Sujata Mohapatra’s dance of ecstasy
Sujata Mohapatra on how Odissi derives its sensuous and lyrical beauty from ‘Gita Govinda’
Krishna, Jayadeva and Kelubabu...these three purush make up Odissi exponent Sujata Mohapatra’s creative vision. “I don’t merely see them as purush. They are the reason I dance. They inspire; allow me to experience the spiritual and philosophical essence of the art. They exemplify qualities that have made the dance form sensously poetic,” says the Bhubaneshwar-based dancer.
One of the foremost disicples of Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra, she trained under the celebrated maestro for 18 years. Sujata has not only imbibed his style but also performs his choreographic works, especially verses of the ‘Gita Govinda’, across the world.
Stories of Krishna make up much of Odissi’s repertoire. The revered 12th Century poet-composer Jayadeva penned the ‘Gita Govinda’ (songs of Krishna), also referred to as Ashtapadi, as an offering to Lord Jagannath of Puri. Its 12 chapters and 24 songs or prabandhas, each containg eight couplets carry nuanced descriptions in Sanskrit of the celestial union between Krishna and Radha.
“The uniqueness of this sacred work is its definite melodic pattern. Jayadeva has also mentioned ragas and talas for the songs,” points out Sujata.
“It’s not just an epic of love as commonly perceived. Physical charm and man-woman relationship have been used as metaphors for a deeper understanding of love, devotion and absolute submission. It is about the atma-paramatma connect. Krishna in ‘Gita Govinda’ is someone who gives joy to the gopis, which indicates the need to be caring, forgiving and loving to all. On his way to see Radha, he suddenly decides to meet a gopi, who pleads with Him to visit her. They all, including Radha, know that he belongs to everyone. So they are delighted with the little time they get to spend with Him. This sentiment comes through in Raas Leela, which indicate the temporality of emotion. Happiness, pain, separation, anger...they are all there in ‘Gita Govinda’. And they make up Odissi’s abhinaya too.”
Talking about Kelubabu’s exceptional choreographic abilities, Sujata explains how he conveyed the eroticism in these verses in a dignified manner; upholding the beauty of the classical style. Like him, Sujata unravels the deeper layers in ‘Yahi Madhava’, ‘Sakhi He’, ‘Rati Sukha Sare’, ‘Kuru Yadunandana’, ‘Pashyati Dishi Dishi’ and more through the soft curve of the arm, delicate torso bends, eyes that mirror every emotion and statesque poses.
Kelucharan Mohapatra, who was one of the revivalists of Odissi, would often improvise on stage to portray with clarity the spirit of the composition. He would seamlessly move between the roles of Radha and Krishna, one moment playing the flute and in the next, a coquettish Radha adjusting her hair after making love to Krishna, the abhinaya emerging on the face and travelling through the body. His Krishna repertory also included Balya Leela and Kaishur (youth).
Like the ‘Gita Govinda’, dance, says Sujata, is about Oneness — of the body and mind, technique and imagination and the artiste and audience.