Guru Deba Prasad Award and Festival
- Ashish Mohan Khokar, Bangalore
Photos: Ashish Chowdhury

April 8, 2011

Guru Deba Prasad died very young at 56. His talented children got little support and his students too suffered. That was almost 25 years ago to date. His prime products, Durga Charan Ranbir and Gajendra Panda have kept alive the guru's memory through many able students and works.

Mounting festivals have become popular and necessary, as new audiences need to be created. This festival mounted by Guru Gajendra Panda, the do-gooder of Orissi at large, was over-shadowed by cricket semi-finals, when India played Pakistan. Despite that, there were 300 rasikas of Orissi or Odisha who came and enjoyed the first day fare that included bestowing of the 4th Guru Deba Prasad Das award on Dr. Yamini Krishnamurthi, India's first and last prima ballerina, the dance icon.
Two divas Yamini Krishnamurthi & Minati Misra together after many decades
Few recall the pioneering work and services of Yamini Krishnamurthi to popularizing Orissi. She saw Minati Misra dance and thus got attracted to the form. She learnt from adiguru Pankaj Charan Das and seeing her, Ritha Devi and later, Indrani learnt the form and made it their own. Indrani made the form popular as she won a national youth-level competition held in Delhi and also the same year, the Miss India title! Her guru: the humble but hugely talented Deba Prasad Das.

Fast forward to March end Odisha, when funds dry up but not the watering holes of Bhubaneswar! It seems all of Orissa is drinking alcohol now. I spot an Orissi singer of repute, missing college and sitting at lunch drinking at the Bhubaneswar Club when we arrive and others continue till wee hours of the next morning. They say, drinking helps singing!

Dancers remain territorial and jealous of each other in Odisha (not that it does not happen so in Delhi or Madras, Bangalore being much less) so all the current crops of established dancers did not show up on the first day…one came in at 10.30pm, when all had finished and just wished to show her attendance! Yes, attendance 2011 issue was launched on that day, for the first time ever in Orissa, as the issue also features a few exceptional Orissi male soloists. The launch honours were done by Yamini Krishnamurthi and enlightened and cultured Secretary of Tourism and Culture Dr. Ashok Tripathy received the first copy. People love books; few buy them!
Dr. Ashok Tripathy, Yamini Krishnamurthi, Ashish Khokar
Gajendra Panda and group
Satyanarayana Raju
First day festival fare was two exceptional artistes: Gajendra Panda with a corpus of choreographic works that's the best seen in recent years. Each participant had something meaningful to do on stage, not just fill space and make patterns and look pretty as normally happens! Each segment of Panda's majestic production had clarity and appeal. The group, the costumes, the dance and the music, the last was par excellence. And to think most local dancers stayed away? They missed the opportunity of also hearing and seeing a living legend like Yamini Krishnamurthi, a short film on whom, preceded the dance offerings and the film snippets are a classic.

Satyanarayana Raju next was loved for sheer beauty, inner calm and outer repose, by all who saw him perform. Few had seen such calming Bharatanatyam of yore. There was grace, there was depth and contentment. With his benign face, this Bangalore boy is a delight to the rasika and layman alike. Yamini calls him the one blessed with “deva shakti.” That sums up Satya.
Reela Hota
Gopika Varma and group
Next day were the semi finals of the World Cup cricket match and not only the hall but the city and state and country wore a deserted look. If only we Indians cared so much for our country! The show started late, and the first child-dancer Debanga was a total novice and not fit for that festival. Second came the clinical version of Orissi, the pretty-polly variety, where aesthetics are high but no feeling. Reela Hota showcased her Orissi after which was a rather long, filmy Mohiniattam. Filmy, as the music track was modern with octopad and synthesizer put in and as its doer, the charming princess Gopika Varma later explained, “In Dubai and Muscat only this works!” The sound track quality is first rate and the dancers all made herculean effort to last the long production, Radha Today. Taking Meera, Andal and other woman protagonists, Gopika wove in dance with fine choreography, set to beautiful aharya and sangeetam. This production alone would have been enough for that evening but organizers have to accommodate all. As the show finished, India had beaten Pakistan and there was great sense of achievement all around. People now drank more to celebrate that!

Gajendra Panda may not be the best organizer but he is good choreographer and guru. His heart is in dance, the body follows. The Guru Deba Prasad festival ended on a fulfilling note.

Ashish Mohan Khokar travels all over India and brings to note dancers of merit, through his writings, columns and yearbook, attendance. India's reputed and widely-read dance critic, his words help dancers and audiences understand and appreciate the art of dance and the actual performance, better. /