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In and around Bhubaneswar
Text & pics: Lalitha Venkat, Chennai

September 19, 2011

Some people said it's a waste, others said it's worthwhile, so I decided I would see for myself! The Chausat Yogini temple, dating to the 9th century, is located amidst paddy fields in the small village of Hirapur 10km from Bhubaneswar and the drive along fields and river is beautiful. The temple was discovered in 1953 by historian Kedarnath Mohapatra. It is circular in shape with a narrow opening (with dwarapalas on either side) to the east. The circular formation is intended for specialized tantric rituals, so when the images of various yoginis are placed within the circular enclosure, these create a yogini chakra or yogini temple. In the middle is a small square Chandi Mandap with carvings of Saivite figures and yoginis. The caretaker of the temple Surendranath Routray explained about the number 64. Like there are 64 pranayama, 64 diseases, 64 arts, 64 Kama Sutra poses, there are 64 yoginis. 60 are in their niches along the circular enclosure, 3 on the pillars of the central pavilion. Yogini 61 is missing. They have beautiful, voluptuous figures, are carved in chlorite stone, are 2 feet high and in standing position; all have names, their own vahanas, exquisite hairstyles and head dresses, ornaments like necklaces, armlets, anklets, earrings, bangles and garlands. The temple is open to the sky (known as hypaethral) to draw on solar energy and seen from the adjacent platform in an overhead view, the structure looks like a yoni and lingam. In 2007, Odissi dance and music institute Nrutya Prativa, organized the first Chausathi Yogini Mahotsav in the temple premises. From Routray, I bought a book on the temple by Suresh Balabantaray for Rs.150.

Chausat Yogini temple

Next on my list was the heritage crafts village of Raghurajpur, 50km from Bhubaneswar. There's a welcome arch to the village where 120 families are engaged in producing exquisite art work of patachitra paintings, saura art, papier mache art and so on. Each house has beautiful painted murals on their facades on themes like Mahabaratha, ragamala, Jagannath or Saura art. The minute you enter the village, one after another they come and talk to you, explain about the paintings on the facades, and invite you to their house to see their art works. About half a dozen of them guided me through, pointed out the land where Kelubabu used to live and where it is planned to build a museum dedicated to him (it was confirmed by Guru Ratikant Mohaptra). Mohan Goswami's dance academy was at the end of the street and a left turn at the end took me to the house of Guru Maguni Das.

Facades of houses
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It was a happy coincidence since dancers of Dasabhuja Gotipua Odissi Nrutya Parisad had performed in Chennai the earlier week for Saila Sudha's annual festival Nritya Sangama. I met Sebendra Das (the son of Maguni Das), Guru Basant Kumar Pradhan who had brought the troupe to Chennai and 11 year old Jitendra who had played little Krishna in the program. They showed me a photo of the 3 gotipuas who were first taken by Maguni Das to Paris in 1993 and I was introduced to one of them, who is now a teacher there! There are now 36 children who learn at the institution. They attend regular school but have to practice every morning for 2 hours and every evening for one and a half hours. Starting from age 5, they learn till they are 15 and then go for higher education, choosing Odissi music or instrument, or dance. Some turn into teachers. Guru Basant Kumar Pradhan is unhappy that despite applying for aid, the govt has not responded at all.

Birth place of Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra

Mohan Goswami's dance academy

House of Guru Maguni Das

Guru Basant Kumar Pradhan & Sebendra Das

The 3 gotipuas who went to Paris
with Guru Maguni Das in 1993

One of them who is a teacher now

After a cup of tea, I visited the houses of 2 artists and was absolutely overwhelmed at their exquisite work. Everyone in the family is an artist. Dilip Kumar Prusty was sad that they had no avenues in which to sell their beautiful works since only some artists had access to exhibit at some exhibitions, so they would sell their stuff through them. Bijay Kumar Bariki comes regularly to Dakshinchitra in Chennai and Pondicherry and he was presently getting ready for a trip to Germany to do a workshop! It was a contrast to meet two families - almost neighbors - with such different opportunities before them.

Dilip Kumar Prusty

Bijay Kumar Bariki

I would have liked to spend more time in Raghurajpur, visiting other dance schools, admiring the art works, talking to the friendly people and getting to know them more but it started raining heavily and I had to leave to be in time for the evening performances of Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra Award Festival. The surroundings are green and serene and a river runs behind the last row of houses. Raghurajpur is about 10km from Puri. This place is a must visit and the people are nice too. Their worried faces still linger in my mind's eye. If the govt could do something to help these artist families find avenues to exhibit their works and sell them, there would be so many more happy smiles.

At Srjan

After the Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra Award Festival was over, I had the opportunity to visit Srjan and see the house of the great guru that is being maintained unchanged after his passing away. It was a pleasure to meet guruma Laxmipriya Mohapatra, the wife of Guruji, exchange a few words with her and receive her blessings. Some students were practicing in the dance hall that had some beautiful photos of Guruji. With great pride, Sujata Mohapatra showed me the various trophies as well as the photo gallery that features photos of Guruji over the years. She had great fondness for the Krishna-Sudama pic where she and Guruji played the title roles. Theirs was a special bond, she said. She has started a small school at her native village that is about 3 hours drive, where her American student Amanda teaches and she goes whenever possible. Sujata is busier than ever now, travelling all over the world to present her Guru's compositions. That would keep his work alive. With so much happening, where does she have time to practice? There is no option, she has to find the time and she cannot let her guru down. "If you don't practice, you will know. If you still don't practice, your guru will know. If you continue not to practice, your audience will know," she says with a smile!

Lalitha Venkat is the content editor of

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