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Guru Debaprasad Das: Icon of Odissi
- Nita Vidyarthi

August 24, 2014

Guru Debaprasad Das, one of the foremost gurus of Odissi dance, had developed a unique style of his own with stylised abhinaya and naturalistic approach to the dance form. ‘Sabda Swara Pata’ is an important feature of his style and retaining Odissi dance in its purest form was his most important contribution. He kept a low profile, died at the age of 54 and his star disciples strive hard to propagate and popularize his not often seen tradition. Gayatri Chand, one of the accomplished senior most and technically sound, devoted Odissi dancers in Debaprasad Das’s style has painstakingly collected a large amount of detailed information of her guru and his work from resources far and wide and with a paramount effort and research, has compiled and classified them in the first ever written illustrated book on her guru entitled ‘Guru Debaprasad Das: Icon of Odissi.’ The remarkable feature of the book is the analysis and classification of the text and music and statements on the style of her guru as compared to the other two stalwarts (Late Gurus) of Odissi (pg 44). With an extremely convergent and focussed mind she has gracefully pointed out the details without causing any damage to the honour or respect of others’ thoughts, ideas or principles.

Of the 11 chapters, the first two traces dance as the human instinct and history of it with respect to ‘Dance in the Vedic era’ with reference to the remarks of dance historians like G.N. Ghurey on ‘Bharata Natya and its costume,’ T. G. Aravamuthan’s ‘More Gods of Harappa,’ The journal of the Bihar Research Society, Dr. N.N. Laha’s Indian Historical Quarterly, Vol VIII, Dr. Pusalkar’s ‘The Vedic Age,’ Vol I and others. A short history of dance in the epics, Harivamsa Purana, and Emperor Kharavel’s interest in entertainment with reference to  Rani Gumpha’s amphitheatre in Udayagiri as mentioned in Dhiren Dash’s book ‘Jatra’  is also traced. A brief account on Natya Shastra and Drama from Dance, leads to the Origin of Odissi Dance, the Devadasis and Gotipuas ushering in the 3rd chapter ‘Semiotics of Odissi dance,’ its style, science, footwork, hastas before arriving at the more relevant 4th Chapter ‘Odissi as opined by Guru Debaprasad Das.’

Extracts from the compilation ‘Odishara Sanskrutika Itihasa’ by Cultural Forum, Bhubaneswar,  in which Debaprasad Das had given his version that “from archaeological point of view, Odissi dance has been proved to be the most ancient one of all classical dances” is elaborated by the author to throw light on the speciality of the dance. The chapter is heavily illustrated with drawings in Shilpa Prakasha palm leaf, black and white photographs of Lord Shiva in tandava pose from vimana, and dancing in chauka posture in the 8th century Parasurameswara temple, Bhubaneswar. There are others illustrating the different poses of the dance form from temple carvings that support arguments like the “tribhanga seen in the Nataraja icon of South India is different from the tribhanga in Odissi dance” and others. A full list of the participants in the first meaningful seminar organised on July 28 and 29, 1975 in Kala Mandap, Bhubaneswar with Kavi Chandra Kali Charan Pattnaik as the chairperson together with Debaprasad Das’ discussion on the peculiarity and speciality of Odissi has been mentioned together with the author’s analysis of the linguistic and cultural history of Eastern India up to the end of Charya geeti, i.e 7th and 8th century AD. Here, speciality of the dance form with respect to the term ‘Prabhuti’ from Natya Shastra has been discussed and related to the Odra Magadhi style. The explanation is apparently convincing as far as the Jagannath Culture till date is concerned but the belief that Lord Jagannath belongs to the Aryan period might require detailed study from the pre-Dravidian to pre-Aryan Era. In any case, it is not of immediate concern for the present book.

The application of chali, thani, chahani, dian and bhaunri have been briefly explained as also the  musical instruments and costumes. The 5th chapter deals with the ‘Reawakening of Odissi’ with the pathway to recognition, Jayantika, critics, press reviews of 1958 on the recognition of Odissi as  a classical style of Indian dance, an Odia letter with its English translation by Dr. Mayadhar Mansingh, and the blooming of the three styles with their characteristics. This is appreciably informative. Apart from personal information, 6th chapter onwards records photographs with dignitaries (receiving appreciation from Queen Elizabeth with Indrani Rahman), celebrities and details of disciples like Indrani Rahman and her daughter Sukanya, of his family, leading to an exhaustive study and documentation of the Debaprasad Das style - his works, perceptions and presentations, reflections, tours and star disciples like Indrani Rahman, Priyambada Mohanty Hejmadi, Gajendra Panda, Sanjukta Panigrahi, Minati Mishra, Sangeeta Dash, Bijoylaxmi Mohanty and many more. Page 60 is significant for remarks on the nomenclature of Batu nritya by renowned dancers, quoted with relevant reference by the author. 

In the 7th chapter, the author has intelligently integrated a part of ‘Nrutyanusarani Pandulipi’ as a reflection of his great work. Original sketches of the drills and rulings for the dance are reproduced with easy explanation by the author. The 8th chapter is of particular interest. Pages 149 to 169 gives the details of Das’s choreography in the 50’s, 60’s and later as also his ethnic choreography with the tala pattern and the swaralipi (notations) of the music and songs. Also the sabdas composed by the guru has also been stated. Technical details with illustrations are in general included but what impresses is the author’s warm and organised way of informing about his methodology and ways of teaching in the last chapter. Chapter 10 is all about appreciation and experiences with the guru by acclaimed gurus like Durgacharan Ranbir, Dr. Manoj Behera, Dhuleswar Behera, and dancers Rupa Das, Ramli Ibrahim, Sangeeta Dash, Indrani Rahman and Sukanya, Dr. Minati Mishra, Dr. Priyambada Mohanty Hejmadi and Mohan Khokar. Gayatri must be credited for putting in so much of hard work for this detailed, informative well-written book where every data is supported by specific references.

Praise in the form of “very first text on Guru Debaprasad Das” comes in writing from the renowned musician and vocalist Guru Ramhari Das (who has offered overall guidance especially on the music part). Good quality art paper, lots of illustrations and clear printing in comfortable font-size makes reading pleasurable. Debaprasad Das’ sketches come as a bonus. Some places may trigger off criticisms but this effort must in any case be appreciated. In further edition it would do good to shorten the first two introductory chapters to accommodate further information about Guru Debaprasad Das. Also, if the lines in the sabdas or the sargam could possibly be written in English/Hindi, it would be easy reading and reach a larger section of his admirers. The book is worth possessing.

Published by Gayatri Chand
Pages 217, Hard Bound, Outer paper jacket
Price: Rs. 1500
Available at:
- Gayatri Chand, 450, Nageswar Tangi, Lewis Road, Bhubaneswar 751002
Mobile: +91 9437122500, e-mail:
- Sangeeta Dash, Odisha House, 1 Perumal Koil Street, Puducherry 605001
Ph: (0413) - 2221991 / e-mail:
- The Modern Book Depot, Unit 3, Station Square, Bhubaneswar 751001
Ph: (06740 - 2534373

Dr. Nita Vidyarthi is a critic of performing arts, specialising in dance, dance theatre and expressions and is a regular contributor to The Hindu, and the Statesman Kolkata in dance, vocal music and theatre. She is trained in Kathak, Bharatanatyam and Manipuri as well as vocal, semi-classical music and Rabindra Sangeet. A Science communicator, Ph.D. in Polymer Science, Commonwealth Scholar and a retired Professor of Chemistry, Nita devotes most of her time to dance and theatre writing.

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