Jhelum presents Odissi for Thalam
- Padma Jayaraj, Thrissur
e-mail: padma.jayaraj@rediffmail.com

October 28, 2005

Thalam, a cultural organization based in Thrissur, is bent on setting right the rhythm of the cultural capital of Kerala. For most of the programs that it arranges, it also conducts a lecture demo for awareness. The class conducted by Jhelum Paranjape and her troupe from Smitalay, Mumbai, boosted the morale of the arts students who filled the auditorium of St Mary's College for Women. Here is a gateway for them to go uphill in search of very many avenues connected with arts and writing.

It was inspiring to know that Jhelum who began her career as a Mathematics teacher gave up teaching for love of dance. Even as a young girl she was introduced to Bharatanatyam and Kathak, but she fell in love with Odissi at the very first sight. And the romance continues. She was initiated into this dance-form by guru Sankar Behera in 1977. And three years later she went to the late Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra. She became one of his chief disciples. Trained under him for over twenty-six years, she continues his legacy. Today she is an acclaimed soloist and a choreographer of thematic and innovative compositions. She is the artistic director of the dance wing of Sane Guruji Arogyamandir founded in memory of the late actress, Smita Patel, her longtime associate.

Jhelum introduced Odissi with a brief history. It is one of the oldest classical dances of India. Like all other classical dance forms, Odissi sprang from temple precincts, as a mode of worship. In the temple of Puri, the dancers known as Maharis, (Great women) danced for Jagannath - Lord Krishna. Perhaps changing times took some of them beyond the walls of temples. Later during the Muslim rule, they were forced to perform in durbars. It was during this period, that many of the dancers went into hiding. The scholars of the times found a way out to keep alive the dance form from total eclipse. Youths dressed as women were trained to dance. So dancing in durbars flourished, as did the Odissi dance. And these youths when they became grown men, settled down as teachers spreading the Gotipua tradition in different parts of the subcontinent. This is the story of Odissi from temple to proscenium theatre. Later, Indrani Rehman took Odissi to the international scene.

Odissi is a graceful dance form noted for its lasya, graceful movements. It has four basic postures. For samabhanga, the body is held straight and for abhanga, the weight of the body shifts on to one foot. Tribhanga is the most charming pose when the body is broken up at three points, at the feet and at the torso while the head remains tilted. This sculpturesque posture is common in temple sculptures of Orissa. Chaukha is a square or a rectangle drawn by the limbs of the body. The movement of the torso part of the body is unique to Odissi. Jhelum demonstrated how the upper part remained in slow motion while the footwork got faster.

The invocatory item of any Odissi performance begins with Mangalacharan. The dance begins by paying obeisance to Lord Jagannath, the reigning deity of the people of Orissa, the land of Odissi. Then the dancer begs forgiveness of mother Earth for dancing on her by doing the Bhoomi pranam. A prayer in praise of goddess Tripura Sundari follows. The mangalacharan concludes with trikhandi pranam or the three fold salutation to the gods above the head, to the gurus in front of the forehead, and to the audience in front of the chest.

Jhelum and her troupe showed a simple, pure dance item that begins with very slow, graceful movements of the eyes, neck, and body with simple footwork. As the dance gathers momentum, intricate footwork and sculpturesque poses are woven in with increase in laya. It grows like a creeper, body-movements and footwork drawing its foliage. Although basically a solo item and originally choreographed by Kelucharan Mohapatra, the pallavi lends itself beautifully to group choreography showcasing the laya essence of Odissi. Jhelum has choreographed the group item for her troupe.

Her senior student Ankur Ballal has choreographed an innovative tandava piece synthesizing pure Odissi dance movements with a music comprising of different percussion instruments displaying the strength and vigor of Odissi, an item that caters to the taste of modern times.

A traditional Odissi performance is not complete without an Ashtapadi from Jayadeva's Geeta Govind, a 12th century treatise describing the bond between Radha and Krishna. Jhelum showed a range of emotions like love, jealousy, anger, wonder and contentment, a feast without the dazzle of makeup and costume.

The evening performance included innovative items. 'Dowry' depicted how the transient nature of love, and marriage within the patriarchal confines of Indian familial system suffocate and stifle women. But, the same evil leads to woman empowerment in the hands of strong women who set social changes in motion. The item is a wake up call to the women in India today. The piece is a harmonious blend of traditional Odissi dance with music that is more modern to create dramatic effect.

Jhelum has a rare sensibility that is more humane than just classical. The item Odiya Abhinay is based on a lyric written by a Muslim poet Salbeg, an ardent devotee of Lord Jagannath. He was never allowed to enter the temple. Besides, he was a leper who lived the life of a social outcast. His prayer to deliver him from mortal bondage is answered by his God as he completes recounting the stories of Gajendra moksha, Draupathy Vastrakhepa and Bhakta Prahlad. The singer is united with the deity in the afterglow of death.

Sita Harn is more dramatic and episodic in nature. The crucial story in Ramayana, idyllic with the forest scene, the golden deer enticing Sita, the bond between the brothers, and the abduction scene where Jatayu comes to save Sita and gets injured, is portrayed with a lyrical charm.

A piece from Leelavathi, a dance ballet based on the mathematical treatise of 12th century mathematician and astronomer Bhaskaracharya, is a unique piece that blends science and arts. It depicts the intelligent daughter Leelavathi solving a mathematical problem posed by her father Bhaskaracharya.

The program ended with the traditional concluding Moksha to the notes of the mardala followed by the shloka, 'narayani namostute.' Cultural India carries on her traditions today with highly talented dancers who have ensured the continuity of the dance form with an awareness and enriched consciousness, by repeating a legacy, and by creating and offering an aesthetic experience that carries the dance to greater heights.