Madhavi and Arushi Mudgal on a classical odyssey

Odissi exponents Madhavi Mudgal and Arushi Mudgal  

The backstage of Central Lecture Theatre at IIT-M is cramped and cluttered. Long, thick wires are being pulled around while wooden benches are being arranged on the stage for the recital of senior Hindustani vocalist Pt. Vinayak Torvi, as part of Virasat, presented recently by SPIC MACAY in association with SRF Foundation and IIT Madras. Unruffled by the chaos, Odissi exponent Madhavi Mudgal, meets friends and admirers backstage with a warm smile after a two-hour performance with her talented young niece, Arushi Mudgal. She even agrees to be interviewed; quickly clearing the costumes lying around. She then calmly sits down to talk, wiping the sweat off her face, gently removing the beautiful silver filigree jewellery that she is wearing.

Someone who has performed often for SPIC MACAY (Society for the Promotion of Indian Classical Music And Culture Amongst Youth), the Delhi-based dancer realises the challenges of sustaining this voluntary movement and the need to take classical arts to educational institutions. “We created our own little green room here. Made arrangements for lights and put up wings on the bare stage. I wanted it to be a memorable classical performance experience, especially for students watching Odissi for the first time. It’s important to keep this one-of-its-kind crusade alive,” she says.

The aunt-niece duo brings to the stage a delightful blend of old-world charm and new age vibrancy. And together they exhibit a riveting wholeness. Madhavi’s long years of training under the inimitable performer-guru Kelucharan Mohapatra, her deep understanding of the idiom and mature perspective comes through in her dancing. “Unlike Bharatanatyam, in Odissi we do not have a vast repertoire. We don’t have a single Pallavi that is passed down traditionally. Apart from those that I learnt from my guru — they form the basis of my dance journey, I also began to choreograph my own abhinaya and nritta pieces. Some of them are abstract and some are excerpts from the epics and mythology,” explains Madhavi, whose Chennai performance included two of her creations, a solo ‘Basant’ (describing spring) and a Bhairavi Pallavi with Arushi that had a dhyana shloka from The Upanishads.



Both pieces seamlessly alternated between movement and stillness as they did between communicative expression and classicism. The dancers, through their agile bodies, conveyed the fluid language of the art form; their eyes, limbs, torso, waist and feet collectively establishing the emotional layers in the lyrics. Their faces flit from one mood to another. The sensuous curves, sculptural poses, delicate gestures, symmetrical movements, expansive circles and piercing lines that characterise the dance form were in full display.

Despite her contemporary sensibilities, Arushi, a student of her aunt, does not believe in tampering with the authenticity of the idiom. “As a little girl, I would sneak into the class when Kelubabu would be teaching Madhaviji and sit there completely mesmerised. Quite a bit of learning happened watching my aunt on and off stage. So what I have imbibed is her vision of the dance — unsullied by time and flavoured with tradition. Like her, I want to come up with pieces that are Odissi in essence. I don’t see any need to move away even if sponsors and organisers feel compelled to present something new,” says Arushi.

Coming from a family steeped in the classical arts, Madhavi initially learnt Kathak and Bharatanatyam. Her father Professor Vinay Chandra Maudgalya founded the renowned Gandharva Mahavidyalaya of Hindustani music and classical dance in New Delhi. Her brother Madhup Mudgal (Arushi’s father) is a well-known Hindustani vocalist, who composes music for her dance productions.

“When I decided to pursue Odissi, I used to travel to Kelubabu’s house in Cuttack or guruji would sometimes come to teach at our institution. The passion with which he taught strengthened my bond with the art. His influence went far and deep. Knowing fully well that it was impossible to replicate his journey, approach and his thought process, I, like many of his disciples, decided to make Odissi my life’s calling. And I have never regretted it for a moment,” avers Madhavi.

Madhavi Mudgal with her guruji Kelucharan Mohapatra

Madhavi Mudgal with her guruji Kelucharan Mohapatra  

Living at Kelubabu’s home-cum-school and learning in the guru-sishya parampara, Madhavi was exposed not just to the dance form but also to the culture of the region.

“The years spent with him were the most fulfilling. He was a composer, pattachitra painter, percussionist, choreographer and performer. So, the training was at multiple levels. Since he worked really hard to save the dance form from extinction, he was extremely generous as a teacher. He would happily share the stage with his students; making them an integral part of the creative process.”

Talking about Kelubabu, the soft spoken Madhavi suddenly sounds robust. She laughs when you mention it. “Because, he still fills me with energy and artistic spirit. If you tell me to describe a typical day in his life, it would be dance, dance and dance.”

Over the years, as Madhavi the dancer took to teaching and choreography, she realised how dance cannot be confined to a formula. “Art also cannot be self-indulgent; it should allow viewers, young seekers and collaborators space for their own thoughts.

“Not all the students who come to my institution may seek a future in Odissi. But I am happy to help them find their sense of harmony with the art and the world,” says Madhavi.



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Printable version | Apr 17, 2021 10:39:37 AM |

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