On the 17th October, 2015, i
attended a seminar organized by the central Sahitya Akademi, on ‘Nári Chetna’
in which six eminent ladies who have earned name for their performance in the
field of art like classical dance, vocal music, short story-writing, poetry etc.
were invited to speak on their muses. One of my favourite Odissi danseuses,
Guru Aruna Mohanty, was among them.
She started her talk with an explanation that
as a performing artist, it was easier for her to ‘speak’ through her limbs like
‘mudras’, eye-movements, silent lip-movements, foot-work etc. but it was not as
easy to speak by using the lips and tongue. However, she did speak wonderfully.
Her first muse was her mother. As a child,
she had seen her mother worshipping, morning and evening, the basil (tulsi) plant on the chaura at the entrance to their house. The devotional and peaceful
expression on her face was permanently etched in Aruna’s mind. So was the
warmth of her pallu when Aruna as a
child, used to snuggle close to her mother in evenings. She used to go for
dance-class and whenever it was late in the evenings for her to return, her
mother was there, waiting for her. Aruna
shared that this ingrained feeling about her mother in her mind expresses itself
on her face when she portrays on stage, the role of mother Yashoda of Krishna.
Her second muse was an old lady who used to sell
berries outside the gate of her school. One day, the old woman did not have the
change to return when after buying some berries from her, Aruna gave her a
currency-note. So she gave back the note asking Aruna to pay the next day. Aruna
was a little reluctant to accept it back. “What if i don’t come tomorrow or day
after tomorrow?”, Aruna put the question. To this, the old woman replied, “By
looking at the eyes of a person, i know whether i can
trust him/her.” Aruna recalls this expression on the old woman’s face, while
portraying the role of Shabari in the
tale of Rama. (I have written about this tale in my post 'Teen Deviyan' of Odissi Dancedated 17.09.2016.)
There was an elderly man who used to put up a
table near her house and iron the cloths of people in that locality. He had
befriended her. Whenever she had a tired or grim face while returning from
school, he used to ask, “What is the matter? Did you have a hard day at school
today?” Or, “Did you not do well in the examination today?” One day, she had a
fall and was limping. Seeing her in this condition, he carried her inside her
house and handed her over to her mother. Aruna still remembers the expression
of concern on this man’s face on such days and wears it on her face on suitable
occasions on stage.
One of her friends had lost her seven-year
old child and was heart-broken. This grief goaded her for long. Aruna met this
friend after a couple of years. By that time she had regained her composure
while Aruna still felt sad for her. This composure on her friend’s face
inspired her to move on. Guru Gangadhar Pradhan, who coached her the
minute details and nuances of Odissi dance, has a lasting inspiration behind
When she got married, she was afraid that her
passion for dance might get curtailed by mundane matters and
family-responsibilities. To her delight, her father-in-law told her on the
first day that since dance was like breathing to her, she should never flinch
from her first love. Equally supportive, are her husband and – later – her
daughter. They show their confidence in her that like the bird who flies afar
but never fails to return to her nest in the evening, she might give the full
play to her career as a leading danseuse but would never forget to come back to
Aruna added at the end that the greatest
muses to her were the lyrists like Jayadeb who composed classics like Geet
Govind which provide the backbone to her dance-numbers. She particularly
mentioned the Odia poet the Late Mayadhar Mansingh whose lyrics she gives shape
in dancing. To me, her narrative seemed like a well-knit
Recently, i chanced upon a video-recording of this programme in You Tube. Here it is:
At present, a controversy over
construction of barrage on the Mahanadi by Chhatisgarh, in which the river
originates and Odisha, where most parts of the river flow, is in its peak.
Against this back ground, play of
humanism has come to the fore. The 18-year old orphan girl Sony Yadav belongs
to a village in Rayagarha District of Chhattisgarh. She had never seen her
father, who had died before she was born. She lost her mother when she was 12
and had just got admitted to Class IX. That meant the end of her studies. Thereafter,
she stayed with her mother’s sister and then with her mother’s brother for some
time. The two were working as a domestic help and a daily labourer
respectively. Then Sony herself started working as a domestic help in the house
of a Punjabi businessman.
After working for about 8 months
there, she took a day’s leave to visit the nearby temple of Maa Chandrahasini
(in Chhattisgarh). After darshan of
the deity, she went to freshen up at the Mahanadi flowing nearby.
It was evening. And then it
happened. When she came to herself, it was morning and she found herself in
Kusamel village in Jharasuguda District of Odisha. In the previous evening,
when she was washing her legs in the Mahanadi, she slipped and was swept down
by the strong current of the swollen Mahanadi. It was pitch-dark all around. She
struggled for some time to save herself and then became unconscious. She was
swept about 60 Kilo Metres downstream for 13 hours. In the morning, Sanyasi
Kalo, a fisherman of Kusamel village was out for fishing and he saw a girl flowing
down the river. He called out for his fellow fishermen and they brought her to
the river-bank. She was unconscious but was still breathing. They took her to
Sanyasi’s house where she was revived.
She slipped near the temple of Maa
Chandrahasini in Chhattisgarh and was rescued near the temple of Maa Padmasini
She was taken to a nearby Primary
Health Centre where first aid was given. The doctor wondered how she survived the
ordeal even 13 hours after being in the swirling water. Then they got her
admitted to the District Hospital where she was thoroughly examined. She was
discharged a day later.
Sony was so much touched by the
love and affection of Sanyasi and his wife Ahalya that she wished to live with
them permanently. The couple was only too willing to accept her as their
daughter. They already had 3 sons but no daughter. Sony filled a void felt in
And the other villagers declared
her as the daughter of the village!
It was felt that for Sony to live
with Sanyasi’s family, the consent of her relatives was needed. So, the
villagers arranged a vehicle and took her to her village in Chhattisgarh. The
matter was discussed with her relatives and they had no objection. Sony told
them that Sanyasi and the others who rescued her were like God to her. So the group led by Sanyasi returned with her to
their village in Odisha. To add to a little official touch, the local Police
Station was informed in writing that Sony had become the daughter of Sanyasi
and Ahalya. All the villagers signed this as witnesses.
Now Sony has truly become the
daughter of the whole village. The villagers have resolved to do everything to take
care of her and to collectively arrange a decent marriage for her.
"Have a little more!", a doting 'mother' Ahalya to Sony.
A daughter of Chhattisgarh has become
a darling daughter of Odisha!
Srjan, the Odissi Dance School set
up by the legendary Odissi Guru, the Late Kelu Charan Mohapatra and carried
forward by his son, Guru Ratikanta Mohapatra and daughter-in-law Sujata,
organized a 5-day dance festival from the 5th to the 9th
September, 2016. The first day saw a unique dance number titled ‘Naari’ which
saw the three leading ladies – Teen
Deviyan’ – of Odissi dance, Guru Aruna Mohanty, Guru Meera Das and Guru Sujata Mohapatra perform
together. It was like the confluence of Ganga, Yamuna and Sraswati!
Guru Aruna Mohanty runs her dance
school Odisha Dance Academy at Bhubaneswarand Guru Meera Das has her Gunjan Dance Academy at Cuttack. Guru Sujata
Mohapatra joined them in the presentation of ‘Naari’. I have written about
Sujata in my post ‘A Legend in the Making’ dated 18.07.2014.
‘Naari’ presented three characters
- two from the Indian epic Ramayan,
viz., Seeta, the consortof Lord Rama,
the Shavari – the tribal woman devotee
of Rama, and the third, the Indian historical character Meera, who considered
herself as the consort of Lord Krishna. Aruna played the role of Seeta, Meera,
that of the Shabari and Sujata, that
Seeta, after being abducted by
Ravana and got released by Rama after defeating and killing Ravana, was asked
to undergo Agnipariksha – test by
entering fire – to prove her purity and chastity, as she had been interned by
Ravana. Then Rama, Seeta and Laxman returned to Ayodhya and Rama’s coronation
as the King was performed.At that time,
a washer man’s wife had gone to her parents’ house without informing her
husband and when she came back, he refused to take her back. She argued that when
King Rama had accepted Seeta even though she had spent so many days in Ravana’s
land, why she could not be accepted. When this matter reached King Rama, the
epitome of justice, equality and rajadharma, he
banished Seeta to a forest. When again Seeta was brought back to Ayodhya, Rama,
true to his devotion to justice, asked Seeta to once again to undergo the ordeal of Agnipariksha. An exasperated Seeta
appealed to Mother Earth – King Janaka had found her under earth while
ploughing land- to take her back into her fold. A wide crack on earth appeared, Seeta entered into it and it was closed. This poignant role of Seeta was
played by Guru Aruna Mohanty with the other danseuses accompanying her.
Shabari – the tribal woman – was a great devotee of
Rama and was eagerly waiting for the day when the Lord would set foot in her
hut. When she cameto know that he was indeed coming, she
collected various berries in the forest to offer him. When he came, she sat him down
reverentially and offered him the berries but before handing these over to him,
she tasted each berry to find whether it was sweet or otherwise. She rejected
those which she found not sweet and gave only those which were sweet, unaware
in her devotion that what she was offering, was food already been partaken by
her! Laxman was startled by this and told so to Rama. But Rama understood the
feeling in her heart and gladly ate those berries. At the end, Rama blesses her
and she gets salvation. The Sabari‘s
actions and facial expressions were meticulously presented by Guru Meera Das.
The last portion of the
dance-drama portrayed the devotion and complete surrender by the earthly person
Meera to Lord Krishna, who considered herself as Lord Krishna’s consort, was
portrayed by Guru Sujata Mohapatra, with all its nuances.
These three parts were nicely blended
in the presentation by the three high priestesses of Odissi dance form. When
one of them was portraying her assigned role, the other two were accompanying
her, creating the ambience. It was a very enjoyable and memorable evening.
An Odissi dance presentation by Guru Aruna Mohanty:
A presentation by Guru Meera Das:
'Ravan' - A Srjan Creation with Sujata Mohapatra as Sita and Ratikant Mohapatra as Ravan:
TAIL PIECE: Remember the old Hindi movies ‘Teen Deviyan’and ‘Teen Bahuraniyan’?