the field of performing arts.