Four years young: Legends never fade away 
Text & pics: Ranjana Dave, Mumbai 
May 10, 2008 

"It is the vibrant tradition of Odissi that has sustained me all my life…as long as Odissi is practised and performed with devotion and grace, I shall continue to live in joy and harmony."  
- Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra.  

In keeping with his aspirations, his disciples commemorate his death, not by mourning it, but through a vibrant display of his creativity, an ode to the fruitfulness of his life. Krishti, a group of his students and admirers, organised the fourth edition of Samsmaranam in collaboration with Srjan at Nehru Centre, Mumbai.  

On the morning of April 6, 2008, the weekend calm of the Worli Sea Face was offset by the friendly chatter of art lovers a little distance away at Nehru Centre's Hall of Culture. Guruji's son Ratikant Mohapatra welcomed the audience and briefed them about the day's schedule. The first to go on stage was Preetisha Mohapatra, Guruji's 10-year-old grand-daughter, in an invocation praising Lord Ganesha, the one who removes obstacles. Dancing to the tune of Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia, she charmed the audience. Although a little nervousness was palpable, her remarkable sense of tala and reasonable command over the piece overshadowed everything else. 

Spread over two days, the event showcased a wide variety of Guruji's choreography and the drive he has passed on to his disciples, whose students in turn presented some of their work.  

Teenagers Siddhi Juvekar, Trishala Vachani, Rutuja Sawant and Mitali Varadkar, under the tutelage of Shubhada, performed a mangalacharan with stanzas based on Swami Vivekananda's literature. The music was composed by Vijay Tambe. Debi Basu, whose students Sangita Rajan, Anu Narayan and Sujata Nair Sanjay performed Madhuvanti Pallavi, looked resplendent in an intricately pleated yellow sari. The choreography was refreshingly different, and the pallavi had a mellow and languid feel to it. The piece was set to music by violinist Agnimitra Behera.  

Many of the guests at the programme reminisced about their times with Guruji. Madhura Jasraj, wife of eminent vocalist Pt. Jasraj, spoke about Geet Govind, the ballet that brought them together. She recalled how Guruji made a group of dancers with various levels of expertise come together to create a seamless product. She never ceased to be amused by his many idiosyncrasies, including his habit of eating dal with plenty of sugar stirred in.  

Siddharth Kak, of Surabhi fame, made a documentary on Guruji a few years ago. He has an interesting anecdote to explain why their paths crossed. "When I first saw Kelucharan Mohapatra dancing, he was surrounded by a horde of beautiful girls. That intensified my desire to meet him! I fervently hoped I would come across some of those women and get to know them," he chuckled. Kak lamented the fact that India's rich heritage does not garner the appreciation it deserves. He lauded Guruji's role in shaping Odissi and bringing it recognition.  

Poornima Dahale, Hemangi Pisat and Ketaki Shetge from Smitalay danced to Bata chhada suhata nagara, which had traditional music that was further embellished by Bankim Paranjape. The last group on stage was Kaishiki - Prachi Mehta, Krupa Thakkar and Namrata Mehta. Their presentation Ragamala was part of a production designed by Daksha Mashruwala for the NGO Laadli, which campaigns for the rights of the girl child. Their costumes were simple, white with red borders, and the brilliantly coloured fans accompanying them made for a delightful contrast, adding a little pizzazz.  

An entertaining feature of the programme was an account by the husbands of two dancers. Avinash Paranjape talked of Guruji's famous workshops at the NCPA. He would hold an open house in the evenings, where his friends, disciples and their relatives would converge. Paranjape was taken in by Guruji's systematic approach. He opined, "There was a science behind his dance. He explored the depths of the ideas encompassed in songs, and thus understood the import of the form." 

Sanjay Mashruwala first saw Guruji dancing at the Gateway of India. But he came to truly respect the man after watching him edit a music piece using primitive technology the day before a performance. "His editing skills were marvellous. He could put the best of music editors and their expensive editing studios to shame with a tape recorder and a pair of scissors. He wanted perfection and took it beyond his dance," he said.  
Well into the afternoon, the programme ended on a nostalgic note with the screening of a documentary on Guruji. Seeing him teaching his students or exchanging notes with his wife Laxmipriya, one could not help but be moved by his persona. 

The grand finale of Samsmaranam - April 7, 2008, Guruji's fourth death anniversary, began with a long wait outside the auditorium. The irritation caused by the delay was muted by the sight of the multitudes that had arrived to attend the programme. The evening began with a short and crisp mardala recital by Ratikant Mohapatra. Actor Suhita Thatte compered in fluent Hindi. Seven of Guruji's senior disciples then made the traditional auspicious start with mangalacharan. 

This was followed by Mahadeva, which was set to Hindi lyrics by Debashis Sarkar, with choreography by Ratikant Mohapatra. Led by Sujata Mohapatra, six young dancers from Srjan - Annapurna Ray, Rajashri Praharaj, Rachana Rimjhim, Swagatika Mohapatra, Swagatika Sahani and Bijayalaxmi Satpathy sketched the likeness of a powerful Lord Shiva with their energy and synchronization.  

Shubhada, who was recovering from an unprecedented bout of fever, bravely took to the stage in Bihag Pallavi. Her short, cropped hair was rendered invisible by the long katibeni - a traditional coiffure that is seldom used by dancers nowadays. Raminder Khurana was enthusiastic in Aaj mu dekhili, an Oriya abhinaya in Raga Bilahari.  

Ratikant Mohapatra danced to Dinabandhu ehi ali, a plea to Lord Jagannath. He began by lighting incense sticks and offering flowers at the foot of his father's huge portrait. His expressions had a life-like quality, not induced purely by muscle memory. The first half of the programme culminated in Rase Harim Iha, where Jhelum Paranjape vividly brought out Radha's intense longing for Krishna. This evocative ashtapadi was further enhanced by the mellifluous magic of Raga Kalavati. 

Barring a few pieces, most of the artistes danced to live music. Musicians from Bhubaneswar and Mumbai came together in a show of sharing and caring. The vocalists included Manoj Desai, Jatin Sahu and Rupak Kumar Parida. Agnimitra Behera and Ramesh Chandra Das took turns at the violin. Vijay Tambe played the flute and Aparna Deodhar the sitar. While Ratikant Mohapatra was at the mardala for many of the dancers, G Ramprasad and Rohan Dahale also stepped in for some. They even played the manjira for several performers.  

Tapan Basu handled stage arrangement, while Srjan's Jayadev Das was the lighting designer. Debiprasad Mishra, a young Srjan executive, conceptualised the posters and other promotional material. 

After a quick round of snacking during the interval, the audience returned to a dynamic Suddha Dhaivat Bibhas Pallavi. Choreographed by Ratikant Mohapatra, it was performed by disciples of Daksha Mashruwala and Jhelum Paranjape - Akshata Kunderan, Krupa Thakkar, Ankur Ballal, Rupali Kadam, Sanatan Chakravarty, Namrata Mehta and Dipali Tikam. Mohapatra's composition kept everyone on their toes, with asymmetrical tihais and unpredictable breaks in tala. The group format was an effective tool to separate the many abhinaya pieces being performed that evening. Anandi Ramachandran kept the cadence going with Nachanti range srihari, a gay and foot-tapping Oriya abhinaya. Her rustic yellow costume complemented the prevalent mood. 


Then it was Debi Basu's turn to enchant. She was in her element in Patha Chhadi Dey, slipping into the role of a young gopi with ease. Her abhinaya had depth; her performance was augmented by much more than years of dedicated practice. Kisalaya shayana by Daksha Mashruwala was the second Geeta Govindam abhinaya of the evening. Manoj Desai's soothing voice powerfully recreated the image of a tender leafy bed where Krishna places Radha's foot. The evening reached its climax in Om, designed by Ratikant Mohapatra and performed by six dancers from Srjan, clad in unassuming yellow and blue costumes. Some parts of the piece made clever use of the wide stage. A rhythmic pattern of threes was utilised in several portions, in combination with talas of seven and eight matras.  

At Samsmaranam, the focus was not on the ability and aptitude of those who graced the stage. Dancers, musicians and connoisseurs were all bound by their devotion to Odissi. And to a nearly bald, diminutive but unconventionally handsome old man, who could give Krishna a run for his money, any day!