Remembering Guruji

April 16, 2011

A tribute to Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra on the eve of his 7th death anniversary was paid on the 8th of April by some of his senior students. The function titled Remembering Guruji was organized by Art Vision, Bhubaneswar. This year each of the participants decided to present one pallavi or item of pure dance chosen among the ones composed by Guruji in the early seventies and eighties. A tribute through pallavi compositions to Kelu Babu is also a tribute to Pandit Bhubaneswar Misra, who composed the music for all the items presented during the evening.

The function started with the film projection of Guruji dancing nomami vignaraja tuam or salutation to Lord Ganesh in the precinct of the Konark Temple, after which all the nine dancers participating came together on stage to light the lamp and offer floral tribute to the image of the Guru kept on the stage.

The first item to be presented was batu. The composition of batu goes back to the late fifties at the time of Jayantika meetings at Cuttack, where all the gurus and scholars were present. The batu nritya, is a redefined version of the thei ghara nata of the gotipua (called this way because of the predominant thei ukuta in the rhythmic syllables of the tala). It incorporates all the main bhangi or basic postures of the style interlined with a variety of rhythmic combinations and it is meant to illustrate the structural quality of the dance devoid of embellishments or elaborations. Keeping in mind this basic quality, it has been provided with a preliminary sequence which introduces first the musical instruments which accompany the dance, then the makeup and preparation of the dancer and then the dance itself. This was presented by the male dancer Manoranjan Pradhan.

According to the definition, a pallavi is a dance in which equal importance is given to the elaboration of swara (melody) vadya (rhythm) and dance patterns (nritta). The name itself indicates something which gradually evolves from simple patterns towards more complex ones (elaboration, efflorescence). In the repertoire of Odissi, it occupies the 3rd seat after mangala charan and batu. It is the flower which comes after the seed has been planted (mangala charan) and the trunk of the tree has grown (batu). The pallavi in raga Mohana was the third pallavi composed by Guruji (the first was the Basant pallavi and the second the Kalyani pallavi) The Mohana Pallavi set to music by Pandit Bhubaneswar Mishra was composed in 1965 for Sanjukta Panigrahi. The item was neatly presented by the three dancers Mukti Lata Pal, Sujata Mohapatra and Meera Das.

The two pallavis in raga Shankarabaranam and Saveri had been composed respectively in 1965 and 1967 in Kumkum Das's house at Cuttack, where Kelubabu, Bhubaneswar Mishra and the singer Rakhal Mohanty, used to gather for days together and work out the details and nuances of the composition in perfect unison of mind and inspiration. Kelubabu provided the rhythmic structure, Bhubaneswar Mishra the melodious tune woven around the tari jam phrase and Rakhal Mohanty the vocal support. These two pallavis have remained till date the most widely performed by generations of Odissi dancers; they have been handed down from guru to guru and have become a reference point for all the nritta compositions to come. The Saveri Pallavi was presented by the duo Itisri Dwibedi and Pranati Mohanty.

This group of pallavi composed in later years in raga Khamaj and Hamsadwani (1979), Bilahari (1983) Kirwani (1986) and Behag (1988), represents the most fruitful phase of collaboration between the duo Kelubabu - Bhubaneswar Mishra; there was a sort of 'magic' running between them, by virtue of which each of them was able to anticipate and give expression to the other's expectations without having to discuss about them. After Mishra's death in 1993, Kelubabu was not been able to find a substitute for him. The pallavi in raga Khamaj was composed in the summer of 1979 for Sanjukta Panigrahi and it was presented by Ileana Citaristi.

After the two pallavis in raga Shankarabaranam and Saveri, a third pallavi which became equally popular is the one in raga Arabhi, commonly known also as 're re pa ma' because of the swara sung by the singer all along the composition. This had started to be composed by Kelubabu in 1968 but due to his two and half months tour in Russia with Sonal Mansingh in that same year and the subsequent absence of Kumkum for joining the training academy in Mussoorie, could be completed only on her return in 1971. For a short period during Kelubabu's absence, Pankaj Charan Das had been called by Kumkum's father to teach her; it was during this time that some of the 'wave' type movements of the torso which characterise this pallavi had been envisaged. On resuming the work, Kelucharan was able to elaborate these movements and to create around them a well-knit and harmonic composition where melody, rhythm and choreography merged in perfect unison. Anil Kumar Lemka and Utkalika Paharsingh, two dancers based in Cuttack, performed this item in duet.

For the dance drama composed by Kelubabu with the students of the National Centre for Performing Arts (NCPA) based on the Oriya literary work Kishorachandrananda Champu by Kavisurya Baladeva Ratha and presented on the Tata stage in May 1983, Bhubaneswar Mishra, who was serving those days in the All India Radio at Bombay, composed a totally new pallavi in raga Belahari. This pallavi, also called taranga pallavi, introduces a peculiar way of sliding the upper body which resembles a wave like motion. It was presented by senior dancer Sikhata Das.

Sujata Mohanty, Pranati Mohanty and Ileana Citaristi came together on stage for the concluding item of the evening based on intricate rhythmic combinations derived from the gotipua vadya named as mokshya. The sloka in honour of the Mother Goddess, sarva mangala mangalye added at a later stage for Sanjukta Panigrahi remained in the classical repertoire of Odissi dance as the concluding final act of union between the dancer and the Almighty.

Seen one after the other, these compositions revealed their distinctive character as well as the underlying aesthetic quality they have in common. Devoid of unnecessary complicated gimmicky and artificial virtuosity, they shone for their elegant and aesthetic beauty. The effort of the dancers to render them as close as possible to their original format is commendable since many of these compositions handed down from guru to guru have been subject to quite a few distortions and alterations in the present days. The items were well introduced by the two anchors dancer Saswat Joshi and singer Mitali Chinnaya.

At the end of the show, the public composed of people equally eager like the dancers to pay respect to the great guru, spontaneously saluted him with a standing ovation and joined the dancers in a minute of silent remembrance of the departed soul.