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The indomitable spirit of Nityananda

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DANCE IS HIS PASSION Odissi dancer Nityananda Das dancing his way straight into the audience's heart.
DANCE IS HIS PASSION Odissi dancer Nityananda Das dancing his way straight into the audience's heart.

LEELA VENKATARAMAN

Loss of one leg has not dampened the spirit of Nityananda Das who continues to dance on one leg - and brilliantly.

"Mookam Karoti Vaachaalam
Pangu langhayate Girim
Yat Krpa Tamaham Vande Paramaananda Madhavam"This Dhyanaslokam attributed to Madhusoodhana Saraswati, a Bengali commentator by some scholars and to the 14th Century Bhagavatam written by Atibadi Jagannath Das by the Oriyas, is a salutation to Lord Krishna whose grace can make the dumb eloquent and the cripple jump mountains. In other words for the man with faith and determination, the odds of life cannot be a deterrent.A living example of such indomitable will to persist in one's goals despite the most crippling of misfortunes, is Odissi dancer Nityananda Das - a dancer with a difference performing on just his left leg, the right having become prey to a cruel road accident. A not unfamiliar sight in Bhubaneswar, hopping along on one foot, persons watching his dance for the first time, start with a compassionate willingness to overlook drawbacks in one who has had a cruel deal in life. But after 15 minutes of watching, audiences soon realise that there is little need to patronise him for here is a dancer with enviable technique and rhythm, and innate ability for interpretative dance.Born on March 9, 1973 to a modest family in the village of Bidepur in Bhadrak district, Nityananda lost his father Rama Chandra Das in childhood. Mother Sumitra Das's upbringing predictably lacked home comforts and rigorous school education. Dance, like a magnet, always drew the boy who joined an Odissa Jatra party wherein acting and dancing became a way of life. His maiden performance was in 1985. In 1991 this talented youngster caught the eye of Odissi Guru Bimbadhar Das who took him under his wing. After completing his diploma course in Odissi at Chandigarh's Pracheena Kala Kendra, Nityananda got the opportunity for chiselling his art, rubbing off its rough edges, training at the Odissi Dance Academy Bhubaneswar. With an integrated art vision, the dancer also took to directing not just the Jatra theatre but also film and television, earning in successive years of 1997 and 1998, the best dance director award. Life seemed to be throwing into his lap the bounty of the Gods, when suddenly one fateful day, a hit-and-run road accident left him gasping for life. If well wishers had not chanced by to take him `like a broken doll' to hospital where a long stay finally ended with the right leg being amputated, Nityananda would perhaps not have lived to tell his tale. "We joined together to raise funds. But for help from many quarters, I do not know what would have happened" says Naba Kishor Mishra who as dancer, choreographer, martial art expert, script writer and one giving the ideational thrust for productions, has taken a lot of interest in Nityananda. In his institution Abartta, Nityananda has a home providing physical and artistic succour. "The Jatra Company has wound up and life is harsh for him." "Days after the accident I was drowning in self-pity. But my teacher Bimbadhar Das never lost hope, egging me on saying I could still fulfil my dream of dancing. "Practice on one leg" he said prescribing a few simple steps. I rehearsed them for long hours till I acquired complete balance in executing them. After six months, I went back to the guru and he began teaching me again. I do all the nritta standing and for the abhinaya, I sit on a stool and show both bhava and hastas. I have no bitterness towards destiny or the Gods. They have showered blessings on me. But for His will, where would I be?"

Intensely humble

Listening to Nityananda, makes one feel intensely humble, for given the advantages of whole bodies, we still grumble. After the mishap, Niyananda has won the O.M.C in 2001 and in 2003 the National Festival Baisakhi award. When one first watched the dance with the dancer falling and rising to fall yet again as he interpreted the lines from the Bhagavat (quoted above) in the sruti part of his Mangalacharan, one wondered if the programme was going to comprise only this tremendous overcoming of odds. But soon the dance blossomed and amazed with the rhythmic control and poise, the shapely torso deflections and the ability to pirouette and execute the bhramaris - all on one foot! As for the abhinaya, it is so full of feeling that it is impossible to watch without a lump in one's throat. Many in the audience at Rabindra Mandap wept.

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