While on the subject of Odissi dance, one can never forget the late Sanjukta Panigrahi. The name is synonymous with Odissi dance.
As a small child, she would start dancing the moment she would hear any rhythmic sound – the sound of chopping of vegetables or splitting of firewood. She started to learn dance from the great Guru Kelu Charan Mohapatra when she was barely 4. Her first public performance was at the age of 5. In that, she was to dance for just 5 minutes. With thunderous applause from the audience, she continued dancing even after her time was up!
Prajatantra Prachar Samiti, a literary and cultural organization founded by Odisha’s first Chief Minister, has been organizing Bishub Sammelan, a literary festival on Bishuba Sankranti every year since long. Sanjukta performed at this event and was adjudged the Best Child Artist consecutively for 3 years from 1950 to 1952. She performed at the Annual Festival of Children’s Little Theatre at Kolkata (then Calcutta) in 1953.
Recognising her potential, her parents sent her to Kalakshetra, Chennai, where she was trained by Rukmini Devi Arundale. There, she secured a Nrityapaveen diploma in Bharatanatyam with Kathakali as the second subject. She returned to Odisha in 1958. She got a scholarship from the State Government to learn Kathak at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Mumbai. However, she returned to Odisha to concentrate on Odissi.
While training at Kalakshetra, Chennai, she met her future husband, Raghunath Panigrahi, a fine vocalist. It was perhaps willed by God that two streams of art, complementary to each other, should meet to bring about a perfect fusion. He had a gifted voice and she had a dancing talent. Both belonged to Odisha and divine will made them come together at a place far away from their homes. They were married when she was 16. The common path and the common journey started. He left a very promising career in film music to provide vocal support to her dance numbers.
Sanjukta came to be known as the best disciple of Guru Kelu Charan Mohapatra. The Guru-Shishya combine took Odissi dance to great heights. Her Odissi dance and Raghunath’s vocal accompaniment became integral parts. Her name spread far and wide and she was decorated with a Padmashee in 1975. The husband-wife team was jointly given the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1976. Sanjukta performed Odissi dance the world over and Awards came in search of her.
To her, Odissi dance was not a mere art form; it was her life. Together with her husband, Sanjukta has left behind a rich reportoire of Odissi dance both classical and modern.
Unfortunately, this legendary danseuse had an untimely departure. She was snatched away by cancer in 1997, at the age of 53, leaving in the dance-horizon, a vacuum which can never be filled. Isn’t it said that God takes away early those whom He loves the most?
How I wish I would have been fortunate to watch Sanjukta Panigrahi’s heavenly performance live on stage just as I have had the good fortune to watch the veterans Vyajayanthimala and Dr. Minati Mishra perform on stage at Bhubaneswar!
Whenever I watch and listen to Pandit Raghunath Panigrahi present his great vocal music on stage, a deep sigh escapes from my nostrils.
Their son Babu Panigrahi has inherited his father’s talent and has already a made a name for himself.
In the same way, Ratikanta Mohapatra, son of the late Guru Kelu Charan Mohapatra has inherited his father's talent and has established himself as renowned Guru of Odissi dance. His wife Sujata is a well-known Odissi dancer.
Here is a link to some more information about Sanjukta Panigrahi and below are some glimpses into her world of dance.