The 21st Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra Award Festival 2015
- Nita Vidyarthi
Photos courtesy: Srjan

September 29, 2015

The 21st Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra Award Festival (5th - 9th September 2015) organized by Srjan was inaugurated on the auspicious day of Janmashtami at Rabindra Mandap, Bhubaneswar by Shri Dharmendra Pradhan, Hon’ble Minister, Petroleum & Natural Gas, Government of India in the presence of other ministers and dignitaries of the Odisha Government and Guru Ratikant Mohapatra, the Director of Srjan with the usual dignity by pushpanjali to the Guru’s portrait and lighting of the lamp. The Lifetime Achievement Award this year went to Dr. Shantanu Mohapatra (music) and Guru Giridhari Nayak (dance).The proposal by the dignitaries to renovate and preserve the legendary Odissi guru’s house at Raghurajpur was highly applauded and accepted. In keeping with tradition, the prestigious five-day festival saw performances by the top brass of the Indian classical music and dance world, a band of brilliant young Indian classical musicians, concluding with a dazzling home production after the award ceremony.

Day One
A seasoned dancer of very high order, Sharmila Biswas opened the inaugural evening with Pushpanjali, followed by a fascinating piece, “Rag Madhuri” as a tribute to her guru who had invented himself and interpreted dance inspired by the “fundamentals of Odissi music and dance.” Odissi music comprises of 10 melas and Sharmila interpreted one Swaramalika each from the melas 1 to 6 incorporating ‘bhramaris’ or circular movements presenting them with the “Lakshana Geet” beginning with a Sanskrit sloka, “Bhramari Kriyati Ragabarnan” composed by Srijan Chatterjee. “Das melasu adi” (the first one of the ten melas) ushered in Nata. So beginning with  Nata, she presented one by one raga Kalyan, Khamaj, Mukhari, Suddha Desi and Gauri (Bhairavi) with a stretched pranam - “Pancham raga samuha pranam”. The composition as well as the execution boasted of stretched movements embellished with seldom performed broad chauka, elegant angabalayita and a perfect tribhanga.

Sharmila danced with majesty, poise and vibrancy that made for a rare treat. Conical spotlights on the dancer from the top for each Lakshanageet prevented the overlapping of ragas for better appreciation.   As vasaksajjika nayika in the ashtapadi “Pashyati dishi dishi” the colour of yearning and the unfurling of the emotional content of the poetry  by the impassionate abhinaya of the dancer was more than mere effect. Bijoy Jena’s music composition, vocal support by Pradip Das, violin by Suramani Ramesh Das, Buddhanath Swain’s mardala and Srinibas Satpathy’s flute added to the appeal of the performance.

The distinguished Carnatic vocalist O.S. Arun  welcomed the lord with his soulful singing of Oothukkadu Venkata Subbaiyer’s  ragam Mohanam based “Swagatham Krishna.” The day being Janmashtami, the singer presented Krishna bhajans one after the other while the audience swayed with his mellifluous singing drenched in bhakti. The Tamil number “Chinna Chinna padam Vaithu”(Madurai Srinivasa Iyer)in ragam Kapi, adi talam was followed by the  popular Shyam Kalyan based Hindi bhajan by Swati Tirunal “Aaj Ayo Shyam Mohana” and the lovely  “Madhur Pada,” “Priye Charusheele,” an example of Madhurabhakti. “Krishna nee begane baro” was an obvious choice. Arun is a complete performer, able to engage his listeners with his dramatic singing even with a surprise item “Maalli Mala Shyamaku Debi” in Odia (with a Carnatic flavour!) impressing the home listeners before concluding his recital with an abhang on request.
Day Two
To watch veteran Mandakini Trivedi’s Mohiniattam recital was to experience what this art form really signifies in its totality. It’s just not abhinaya satiated with elements of lasya but the vigour of tandava that was projected in the opening “Suryatatwa” of Kavalam Narayana Panikar set to ragas Revagupti and Saranga in tala ashtakam. The backward entry with “Pranamamyaham Suryam,” an invocation to the rising sun, turning into a dramatic exposition of the Sun God riding on a seven-horse-drawn chariot, feet apart energetically trotting with rolling eyes, saw her at full maturity of her art and equipped with ample knowledge of how to present it to the best  advantage. With quivering hands, rolling eyes, and the sloka “Prajalwa Kashwapa” she ushered in the  Sun. The effect of flute by Hema Balasubramanium at this point was noteworthy. 

Mandakini’s shining golden Nangiarkoothu neck piece and the stitched dhoti type costume (she has done away with the traditional skirt) not only allowed better appreciation of her foot work  but also more freedom for the dancer. This intense piece concluded with the “Gayatri Mantra” with  Mandakini sitting in sublime grace on the ground offering water and finally gliding gently off the stage with “Tatyum, Tatyum, Tatyum, Divakar” as the lights gradually dimmed off. Mandakini took the liberty of using the attakatha “Urvashiu Shapam” from the Kathakali repertoire in Mohiniattam in her next item. Set to ragamalika and chempata tala the dancer was at her best as angry Urvashi when her love and lust for the amorous, valorous Arjuna was rejected by him. With wrathful eyes and a sly smile, her sadistic pleasure on seeing Arjuna break down after being cursed to be a eunuch and play the drums, was an abhinaya to be etched in mind. Her responses as Urvashi definitely overpowered that of hers as Arjuna. Sopana music brought out the desired effect, with vocal support by Shiva Prasad and eddaka by K. Nambisan.
She concluded with a slow paced Devi stuti “Namami Bhairabhidha” gifted to her by her guru.

Mardala, the indispensible Odissi percussion instrument, resonated with the powerful strokes of Guru Satchidananda Das in the evening’s concluding recital.  A master of rhythms, Das has evolved as an excellent mardala player, trained and groomed under Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra and Guru Banamali Maharana . He followed the traditional repertoire (parampara) in adi tala beginning with Jaman, then Chhanda in 2, 3 ½, and Ragad, in double and quadruple, in multiples of misra and tisra weaving intricate patterns with deft strokes. Tisra in madhyalaya and drut laya was highly enjoyable as was the Bhowri (similar to Chakradhar), arasa and goudi with mano (tihai ) in biram and abiram. Muralidhar Swain gave able support on the harmonium.
Slide show

Day Three
Bharatanatyam dancer Vidhya Subramanian’s sculptural grace captivated the audience at the moment of her entrance on the stage in her olive green and magenta costume offering Pushpanjali to the great guru’s portrait at the corner of the stage. Trained under stalwarts like  Guru S.K. Rajaratnam Pillai and abhinaya with Kalanidhi Narayanan, she began after the Pushpanjali with the  stotrams of Maharishi Patanjali’s “Shambhu Natanam” where the deergham syllables are non-existent. With the strength of an athlete, not a line suffered in  elegance nor a movement in freedom as Vidhya meticulously executed the jatis with perfection,  weaving intricate patterns in some of the fast paced parts in Shiva’s cosmic dance. ‘Dasavatar’ was not the usual “Pralaya Payodhi jaley” number but a choreography by her Guru Rajaratnam Pillai where the jatis and not the lyrics are used to describe the incarnations set by Telugu poet Annamacharya’s tune in his beautiful composition “Intariki abhaya micchu cheyi.” Vidhya’s portrayal of each avatar was commendable. The erotic Mohana Kalyani abhinaya “Chikkavane Ivanu namma,” a Purandaradasa composition embracing the theme that “the young Krishna is no longer a little boy as evident from the questions he asks,” was presented with amazing dignity and charm only possible for a mature and sophisticated dancer of her calibre. The crowning piece of the wonderful recital was the ashtapadi “Yaahi Madhava.” The choreography was Vidhya’s but the thought process for Radha was Kalanidhi Narayanan’s. With delicate hastas, using the facial canvas as a palette of emotions, Vidhya was a complete disciple of beauty as she subtly translated the lyrics first as a kalahantarita and finally as a khandita nayika. With her natural qualities and abhinaya skills she interpreted, not imitated the ashtapadi. The closing of the door was the highlight of the piece. A memorable performance indeed!

Tabla stalwart Pandit Kumar Bose took the stage with Pandit Dharamanath Mishra of Lucknow on the harmonium to keep the naghma to present some special compositions of the Benaras gharana in teen taal. Beginning with a Rela and a Quida ornamented with strong tihais he moved on to an unusual piece “Totak chhand ki chaal” where the taal is broken -Taal todtey hain. Drone and strong slide on the bayan was noticeable. He presented some compositions of the “Benaras Baaj” in madhyalaya where the “nikas” of the sound of every bol and not speed is important. With powerful execution he presented “Ramsahayji ki cheez” of Benares where the “Dha” is in the middle of the paran. The delightful “Ritu ki paran” was a novelty where the sound of thunder and lightning, rain drops, vibration of the bayan at the onset of rains and smart shower and the dance of the peacock are all emanated from the sound of Bose’s tabla. ‘Bhairosahab ki cheez’ too was an experience where chakradhar was at the first sam and farmaishi on the second. What came as a delightful experience was the popular Manna Dey thumri “O Lalitha, oke aaj choley jete bolna” by Dharamnathji on the harmonium.
Day Four
This day was and for Samarpan, the band of young musicians who have musically surrendered to the tradition of Indian classical music. With Ninad Mulaokar on the flute, Manas Kumar (violin) I.D. Rao (saxophone) Vishal Dhumal (keyboard), Gautam Sharma (percussions) and Ojas Adhiya (tabla), the house came down with their classical fusion music, their ensemble and then impressive numbers as celebration in raga Vachaspati, rasiya with the saxophone and drums following the flute with the tabla joining in. Elephant Ride was in raga Bhimpalasi played on the saxophone and violin .With strokes of violin accompanied by tabla one travelled in the “Bombay Express.”  Raga Chandrakaus was dedicated to Kelubabu and the surprise that was greeted with  thunderous applause was the ever popular sweet folk number “Rangabati Rangabati Kanakalata” complete with the initial blow on the saxophone sounding like the original ‘muhuri.’ After a medley the recital concluded with a fine “Yaman meets Puriya.”

Day Five
The closing ceremony was graced by Shri Debi Prasad Mishra (Hon’ble Minister Industries, school and mass education Odisha), Shri Ashoke Chandra Panda (Hon’ble Minister, Tourism &Culture , Odisha), L.N. Gupta (Secretary Tourism Odisha), and Shri Ashoke Kumar Tripathy, (IAS, Member Revenue Board, Odisha) and Guru Ratikant Mohapatra.

After the award ceremony, the artistes of Srjan presented their new production ‘Namami Gange’ choreographed by Guru Ratikant Mohapatra, scripted by Pandit Nityananda Mishra set to Lakshmikant Palit’s music with music arrangement by Tarakanta Panda and narration by Aditya Mahapatra. This was preceded by two recent compositions, Saint Namdev’s “Yehi hai Vitthale, bhaktajana vatsaley, Pandurangey” and a fascinating Tarana choreographed by Guru Ratikant set to Dr. Vysarsu Subramanium’s music. Both these numbers have already been reviewed in this column.

‘Namami Gange’ was the story of “Ganga avataran” from the locks of Lord Shiva after the Ashwamedha Yagna and its journey through Gomukh, travelling across the Gangetic plains into the sea. It also strongly projects the contemporary issues of pollution and health hazards to human life. The production did have a message! Presented in a dance drama format, the production was woven into an excellent artistic tapestry with neo-classical Odissi by Ratikant Mohapatra, distinctly sharp choreography, music, slokas and brilliant lighting designs into a spectacular performance. Ratikant is known for his creativity in using his dancers as props, without character costumes - ekharya - and traditional ones with beautiful uncommon hues. The mardala is an indispensible part of the music.

The production opened with the invocation to Ganga and the Ashwamedha Yagna by King Sagar. The story followed its usual course embellished with lovely poetry, good music, intelligent use of formation and lines to stand on as props for the scenery to strike the note of the drama and story. What came across strongly was that the choreography was within the traditional Odissi format, nothing beyond and every movement of the dancers were well-rehearsed, well sequenced and attuned the spectator with the mood of the storyline, at the same time being visually very pleasant. The formation by the dancers portraying Gomukh, the imagery of the Manikarnika Ghat and the funeral pyre where the dead body was carried to are the high points  of the scene’s dramatic intent and the choreographer’s pictorial imagination. With sparks of brilliance, ‘Namami Gange’ is not a mere novel presentation that holds interest but it sustains the quality of Srjan’s presentations.

The credit for the excellence goes not only to the guru but also to the dancers who have executed it so well. They are Rajashri Praharaj, Manosmita Panda, Sipra Swain, Arpita Swain, Riyanka Chakravarty, Preetisha Mohapatra, Aishwarya Singh Deo, Pragya Paramita Dasa and Sanjay Behara.  Credits also go to light designer Jaidev Das and the indispensible Debiprasad Mishra together with Srinibas Ghatuary for compering the five-day festival so well. A special mention for the immaculate organizing capacity of the Director of Srjan, Guru Ratikant Mohapatra.

Dr. Nita Vidyarthi is a critic of performing arts, specialising in dance, dance theatre and expressions and is a regular contributor to The Hindu, and the Statesman Kolkata in dance, vocal music and theatre. She is trained in Kathak, Bharatanatyam and Manipuri as well as vocal, semi-classical music and Rabindra Sangeet. A Science communicator, Ph.D. in Polymer Science, Commonwealth Scholar and a retired Professor of Chemistry, Nita devotes most of her time to dance and theatre writing.