Friday Review

Drawing from the bottomless reservoir

Guru Gajendra Panda.   | Photo Credit: 24dfrnita

Guru Gajendra Panda, Director of Tridhara, Bhubaneswar, the institution founded by Guru Debaprasad Das, the maestro of Odissi, is taking his Guru’s legacy forward with pride and elan.

In memory of his Guru, he organises a broad spectrum of impressive activities, seminars, workshops, dance performances, festivals and award ceremonies. This way he is able to intensify the popularity of the distinctive Debaprasad Das Odissi style.

On the occasion of “Debasmruti”, an evening of Odissi dances in remembrance of Guru Debaprasad Das after a month long workshop, Guru Gajendra Panda speaks about his gharana, the plans to take it forward and his experience of choreographing for the renowned Ramli Ibrahim.

Excerpts from an interview:

How are you propagating and preserving Guru Debaprasad Das’ Odissi style?

My only aim is to take my Guruji’s style to people in order to make it Lokabhimukhi. I have taken the oath that I will not alter a dot of his style, content or whatever I have learnt from Guruji during my 10-year stay in his house, because every single composition of Guru Debaprasad Das is like history to me. After the death of Guruji on 16th July 1986, I regularly organise at least four programmes be it workshops, demonstration or dance programmes in his memory . Every year during the months of April and May, I travel to different villages, towns of Odisha and major cities across the world to conduct workshops in the Debaprasad Das style to increase awareness of the tradition and culture of Odisha.

The rule of the workshop is that only those who have learnt earlier or belong to our parampara are permitted to participate in these workshops. This evening Chisato from Nagoya after learning from me for seven years taught Rie Kunkura also from Japan and both are performing. In Japan, I have a student named Kaori Naka who has learnt from me and opened a school named “Debadhara” meaning Debaprasad Dhara. People have started liking our gharana for its bold, solid, energetic and vibrant style, instead of the lyrical fluid form which they had earlier seen. Thus the Debaprasad gharana is spreading and propagating.

Are you documenting his work?

Yes documentation is very important. But I do not have the means to document the vast repertoire of Guruji, because it will require a minimum of ten artists and a number of other professionals to work on this for at least two years. For this purpose, I am seeking support from the Department of Culture and Tourism Department for the last five years. Guruji died in 1986 and I do not know where this magnificent style will finally land up to. Of course, it will not die out as there are so many students of Guruji, but the original form will get diluted because I am his direct disciple but my students have not seen Guru Debaprasad Das.

Was Sakhinata also a part of the Debaprasad style and didn’t you incorporate Sakhinata in the Ganjam choreography?

Yes. I had once asked a very interesting question about Sakhinata to Dhiren Patnaikji. I asked him ‘You have researched on Gotipuos and incorporated this beautiful element in Odissi. What about Sakhinata?’ He replied that the roots of abhinaya in Odissi have come from Sakhinata (Sakhinach). I know for certain that since Guru Debaprasad Das had spent years in Ganjam, he had incorporated some of the characteristics of Sakhinata in his Odissi. There was also the influence of folk elements like Puri’s Saijata, Naga, Kaali, Ramlila, Raasalila, Sabdaswarapata, Prahlad Nataka, dandanata and so on.

How did you start choreographing for Ramli Ibrahim and what challenges did you face?

The fact is that after Guruji passed away, Ramli was in search of a person who has all the know-how and original form of Guru Debaprasad Das’s work and could help him to take his Odissi forward. He had visited Odisha for a couple of times between 1982-1984 when I was staying in Guruji’s house and learning. Both of us had learnt together. He told me, ‘Look Gajendra, everyone wants to teach me in order to get some international fame.’ So I told him to choose from other seniors but I would help him. But he said, ‘I only want you. I want you to work with me and choreograph for me so that I can move forward as a dancer.’ It was not easy to work and choreograph for Ramli because he is also a scholar and well conversant with the Debaprasad parampara. Nobody can cheat him with any old material. He wants a very high standard of work. It is tough, challenging and requires a lot of high calibre intellect to choreograph anything for him. He wants something which nobody has ever done, is new yet traditional and connected with Guruji’s parampara with the flavour of folk and tribal elements. I always reflect on Guruji’s work and style in order to hunt the embedded specialities and characteristics. I feel I have used only 10 to 20 per cent of Guruji’s resources to choreograph say 75 new items in his style but in the remaining 80 per cent at least 500 pieces can be made. So vast is his domain. And he had showed me the path to it and Ramli is clutching onto this path tightly. He wants Guruji’s crude, raw form, not the refined one. So he likes my choreographies and launches new projects like ‘Odissa live’, ‘Krishna-love reinvented’ and now ‘Ganjam’.

It was a great success and everyone loved it in India because of the tribal and folk forms in the choreography, the accurate dance forms together with the costumes that offered a magnificent texture to the piece. Like ‘Mangalacharan’ was composed totally from the Prahlad Nataka by selecting three most important invocation shlokas. I formatted them by sabda-punctuating in keeping with the tradition of Debaprasad Gharana. The Sarigama of Sakhinata was used for Thainata. But this was challenging and I had to work very hard on mridanga bols.

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Printable version | Mar 2, 2021 12:32:37 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/Drawing-from-the-bottomless-reservoir/article14397153.ece

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