- Padma Jayaraj, Thrissur
September 28, 2007 

On a rain-drenched evening this week, members of Bharatham, a cultural organization in Thrissur, Kerala sat huddled to watch Mayaamohitham. The title did not specify the program. But the very name of the performing artist, Ranjana Gauhar, was a promise.

Indeed she is one of the leading exponents of Odissi dance, a winner of many awards, author, teacher, script writer and film producer. She has carved a niche for herself in the world of Indian classical dance by a happy combination of Odissi and Mayurbhanj Chhau.

It was a pleasure to watch her graceful and lyrical art as she danced traditional themes. True to the Odissi recital, the Mangalacharan opened with Pushpanjali, offering of flowers, Bhumipranam, venerating Mother Earth, and saluting gods, gurus, and the audience. She invoked Saraswathi, the goddess of learning, based on the Sanskrit lyrics by poet Kalidasa in raag Bhupali, taal Jali. The dance composition choreographed by her guru Mayadhar Rout, initiated a sublime mood.

Goddess Saraswathi, seated on lotus flower, plays on her gem-studded veena. Profound music flows opening the vista of art and beauty where true knowledge resides. The spiritual aspect of knowledge, the inherent aspect of ancient India, seeps as an eye-opener to the modern mind.

The second item was a tribute to Kerala, a devotional poem of the celebrated Swathi Thirunal. Composed by Ranjana herself, in raag Saveri and taal Triputa, the dancer presented a woman's tryst with Krishna. Without the sensual aspect of love the performance evoked a transcendent mood.

A woman's reminiscence of a chance encounter with Syaam when she went to fetch water from the river Jamuna, is the theme. It strikes a note deep within, on an indelible mark that a lover in India carries in the collective unconscious. The curly head adorned with a peacock featherů, his flute lulling the land to dreams..., a fleeting presence among the cows here...there speaking to the cowherd... Oh, isn't this a revelation that an art lover dreams of? The poet, the dancer and the audience are united in a mood in which we pray for such happiness.

Pallavi, was a lyrical presentation of pure dance in the Odissi repertoire. Beginning with simple movements, the dance blossoms out in tenderness. Like tendrils of a creeper, it grows up in rhythmic syllables. With amazing ease, in complicated steps interwoven in rhythmic patterns and sculpturesque poses, the spiritual odyssey of the human soul is in progress. The hallowed temple precincts hovering in the atmosphere, creates an elevating experience, truly Indian.

The concluding item was a grand finale winding up the theme of spiritual quest: a pilgrimage to Varanasi. Another padam of Swathi Thirunal, based on raag Asvari, taal Khemta and choreographed by Ranjana was a pleasant surprise. The mind of the devotee is filled with a longing to have the vision of Lord Visweswar. Surely, for a Bhakta, love and longing will cut asunder the painful cycle life and death. The Bhakta then chooses an incredible route to attain the feet of his lord, the course of the river Ganga. It is an upstream path, to reach up to the very source where all journeys end, from where all journeys begin. There, at Kasi, open the temple doors... lo, the splendor of Siva, ardhanariswara, the truth residing in the heart of contradiction...bathed in gleaming holy ash, adorned by a serpent necklace, the glory of the mountains!! It is here realization dawns; here, immortality begins, Maaya muktham. 

The accompanying artists Pandit Ramchandra Sahu (vocal), Prafulla Mangaraj (drum), Sunilkant Saxena (sitar) and Kiran Kumar (flute) teamed up to enhance the recital. The dancer against her harmonious background epitomized poise and profundity. Peace filled the night. 

Padma Jayaraj is a freelance writer and a regular contributor to