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Above and beyond Odissi: A workshop with Guru Ratikant Mohapatra
- Maya Krishnamurty

May 2, 2023

Since the late 1940s, the expanse of the rich and historic art form that is Odissi dance has reached over 150 countries across the globe. One integral aspect of this expansion, in addition to the immense work and contribution of the pioneering Gurus of Odissi, is the culture of workshops, instilled by Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra, where practitioners and students from across the globe would learn and imbibe the several nuances of the art through Guruji's rigorous and untiring teaching methods (especially during the ritual Srjan summer workshops, which millennials like me have heard about extensively from our Gurus and seniors). Continuing this tradition, year after year, with the finest attention to detail is Guru Ratikant Mohapatra, Director, Srjan-Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra Odissi Nrityabasa (GKCMON), Bhubaneswar, and Dean of the Faculty of Arts, Communication and Indic Studies (FACIS), Sri Sri University (SSU), Cuttack.

Odissi: A workshop with Guru Ratikant Mohapatra

In collaboration with FACIS, SSU, Odissi Dance Centre (ODC), Bangalore, under the aegis of Devjani Sen, conducted an Odissi dance workshop from April 17 to 22, 2023 at the Montfort Spirituality Centre, Bangalore for both junior students, and senior dancers and practitioners of the art form. Over the last three years, the Covid-19 pandemic cast a damper over performances, lecture-demonstrations, and in-studio workshops. Through the entire duration, Guru Ratikant Mohapatra and several stalwarts from the realm of the classical arts continued to support artistes and their art through digital means. One of the first collaborative in-studio workshops since the outbreak of the virus, this national level workshop is yet another milestone in this academic year for FACIS, as they continue to promote and propagate the amalgam of the academics and the classical arts. Recently, FACIS had organized Master Class-Tryst with Odissi with Rajashri Praharaj and Manan-The Contemplative Dancer with Madhuri Narayan, initiatives that work towards this very cause.

The workshop was divided into two sessions, as Guru Ratikant Mohapatra was ably assisted by the relentlessly meticulous demonstrations of Rajashri Praharaj, whose precise and patient iterations of the dance were most beneficial for both junior and senior dancers. Among the participants of the workshop were senior Odissi exponent and host Devjani Sen, renowned Odissi dancers and teachers Madhulita Mohapatra and Sarita Mishra, and Odissi teachers from Bangalore, Yasomati Mishra, Sohini Bose, and Karishma Iyer, and their students. Also in attendance were Master of Performing Arts (Odissi dance) students of SSU, who gained significant insights from the hands-on learning experience of the workshop.

The junior participants learnt an invocation, Matangi Dhyanam in the first session, while the seniors in the advanced session learnt one of Guruji's timeless compositions, an Odia abhinaya, Kede chhanda janelo sahi. The first session witnessed the participation of 17 young students from different Odissi dance schools of Bangalore. The choreography was set to the enchanting music composition of Pradip Kumar Das and the dance and rhythm composition of Guru Ratikant Mohapatra. The dance illustrated the several radiant and magnificent characteristics of Goddess Matangi, and concluded with an obeisance at her lotus feet. Through the course of the week, the students learnt a great deal about body alignment and posture, the basic framework of Odissi, Odissi talas, and the importance of understanding the underlying sahitya of the dance compositions.

Odissi: A workshop with Guru Ratikant Mohapatra

With over 21 seasoned and upcoming dancers in the second session, Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra's beautiful composition Kede chhanda janelo sahi written by illustrious 18th century Odia Bhakti poet Banamali Das tested the emotive and technical prowess of the dancers, as they learnt various episodes of triumph and glory from Lord Krishna's childhood. With the refrain Kede chhanda janelo sahi, "Oh Sakhi, look at little Krishna, up to his unimaginable tricks, emerging triumphant every time!", this dance composition weaved through strong movements, characters, and emotions as the dancers portrayed the killing of Putana; the vanquishing of Shakatasura, Dhenukasura, and Bakasura; the lifting of Govardhana giri; Kaliya Mardana; and the revelation of the entire timeless universe in the mouth of young Krishna, as seen by mother Yashoda.

While every composition of Guruji's is a masterpiece in its own accord, what made this abhinaya and workshop even more special for the participants was the fact that it was the very first time that Kede chhanda janelo sahi (composed first in the 1980s by Guruji) was being taught to a national audience. Learning such an intricate and evocative composition in a week was tough but the lessons were invaluable; the workshop was a holistic experience for all dancers, with its blend of practical and theoretical teaching.

The final day witnessed a brief concluding ceremony, with a vote of thanks by Devjani Sen and personal interactions with Guru Ratikant Mohapatra and Rajashri Praharaj, with several senior dancers eagerly looking forward to the next workshop and collaboration, highlighting the event's resounding success.

Maya Krishnamurty
Maya Krishnamurty is a trained Odissi dancer and a freelance verbal trainer and language editor based in Bangalore. Maya holds a post-graduate diploma in Journalism and Mass Communication from Xavier Institute of Communications, Mumbai and has been learning Odissi for over a decade.

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