Dissenting note

Bridging the divide Damodar Hota.

Bridging the divide Damodar Hota.   | Photo Credit: Photo: S. Subramanium

Damodar Hota argues that Orissa’s ancient music is the third classical genre of India.

“Bureaucrats are not ready to admit their mistakes,” declares Damodar Hota. It seems a provocative statement, even if softly spoken. The bureaucrats the diminutive vocalist and scholar from Orissa is actually referring to are those who still classify Odissi music as a non-classical form of Indian music, instead of placing it on par with the two previously recognised genres, Carnatic of the South and Hindustani of the North.

The classical music of Orissa is known as Udrapaddhatiya Sangeet, notes the scholar, who was recently invited to the Capital by Heritage Orissa for a performance. “It is the highest developed and grammatical form of music in Orissa, with a history of more than 2000 years, he explains, adding, “The so-called Odissi music, attached to the dance form, came to light only after Independence.”

A composer whose works bear the pen name Swararanga, and author of numerous books of theory, history as well as practical know-how of the tradition of Udrapaddhatiya Sangeet, Hota is dedicating his energies towards propagating awareness of the form. Heritage Orissa is planning more programmes and lecture demonstrations in New Delhi the Bhubaneswar-based Hota is likely to be seen more often.

Born into a traditional family of musicians associated with the Jagannath temple of Puri, Hota imbibed the art as a child. A talented singer, he was sent on a government scholarship to learn Hindustani music under the legendary Pandit Omkarnath Thakur at Benaras Hindu University, where he did his Masters. It was on the prompting of Pandit Omkarnath that from the 1960s Hota undertook research on the ancient tradition, under Guru Nrusinghanath Khuntia. Another traditional guru from whom he learnt numerous compositions is the percussionist, the late Kasinath Mudali.


The ragas, talas and ways of embellishing notes (gamakas, etc.) in Udrapaddhatiya Sangeet are all distinctive, says Hota. “Also, it contains various modes, such as, Chhand, Lakkhana, Sargam Geet, Byanjani, and others — just as Hindustani contains Dhrupad, Dhamar, Khayal, etc.”

Hota enumerates ancient treatises in which the precepts of Orissa’s classical music can be found. Among these is the Sangeeta Parijata, in which the ragas mentioned by 12th Century poet Jayadeva in his Gita Govinda can be looked up, and the Kisore Chandrananda Champu Lahari.

Part of the reason this system is not recognised as classical, he says, is that “perverse forms of Hindustani and Carnatic ragas are being represented as Odissi music.” In the ’50s and ’60s (when Odissi dance was being revived), says the veteran, practitioners made do with the little knowledge left to them, and the scholars’ reference points were only Hindustani and Carnatic.

With like-minded musicians, Hota conducts a “Tridhara Sangeet Sammelan” in Orissa and Bengal. The next edition is on the cards. In this festival, representatives of the Carnatic, Hindustani and Udrapaddhatiya traditions share the stage. For example, if one sings the Carnatic raga Shuddha Saveri, the other sings Durga, and the third sings Udrapaddhatiya’s Mallar. “The notes are the same, but I said, if any portion of my rendition resembles either Shuddha Saveri or Durga, I will quit the stage.”

Listeners agreed Udrapaddhatiya Sangeet is different. “I said yes, it is different. It is a bridge between Hindustani and Carnatic music.”


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