The 26th Konark Dance and Music Festival
Text & pics: Lalitha Venkat, Chennai
February 28, 2011
I had just been to Orissa in September 2010 for the Kelucharan Mohapatra Award Fest and it was a pleasant surprise to be invited again, this time for the 26th Konark Dance and Music Festival that took place at late Guru Gangadhar Pradhan's Arka Vihar from Feb 19 – 23, 2011. Engineering students Abhay and Deepu met me at the Biju Patnaik airport with a bunch of flowers. Abhay is happiest working for the NGO that he heads as well as hanging out with his friends! Driving from the airport to Sibashis (Shibu) Pradhan's office, I saw many festival hoardings all over Bhubaneswar, each with a different design. Shibu is marketing the festival in a big way, with publicity also in malls and other public venues. His office was a hotbed of activity. Soon, I was on my way to Konark that's about 90 minutes drive from Bhubaneswar to the charming Lotus Resorts, about 8km from Konark, where I was given a pretty wooden cottage by the sea. The river Kusabhadra flows along and meets the Bay of Bengal just across my cottage and the peace and quiet was bliss after cacophonic Chennai. There was no TV and even cell phone did not work except at certain spots outside the resort gate or on the beach! And the food was absolutely delicious.
There was no dramatic sunrise because of an overcast sky and I spent the early morning on a long walk on the totally deserted beach, accompanied by my neighbours. It was sad to see so many dead turtles along the way. Some looked like they were still laying eggs. It was more cheering to see some fishing boats. After breakfast I took a taxi to the Jagannath temple at Puri which is only 35km away. The taxi had to be parked a distance from the temple, so I walked on and had to deposit camera and cell phone at the stand. Being a Saturday, there was such a crowd. I had to wait about 45 minutes for the Lord's darshan and the fine spray of water on the crowd every few minutes was cooling, but the feeling of being pushed into the sanctum by the surging crowd and then being pushed out along with the crowd, and seeing the 'priests' yelling at people was sort of traumatic!
The evening saw Konark Natya Mandap looking so festive with dazzling light decorations. It was exciting to see the large attendance for Amjad Ali Khan's concert. The stage is a replica of the Konark temple pagoda and took shape about 5 years back. The program started a half hour late. Guruji's brother beat the gong and performers from Rajendra Mohapatra's group from Ganjam inaugurated the evening with Subha Sankha Dhwani, appearing magically on the beautifully lit superstructure blowing conches and beating drums, greeted with thunderous applause by the audience. Three men walked down the aisle, with two holding aloft burning torches and the third one holding a mast covered with flowers. As they ascended the stage, about 10 young performers clad in saffron played the mangala vadya, beating the gong in varying sound decibels as they danced along. Indeed a grand start to the festival. The portrait of a smiling Guruji was unveiled. Eyes filled with tears, even those who have never met Guruji as the compere spoke about how this frail man saw a dream and turned it into a reality. He had passed away just 4 months earlier and his son Shibu had been quite despondent and missing his father's presence when I met him the earlier day.
Under the guidance of Guru Bishnu Charan Samal, about 50 dancers of Nrutyalay, Nimapara presented the Panchadeva Stutee in a well choreographed sequence, followed by 16 dancers of Konark Natya Mandap (KNM) performing Gangadhar Vandana choreographed by Devraj Pattnaik, who is now the Artistic Director of KNM. It was a well choreographed item, but maybe a little less smile and more somber mood on some dancers would have been more apt since it was a tribute to Guruji. Then started the round of formalities with the comperes Hrushikesh Panigrahi and Sudipta Panigrahi talking a little too much and eating into the performance time. Sarod maestro Amjad Ali Khan was honored with such a massive garland, he almost lost balance and two people had to support by holding the garland! Carnatic music maestro Balamurali Krishna recalled how he had received an award the earlier year from Guruji and said he felt honored to confer the first Guru Gangadhar Pradhan Award for lifetime achievement on a living legend like Amjad Ali Khan. "Music and dance have connected and united people all over the world. Music, dance, air, water, fragrance do not belong to any religion. It is indeed difficult to inherit a legacy and continue it. The flame lit by Guru Gangadhar Pradhan should continue to shine bright and we are all behind Shibu's endeavours," said Amjad Ali Khan and dedicated his concert to Guru Gangadhar Pradhan and Pt Bhimsen Joshi who passed away recently.
The next artiste Kala Krishna did not get the opportunity to do full justice to his recital due to shortage of time and the vexed dancer presented just 2 items. He performed Perini Shiva Tandavam reconstructed by his guru Nataraja Ramakrishna. This was followed by 6 hefty male dancers presenting Melaprapti Prerana, that was vigorous and appealing but the audience would have liked to see more of Kala Krishna.
The night concluded with Sambalpuri folk dance under the direction of Guru Gopal Chandra Mohapatra whose Dayal Sangeet Academy in Bhubaneswar strives to popularize folk dances of Orissa. The lively group filled the stage with joy and the performers danced with a lot of involvement. Gopal Chandra Mohapatra is a musician and composer while his wife trains the dancers at the academy. A few months back when he and his young group were returning by train from a performance, some crooks sprayed something on them that made them unconscious and stole all their jewellery, passports and money. Thus an impending foreign tour got cancelled but they are now looking forward to a forthcoming tour to Canada.
It was a heartening start to the festival but the sore point was too much talk by the comperes. An audio track already conveyed information about Guru Gangadhar Pradhan's life at the start of the evening. It is good to have announcements in Oriya and English but if that had been streamlined, more people would have stayed till the end of the program at nearly 11pm. The organizers thoughtfully arranged for dinner at the venue every night.
The comperes of the evening were brief and to the point. Violin maestro TN Krishnan, all of 82 years young, stole the hearts of the audience. He started with "Akilandeshwari," a composition of Muthuswami Dikshitar, in rag Dwijavanti. He said he had not decided what to play next and would know only after he picked up the bow. "I have learnt so many things in my childhood, but nothing is pre-planned for a performance. It all comes spontaneously on stage." He played a few notes and then announced that the next number would be Thyagaraja's "Nagumomu" in rag Abheri! "Aadisidaleshode" was the concluding item. The audience gave the maestro a standing ovation. After the show, TN Krishnan told reporters that playing music made him happy. Good tunes create a beautiful atmosphere and give joy. It was still raining in Bhubaneswar and as on the previous evening, a very faint drizzle during the concert had everyone worried, but that soon passed.
Bihu dance of Assam by Probin Saikia's troupe was energetic with a lot of rounded hip movements and turns and had the audience whooping and cheering along. It was nice to see a blend of classical music concert, a classical dance and energetic folk dance, all in one evening.
The pleasant weather of the morning made a visit to the dilapidated beauty of the Konark sun temple enjoyable.
The Nadam ensemble from Bangalore headed by Murali Mohan and Nandini Mehta presented a Kathak recital that included Shiva Stutee "Bo Shambo" that they dedicated to Guru Gangadhar Pradhan as the verse goes "Bo shambo shiva shambo swayambo, gangadhara shankara…" Gangadhar Pradhan was the eighth child for his parents whose first seven passed away, so his parents dedicated the sickly boy to Shiva after which the boy gained strength and health, took to dance and the rest is history. In the taal item, the notes played on the tabla did not quite match with the steps echoed by the dancers. Murali had at the beginning of the item told the sound engineer that they could not hear the sound of the tabla and that could have been a reason. Abhinaya item "Krishna nee begane" by Murali and Nandini went down well with the audience. The group concluded with "Maha Ganapathim" composed by Praveen D Rao. One normally starts with this as an invocation item but the group ended with it since it is such a joyous number. The costumes in turquoise and olive green were beautiful and appealing. The music ensemble consisted of Praveen D Rao on tabla, Srinivas on sitar, Samanvita on vocal and Ajit on harmonium, though the last two items were performed to recorded music!
The vigorous folk dance Kalbelia is performed by women of the Kalbelia community in Rajasthan. There were 4 young dancers, two wearing traditional black skirts embellished with silver embroidery and the other two in red skirts. Their sinuous movements reminded one of snakes and as their twirling increased in tempo and vigour with the increase of the beat, the audience clapped and whistled in happy participation.
As with every evening, the program started with Subha Sankha Dhwani, mangala vadya, Panchadeva Stutee and Gangadhar Vandana and the dramatic appearance of the dancers and the exotic lighting never failed to elicit thunderous applause from the audience. I was told Guru Gangadhar Pradhan had built the beautiful stage as specified in the Natya Sastra. It makes for a beautiful backdrop and a wonderful stage to perform on. Shibu said his father had so many more plans in mind but unfortunately did not live to see them realized. Whatever we see now is only about 10% of his vision. If he had left behind some idea of what he had in mind, his son and other loyalists could have worked towards realizing his dreams which sadly died with his untimely demise.
Odissi vocal by Binod Bihari Panda was soothing. He has worked with all renowned gurus such as Kelucharan Mohapatra, Pankaj Charan Das, Gangadhar Pradhan and Bichitrananda Swain. He has also participated as a solo performer and music composer in many shows in India and abroad. He was accompanied by Banamali Moharana, and his students Ajay Kumar Das and Alok Kumar Barik.
Next was a scintillating Bharatanatyam performance by the well trained students of Guru Bhanumati from Bangalore. The varied movement patterns and beautiful turquoise blue costumes stood out against the crimson background of the stage. The performance was titled Shivam Shankaram. Ganesha slokam was followed by Shiva Stutee and concluded with Mahadeva Shiva Shambo. The orchestra had Bhanumati on nattuvangam, Vasudha Balakrishnan on vocal, Lingaraju on mridangam and Vivek on flute. "It is a dream come true to perform in this beautiful mandap. To perform in front of Guruji's photo gave a divine feeling. His atma is definitely here and we feel blessed by his presence," said Bhanumati, once again bringing to the fore that the festival was dedicated to the memory of Guru Gangadhar Pradhan.
I was up real early in the morning and after spotting so many different birds around the resort and a beautiful sunrise, I went to Chilka Lake that is about an hour and forty five minutes away. On a wonderful 5 hour boat ride, I saw many lovely beaches, birds, red crabs and a few dolphins! I also managed to watch a beautiful sunset, my last one at the resort, before getting ready for the final evening of the festival.
Veteran Odissi dancer Dr. Minati Mishra received the 12th Sanjukta Birla Award. She was visibly moved. She personally feels Odissi was originally for devotional work and how can that come through in a group work. Flautist Ronu Majumdar spent the better part of the hour asking for umpteen mike adjustments to such an extent that the sound was actually raucous to us in the audience and he even told off a member who was helping out overall to stop interfering and to let his man do the work. His condescending tones and constantly interrupting his recital did not go down well with the audience and the only number we heard in totality was the concluding pahari number that was quite joyous. Ronu Majumdar said he was happy to see so many students of flute in Orissa and commended the KNM gurukul and its atmosphere as something very rare these days. He dedicated his favorite raga Bagesri to the memory of Guru Gangadhar Pradhan. Unfortunately, what stood out that evening was not his virtuosity but the fuss he created through out.
The Nupur Dance Academy from Bhubaneswar gave a pleasant Odissi recital, starting with a mangalacharan, a pallavi in rag Khamaj, an abhinaya item by Guru Niranjan Rao and concluding with Madhu Basantha, an item on Krishna. Krishna was played by a slim, sprightly dancer whose movements were energetic and some of his leaps and turns were something not generally seen in Odissi recitals. The ladies had discarded the Odissi headdress and let down their long plaits covered with thin veils. It was a vibrant item much enjoyed by the audience.
Just when we thought the function was over, we had the Shank troupe of Guru Rajendra Mohapatra surprising us with blowing conches combined with some mind blowing acrobatic formations, much to the delight of the audience standing around and cheering even though it was 10.45pm. The night was not yet over. The artistes, volunteers, friends and relatives who had chipped in to make the festival a success, had to take group photos in front of Guruji's photo with plans already being made to meet up for the next year's festival from February 19 to 23, 2012.
I shall miss Shibu calling me 'Deedee,' the suave sitarist Milu alias Sabysachi who played chauffeur for us for the 5 days picking us up and dropping us after the show, playing some wonderful soothing music during our short trips that actually had us making requests, Abhay and his happy group of friends, seeing the lil Gotipuas falling asleep on the chairs, and humming along with Gangadhar Vandana….
For more photos view the slide show
Lalitha Venkat is the content editor of www.narthaki.com