Friday Review

A man in the world of women

Lingaraj Pradhan.

Lingaraj Pradhan.  

Lingaraj Pradhan has had to struggle long and hard to be accepted as a male Odissi dancer of acclaimed.

Despite Odissi being the domain of female dancers, Odisha’s globetrotting male Odissi dancer Lingaraj Pradhan has emerged as a crowd puller claiming appreciation both from connoisseurs and critics alike.In his mid-30s, the Bhubaneswar-based dancer won the coveted Ustad Bismillah Khan Yuva Pratibha Puraskar and joined the elite league of internationally acclaimed Odissi soloists like Bijayani Satapathy, Leena Mohanty, Madhusmita Mohanty and Rahul Acharya. However, his saga of struggle and success is entirely different from his predecessors who were groomed in a favourable environment.

Born in the non-descript Ghodapada village of Ganjam district in Odisha, Lingaraj belonged to a family of farmers that expected the boy to grow up and contribute to the family’s income at the earliest. “Neither me, nor anyone in our family had heard of Odissi dance till I was sent to Bhubaneswar to learn it,” confesses Lingaraj. Cousin Prasanna Pradhan, who was a school teacher and had cast little Lingaraj in the school drama, was convinced of his inherent talent as a promising singer, flute player and dancer. “He had seen legendary Odissi Guru Gangadhar Pradhan’s performance once and had loved the charm and popularity that he enjoyed despite being a male Odissi dancer. Thus, he convinced my family members and sent me to Bhubaneswar to study Odissi. Neglecting his family needs, he looked after my education till I could manage myself,” he shares with a deep sense of gratitude.

In Bhubaneswar, Lingaraj was lucky to come under the tutelage of young and acclaimed guru-choreographer Bichitrananda Swain who was the principal at Guru Gangadhar Pradhan’s famed Orissa Dance Academy then. At the same time, he studied at the Government-owned Utkal Sangeet Mahavidyalaya, Odisha’s premiere college of performing arts, from where he completed his Masters in Odissi dance. A few years later, when Guru Bichitrananda established his famed Rudrakshya Odissi Foundation that specializes in grooming male dancers, he took Lingaraj as his lead dancer and principal trainer.

Alongside his training in dance, Lingaraj learnt to play the mardal from gurus Banamali Moharana and Dhaneswar Swain. “My grandfather sang and played the percussion for the Sankeertan troupe in our village. While rendering kirtana, the group sang and did small movements to the beats of mridangam. I remember the mridangam players consulting my grandfather on tala patterns. This ingrained a love for percussion in me. Later, when I had the fortune of knowing great Gurus Kelucharan Mohapatra and Gangadhar Pradhan I realised the relevance of knowing music for dance. I love singing and playing the flute, though I could not be trained in it,” explains Lingaraj. As the lead dancer of Rudrakshya Odissi Ensemble, Lingaraj has been performing in several prestigious festivals and venues like the Lincoln Centre in New York and Kennedy Centre in Washington, Konark dance festival, Mukteswar dance festival, International Odissi dance festivals staged in USA, India and Malayasia. A favourite with internationally acclaimed Odissi dancers like Ramli Ibrahim and Sujata Mohapatra apart from US-based impresario Pratap Das (who hosted the three international Odissi dance festivals in USA and India), he has also been invited and recommended to perform in Australia, France, Germany, Japan, USA, Canada and many more countries apart from various prestigious dance festivals across India winning standing ovations for his powerful performances both in the lasya and tandav aspects of Odissi apart from his expressional dances.

Following his marriage to gifted dancer Sanjukta Dutta – another proud product of Orissa Dance Academy - the couple is in great demand for duet dance concerts apart from conducting workshops in India and abroad. Presently a Ph.D. scholar of the Utkal University of CultureLingaraj has joined as a faculty member of Utkal Sangeet Mahavidyalaya.

“I have struggled a lot to survive as a dancer. It is doubly challenging to be a male dancer in Odissi that has been predominantly the domain of female dancers. However, one must struggle with all sincerity if one seeks success. And this is applicable to all fields,” he emphasises. Amidst all the achievements, Lingaraj laments the loss of his cousin Prasanna Pradhan. “He was not only my guardian and mentor, he was my first teacher who taught me alphabets of art, education and life. He taught me how to write, play the flute, sing, dance and even how to think big and be humble. When he was earning a meager Rs.700 per month, he was sending me half of it for my education neglecting his family of three kids and wife. I wish he would have been alive to see the success and happiness of the village boy that he had mentored. He passed away a few days before I was awarded the Ustad Bismillah Khan Yuva Pratibha Puraskar for Odissi dance,” Lingaraj signed off with a sigh and tears in his eyes.

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Printable version | Feb 18, 2020 9:14:20 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/A-man-in-the-world-of-women/article16076670.ece

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