Friday Review

Celebrating an alternate style of Odissi

Guru Debaprasad

Guru Debaprasad  

A dance festival-symposium paid tribute to Guru Debaprasad Das who believed that Odissi originated from the tribal and folk traditions.

One of the founder-fathers of Odissi in the 1950s, who introduced Odissi to the world through his disciple Indrani Rehman’s continental tour, Guru Debaprasad Das died at the age of 54 three decades ago. The visionary exponent believed that Odissi did not originate from the temple tradition but from the tribal and folk traditions and then passed through the temple tradition, established his distinct gharana of Odissi that has grown in strength and popularity since.

Yet, Debaprasad Das style of Odissi always lagged behind. However, followers of the distinct dance style could come together for the first time a decade ago in Bhubaneswar forming a Foundation and drawing a strategy to preserve and promote the style. The Foundation later fell apart.

More than a decade later, Debaprasad’s family came forward recently to bring the followers of the style together through a festival and symposium in Bhubaneswar last Friday. His eldest daughter Bipanchi Das, inspired by her mother and backed by her two dancer-sisters and brother, set up an institution aptly named Debangana that staged its first festival – Debangana Nrutya Samagam - celebrating and highlighting Guru Debaprasad Das Odissi style at the Bhanja Kala Mandap that was attended by almost all the senior disciples and associates of the late Guru and supported by the Department of Culture of Odisha Government.

The symposium, termed by many dance and music exponents as “the rare occasion to share” was competently chaired and moderated by eminent Odissi music Guru Ramahari Das. “Had he not died early, the history and identity of Odissi dance would have been distinctly different today,” emphasized Das who composed and sang for almost all choreographies of the late Guru. He and eminent musicologist K Ramarao Patra deliberated on the music that Debaprasad had used for dance. Odissi percussion (mardal) exponent Guru Dhaneswar Swain analysed the use of the ancient rhythmic (taal) pattern and the unique Sabda-Swara-Pata that the Odissi maestro used in his dance tradition that has made his style distinct. Sangeet Natak Akademi awardee Guru Sudhakar Sahoo, seniormost disciple of Guru Debaprasad, elaborately dwelt on his Guru’s questioning and scholarly mind. “He had an eternal quest for knowledge on all forms of arts. He used to visit various cultural events across Odisha to study the wide range of tribal and folk arts forms and has beautifully blended the elements of tribal and folk traditions into Odissi. He regularly interacted with the devdasis of the Jagannath temple in Puri and with the two iconic cultural personalities who were instrumental in the revival of Odissi dance – Kabichandra Kalicharan Patnaik and Pandit Chandrasekhar Patnaik,” Sahoo recollected. His Guru was against use of footwork during avinaya (expressional dance) which, he felt, was a distraction, both for the dancer and the audience, he added.

Gotipua exponent Guru Gobinda Chandra Pal, whom Guru Debaprasad had brought home and had cared and mentored as his own children - as he had done for other gurus like Sudhakar Sahu, Durga Charan Ranbir and Gajendra Panda – explained how the best features of Gotipua dance – considered a precursor to Odissi – have been reflected in the best way in the late Guru’s style. Famed Guru Durga Charan Ranbir, the flag-bearer of the Debaprasad Das style today, analysed how the Guru integrated the tribal and folk elements as per texts like the Natyashastra.

Two internationally acclaimed Odissi dancers, also distinguished disciples of Guru Debaprasad – Sujata Misra and Sangeeta Dash – put up impressive demonstrations in at the symposium. Puducherry-based Sangeeta, who was also an Odia film actress, lucidly explained how her Guru constantly looked for innovations from within the tradition besides his utmost concern for aestheticism and spiritual base in Odissi. Among others, Gurus Harihar Mohanty, Bharat Giri and senior dancer Gayatri Chand, who has penned a book on Guru Debaprasad, also shared their memories.

The performances in the evening showcased choreographies of Guru Debaprasad by soloists Sangeeta Dash, Sujata Misra, Gajendra Panda, Debaprasad’s daughters – Bipanchi and Murchhana – and group presentations by the Debangana Odissi institute and Adruta Children’s Home troupe. Debaprasad Samman, the honour instituted in memory of the late legend – were conferred on eminent Odissi musicologist Guru Gopal Chandra Panda, Akademi awardee mardal exponent Guru Banamali Moharana and Odissi dancer of yesteryears Bijayalaxmi Mohanty, a distinguished disciple of the Guru.

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Printable version | Feb 20, 2020 7:56:28 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/Celebrating-an-alternate-style-of-Odissi/article16091714.ece

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