A defining moment, a legend remembered
June 5, 2009
It was the
29th of March 2009. The crowd of art enthusiasts that collected in the
foyer of the Woodside Theater in Northern California waited to gain entry
into the 400 seat auditorium, and to catch a glimpse of the aura of a true
'Guru' of our times, within the closed doors. Guru Shradha, an inaugural
recital to pay homage to Guruji was the dedicated effort of Niharika Mohanty,
a resident of California, and the director of Guru Shradha, a non-profit
organization and dance company. The company has been launched to
continue the lofty mission of a simple man, and his ideologies and visions
in the evolution of the classical dance form of Orissa. He is known as
the legendary master of Odissi dance, late Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra.
His own daughter-in-law, Sujata Mohapatra, artistic director of Guru Shradha, was the visiting artiste from India who is carrying on the mission of Guruji by both dancing and devoting her life to this field. Guruji, as he is lovingly called by his disciples, was the pinnacle of perfection in his brilliant choreographic works, the fluidity of his entire frame exhibiting the mood of the moment, portraying the lyrical contents with every nerve twitching, and with every curve in his ageless frame. To say he was ageless or timeless is not exacting. While in his living years sculptures of ancient temples came alive, today the art world mourns his absence in this mortal world, but he has become one with those carved frozen forms and is watching the world go by.
For Sujata, this is a great challenge indeed. She and her husband Ratikant Mohapatra find the spotlights suddenly turned upon themselves to continue Guruji's mission. He has set the scales high and they have the immense task of bringing about the same stir in the human souls, the same pangs in the heroines of past eras and work with the same sharpness to become perceptive interpreters that catch the aesthetics of the onlookers. This high degree of expectation set by Guruji is not the only thing they have to be bothered about, but also work with the same sincerity and dignity that made Kelu Babu a rare human being, an ideal Guru.
I had the immense privilege of hosting such a master performer in my home. The first thing that appealed to me in my mind is his quaint smile and childlike enthusiasm. He was no doubt a revered artiste in the art world, but in the homes and hearts of his loved ones he acted without the affectation that comes from such pride and pelf bestowed upon him, this much sung hero of the Odissi world.
In the bay
area, a flame was lit, a floral offering was made, with the advent of a
dance school that would serve the younger generations of dance enthusiasts,
whether they are second and third generation Indians or non-Indians.
Stories were told upon the brightly lit stage where Lord Jagannatha decorated
the altar, while Guruji's photograph smiled that toothless smile reflecting
the joy of the moment. This was no place to mourn his death, but to celebrate
his rebirth. The students waited behind the curtains with dancing bells
adorning their ankles. There were artistes who had known him and interacted
with him, and many others who had had the opportunity to learn under his
tutelage. Each of them were dance artistes who are themselves striving,
each in her/his field of teaching and propagating the dance forms of India
in the United States and Canada, the lands that have adopted them, and
are giving them an opportunity to explore further their ethnicities and
create a richness and uniqueness in the existing melting pot of mingled
cultures. Here individual dance explorations are possible, and while keeping
their own identity intact, it is also possible to explore fusions of various
dance and musical disciplines.
who spoke of their own experiences with the legendary master, each narrating
incidents from their past encounters and conversations with Guruji, were
Menaka Thakkar, Vishal Ramani, Mythili Kumar, Sima Chakraborty and Jyoti
Rout. Dr. Gopal Mohanty, father of Niharika Mohanty, who resides in Toronto,
Canada, also spoke his reminiscences about Guruji on that eventful night.
The arrangements were absolutely delightful and the costumes of the dancers
upon the stage were stunning to say the least. The young dancers
danced to the unmeasured invocatory verses, and then the traditional Pallavi,
Batu and the Dasavatar of poet Jayadeva, every student exhibiting her keenness
and excitement at the opportunity provided to them by the opening of such
an institute. The professional presentations of Yugmadwanda Pallavi and
an Oriya abhinaya number were performed by Niharika Mohanty and Sujata
Mohapatra. They each performed with a mastery that melted the hearts of
the onlookers. While the Jugalbandi in the pallavi danced by Niharika was
captivating, the Kede Chhanda Abhinaya of Sujata glowed with a brilliant
promise that the future of Odissi is intact, and Guruji's mission has the
continuum. His research work will go on and on and the stage is set
for those in his trail to carry on with zest and intensity, the lifeworks
of this great master.
Vishal Ramani is the Artistic Director of Shri Krupa Dance Foundation of San Jose, CA.