Tributes to Sanjukta Panigrahi
- Vijay Shanker, Mumbai

October 26, 2012

August 24 marks the birthday of the late celebrated Odissi exponent Sanjukta Panigrahi. Since the birthday could not be observed on that day, it was held on 2nd September at the mini PL Deshpande Auditorium in Mumbai. Sanjukta Panigrahi Yuva Mohotsav was organised by Smitalay Academy of Dance with support from Sangeet Natak Akademi, New Delhi. Rich tributes were paid to the dancer who scaled great heights as an Odissi exponent but died while at the pinnacle of her career.

Sanjukta Panigrahi was a pioneer performer, who was responsible for placing Odissi on the international map. Her scintillating performances were noteworthy not only for typical lyrical Odissi elegance but also for the sublime quality which was further elevated to the spiritual level, due to soul stirring music provided by her husband Raghunath Panigrahi. I still remember one of the most powerful performances rendered by her at the Elephanta Festival several years back. Steeped in Oriya culture and tradition, Sanjukta’s performance was also based on Oriya compositions that were rare and novel.  Meeting her at her residence in Bhubaneswar will always be cherished in my memories.

Smitalay, named after the late actress Smita Patil, was established by noted Odissi exponent Jhelum Paranjape. The festival featured Odissi performances by young budding talent and was presented by three Odissi schools based in Mumbai, namely Leesa Mohanty's Nirguna Centre for Excellence, Nivedita Mukherjee's Avantika Institute of Performing Arts and Asha Nambiar's Vaishno Kala Kshetra.

The dancers commenced their performance with the traditional invocatory number Manglacharan that pays tribute to the presiding deity of Odissi dance, Lord Jagannath. After that the dancers performed pure dance numbers and expressional numbers. While some dancers were rather nervous and amateurish, there were dancers who displayed their confidence while dancing with precision and maintaining the beautiful quality of the Odissi style. The program consisted of pure dance pieces like the Arabhi Pallavi and thematic numbers pertaining to the Goddess and the Dasa-avataram of Lord Vishnu. While the Arabhi Pallavi is known for its quality of melody and its fine combination of both music and melody, I was reminded of the soulful music rendered by Raghunath Panigrahi. It was indeed a rare harmonious combination of both music and dance and made the entire experience both elevating and sublime that would always remain in my memory.

Although three schools of Odissi performed, there were slight stylistic differences due to the combination of both tradition and innovation. The dancers concluded the performance with the number Moksha that took the dancers to the sublime level when the human soul unites with the divine soul. On the whole it was a nice way of paying tributes to one of the greatest dancers India has ever seen.