Saturday, January 31, 2015

The Rare Documents of Jayantika

  The word ‘jayantika’ rings a bell in the mind of each and every Odissi dancers, old or new, upcoming or established, professional o amateur. All of us know that towards the end of the 50’s an association was formed among the guru, intellectuals, dance researchers  and practitioners with the intent to systematize the practice and teaching of the Odissi style as it was known till then. Repertoire and technique was discussed, dress code was decided and fixed and guidelines were laid down for the future generation of Odissi dancers. In few words if we are existing today and dancing away Odissi in the four corners of the globe is largely thanks to Jayantika and the people who took part in it.
  It is then surprising that in the first two publications on Odissi dance, that is  the Marg issue on Odissi curated by M. Khokar in 1960 and the book by D. N. Patnaik published in 1971,  Jayantika and its good intents and purposes don’t find any place. In fact I should say that if I had to base my writing on the few information about it  found in the existing literature on Odissi dance, I would not have much material besides the generic data that all of us already have.
  A chance meeting a couple of years ago, in a social function, with a lady, Vijayalaxmi Das, who introduced herself as the elder daughter of guru Dayanidhi Das, prompted me to ask her if she happened to have  any documents from her father time related to Jayantika. My question it seems sparked some curiosity in her and made her go back and unearth from an old almirah a bunch of hand written loose papers which were laying down since her father death and to which until then she had not given any importance.  The discovery and my enquiries made her aware of the importance of those documents which contain detailed proceedings of all the meetings of Jayantika which took place  from June 1958 onwards, mostly hand written by her father but also by Gora Chand Misra (a journalist), guru Raghu Dutta and few others.
  Although  a teacher by profession, Vijayalaxmi is a trained Hindusthani singer and she is at the head of the Dayanidhi Sruti Kala Parishad in Cuttack which comes out every year  with an annual souvenir called Kala Srujani; in the last four issues of the souvenir,  she has published few of these documents both in the original forms and in the transliterated one.
  Mainly due to the busy schedule of her teaching assignments, it took quite sometime for me to be able to meet her and to get access and take vision of all the remaining papers and when finally it happened I was totally taken aback by the amount of work documented in it. My reviewing of the materials is certainly not over, it actually just started, but I thought it would be  interesting to bring to light whatever discovered so far.

Aims and Motivations

From the introductory speech given by the president Biranchi Narayan Routray ( a journalist who was working for the Prajatantra newspaper) during the first meeting of the association (which was known at first as Nikhila Utkala Nrutya Silpi Sangha) at 3 P.M. on the 22nd of June 1958 at Banka Bazaar, we come to know that the need of the moment was to do research on different aspects of classical and folk dances, to establish rules in the teaching system which would assure uniformity in the execution of bhangi and mudra, to aim at a broader publicity for Odissi dance, and to secure co-operation among the different guru-s and institutions. The agenda of the meeting was: to discuss   difference of opinions among the practitioners, to know the difficulties encountered by the teachers, to establish the required qualifications for becoming members and to chose a name for the new association. At this regard the names proposed were Chhanda o Kala by Mayadhar Rout, Sanja Akhada by Dev Prasad Das, Jayantika by Biranchi Routray (because all the new births are celebrated as jayanti-s), Nada Nupura by Dayanidhi Das and Nrutya Srusti by Gora Chand Misra. The governing body at this stage was formed by Biranchi Routray as president ( he will remain president for about one year until he got shifted to Rourkhela), Dayanidhi Das as general secretary (he will retain this post all through), Dev Prasad Das as joint secretary and Batakrishna Sena as treasurer.
 From the proceedings of one meeting held on the 27th of July 1958 we come to know that some members who had participated in the previous meetings and had been given traveling allowance by the association for coming to Cuttack from their respective places, started to antagonize Jayantika pretending not to know about it and declaring that they had participated only as spectators and not as  active members. In the same proceedings it is also specified that although the participation fee was of 1 Rs., Laxmipriya (Kelucharan Mohapatra’s wife) gave 2 Rs., Gora Chand Misra 3 and Biranchi Routray 5.
 In spite of all the good intentions of the founding members, it  took almost one year for the new association to consolidate and start producing some results. By July 1959 the need to become more united and to safeguard the purity of the style became more and more urgent. During a meeting held on the 3rd of July 1959, Dev Babu refers to the case of a certain Vinod Chopra who had approached him for learning Odissi in a couple of days. In spite of all the pressure put on him and also the possibility to earn good money, he refused. These and other similar episodes made the members more and more convinced of the necessity of establishing a research wing for research on Odissi and folk dances (it is interesting to notice the interest and stress put each time on the study and research on the folk dances along with Odissi which indicates that by that time the dichotomy between the two had not reached the proportion that it has nowadays) under the banner of Jayantika, to assign to each research scholar a particular topic and to ask to each of them to present their report every fortnight to Jayantika . The deliberation at this regard was taken in the meeting of the 11th of July (held in the open space of Kala Vikash Kendra new building) during which it was also decided to ask Orissa Sangeet Academi assistance for the project.
  The next meeting held on the 19th of July at Raghunathji Mandir in Telenga Bazaar, at 1 P.M., was going to be a crucial one. The 9 members present, Dayanidhi Das, Raghunath Dutta, Mayadhar Rout, Balaram Misra, Kartik Gosh, Batakrishna Sen, Kelucharan Mohapatra and Chakradhar Kwanr, signed in blood and ink (the signatures are still visible at the bottom of the paper) the following declaration: “In today meeting we promise that we will abide to the decisions and course of action deliberated by Jayantika and we will not allow any action which will negatively affect Jayantika”.

The repertoire

  Towards the end of July of the same year an other cucial meeting took place. By this time Lokanath Misra ( publisher of Ganatantra) had taken the place of Biranchi Routary as president and Dhiren Pattnaik had become vice-president (he will become the president when, in the beginning of 1960 Lokanath Misra becomes Member of Parliament and shifts to Delhi).The venue for the meeting had also changed to Lokanath Misra’s office room in Dargha bazaar. In this meeting the course of an Odissi program was discussed and the guru-s presented the following proposals: Kelu Babu proposed 5  items (bhumi pranam, batu, pallavi, abhinaya, pahapata), Dev Babu 7 items (bhumi pranam, bandana, batu, ista deva bandana, nartana, ragarupa, pallavi), Dayanidhi Das 5 items (mangala charan, batu, pallavi, abhinaya, ananda nrutya), Dhiren Patnaik 7 items (jagarana, bandana, pallavi, abhinaya, jhantari, batu, sabdam).   At the end they decided for; mangala charan, batu, pallavi, abhinaya, mokshya nata.
 In the proceedings of a meeting held on the 29th of August of the same year we find a detailed description of batu nritya, passed and signed by Batakrishna Sen, Dhayanidhi Das, Raghunath Dutta, Balaram Misra and Dhirendanath Patnaik. The main points are: the item is dedicated to Shiva in the form of Batukaishwara Bhairava, it should start by showing the musicians playing the veena, flute, mardala and manjira, it should contain the sthai ukuta (in one of his article Dhayanidhi Das declares that to chose the opening bols  for the batu both he and Kelu Babu went to Shyam Sunder Singhari and it was he who suggested the by now famous ta kadataka dhi  kadataka ta dhi kadataka jhe ) and a variety of khandi, arasa and muktai, it should contain the following bhangi accompanied by movements of eyes and neck, akunchana, nikunchana, darpana, biraja, kari hasta, kati china, abhimana, parsua mardala, it should strictly not contain the chakra bhramari. The declaration ends with the sentence that everybody should follow this pattern.
 It is well known that Dev Babu and Pankhaj Babu did not agree with this version of batu which came to be known as Kelu gharana. It is interesting to read the version of batu described by Mohan Khokar in the article ‘Technique and Repertoire’ published in the Marg magazine in 1960. This batu which starts with ritualistic actions in honor of Shiva and proceeds  almost like a varnam alternating  passages of nritta  with passages of sahitya could very well be the version which Dev Babu had in mind at that point of time, since also the rest of the repertoire described by Khokar is very similar to the one proposed by Dev Babu in the meeting of July 1959. It could also be the reason why the batu, which is an item of pure dance, is often referred to as batu nritya instead of batu nritta.
 The meetings between July and December 1959 were held almost daily as one can make out by the number of proceedings maintained, many of which are reports of what had been taught that particular day by each guru in the class at Kala Vikash Kendra. It is evident that the get together were happening late at night after all the guru came back from classes and tuitions. Many of these reports contain detailed description of technical aspects such as chari-s, banghi-s, mudra-s and tala patterns with their proper names and way of execution (in one of these reports, signed by Raghu Dutta, we find that among the teachings imparted to the first year students, there where also six types of bandha-s, something which nowadays has been totally discontinue). One wishes that the Odissi Research Centre could have been able to have  access to  these documents when in the 80’s it set about to re-write the theoretic aspects of the dance; this would have been  a deserving  tribute to the work of these   pioneers and would   have added authenticity to the effort.


Most of the proceedings of the month of August  1959 are dealing with the organization of the first official dance demonstration curated by Jayantika. Discussions delve around content, dates and who will perform what.  The date of the 14th of September was finally decided after Chief Minister Hare Krishna Mahatab gave his consent to be the Chief Guest (it is heartening to see how at this juncture people from all walks of life, politicians, lawyers, writers, journalists, intellectuals, were sincerely involved and active in the reconstruction  of the Odissi dance, something that would be unthinkable nowadays!). During the program, which was held at the Nari Seva Sangh in Cuttack, Dev Babu gave demonstration of bhangi and pada bheda, Mayadhar Rout of hasta mudra and Jayanti Ghose and Sanjukta Misra (not yet Panigrahi at that point) danced for about 25 min. presenting mangala charan, batu, basanta pallavi, odia abhinaya and mokshya as separate items.
 One should  take note  that by this time some important events had already taken place in the history of Odissi dance; in January 1958 Kelu Babu had accompanied Kalicharan Patnaik to Madras on the occasion of  the All India Dance Seminar held during the 31st Conference of the Music Academy\. On behalf of the Kala Vikash Kendra Sanjukta danced lalita labanga lata accompanied by Kelucharan on the mardala and Balakrishna Das as vocalist while Kalicharan Patnaik read a paper on  the historical and practical aspects of Odissi. On the 5th of  April of the same  year,  Jayanty Ghose and Dev Babu presented  a demonstration  in  New Delhi during the All India Dance Seminar organised by the Sangeet Natak Academi at Bigyan Bhawan. On this occasion too Kalicharan Patnaik read a paper on the classical aspects of the dance and Jayanty danced mangala charana, batu, dekhiba para asare and mokshya although still presented as one single item of about 15 min.
Both these two programs were presented on behalf of Kala Vikash Kendra (as was also the Odissi presented in March 1959  at the All India Dance Festival in Calcutta organised by Nritya Bharati; where Kumkum Das and Krishnapriya Nanda danced  a Radha-Krishna duet accompanied by Kelucharan on the mardala). It is known that the relationship between Jayantika and Kala Vikash Kendra, although both were working towards the same goal and for more than one year the meetings of the first were held in the premises of the second, were not too friendly, or perhaps they became  such once Babulal Doshi started to fear that Jayantika would take away attention and credit from the achievements of the Kendra, to the establishment of which he had dedicated his entire life. Whatever it is, there is no doubt that both these institutions and the people involved in it, have been vital  for the reconstruction and perpetuation of the Odissi dance.
An other important program organised on behalf of Jayantika, the preparation for which started in December itself, was the one put up at Cuttack in June 1960. While on 6th of October 1959 the program put up at Puri was involving not only Odissi dance but also folk dance and classical music, the one planned for June 1960 (the date for this was changed several times) was to be a comparative demonstration between Odissi, Kathak and Bharat Natyam. From December 1959 onwards,  the meetings devoted to the planning of this important demonstration, were attended not only by the guru-s, but also by the dancers involved, Krishanapriya Nanda, Priyambada Mohanty, Jayanti Ghose and Sanjukta Misra. On 30th of June  in the program ‘Comparative study-Bharat Natyam, Kathak and Odissi’, Raghunath Dutta presented Kathak dance, Mayadhar Rout danced the ashtapadi hari riha mugdha in Bharat Natyam style and in Odissi the following items were demonstrated: mangala charan in group by all the 4 dancers, batu by Jayanti and Krishnapriya, pallavi and abhinaya by Sanjukta and Priyambada and mokshya by all the 4 dancers. Accompanying at the mardala was Dayanidhi Das instead of Kelu Babu (  he had not yet recovered from   tuberculosis by then. We know from the proceedings of a meeting held on the 24th of May 1960 that a collection of Rs. 200 had been raised among the members and donated to him for his therapy ).
A felicitation meeting in honour of Dev Babu, who had returned from a successful tour to Australia and Indonesia accompanying Indrani Rehman, was held on the 3rd of December 1959. The speech read in his honour, highlights the great sense of pride felt by all the members at the successful tour of the guru which helped in spreading the fame of the Odissi dance outside India; on the occasion the other accompanying musicians were also felicitated.
It is difficult to establish when exactly Jayantika ceased to exist. There are proceedings dated until 1963/ beginning of ‘64. In a meeting dated 8th August 1963, held at 2 P.M., the members present expressed their happiness at the establishment of the Utkal Sangeet Mahavidyalay at Bhubaneswar (which will start the activity from April 1964) but at the same time passed a resolution to invite the Sangeet Natak Academi (under which the Mahavidyalay was going to function) to make sure that the syllabus and curriculum of the Odissi dance course would follow the rules established by Jayantika.
Perhaps it was too much of a dream to think that a body of this kind could maintain the control and dictate  rules  on a discipline like dance which relies so much on the individual talent  and creativity of its exponents. Disagreements and private assignments surfaced perhaps too soon and did not allow  the initial intentions to get fulfilled.  Until today the Odissi masters don’t have a common guideline book to follow  while teaching the theoretic aspects of the dance and have to rely on their individual knowledge and interpretation of the classic texts. I am sure the documents left behind by the Jayantika members, especially the ones concerning the technical aspects and definitions, would be useful in this regard.
The proposed Odissi Museum which the Department of Culture intends to put up in the precincts of the Odissi Research Centre at Bhubaneswar should definitely preserves these original manuscripts  as important documents of the history of Odissi dance. Besides a publication should be curated for the benefit of all the Odissi practitioners, by giving the duly recognition to the Dhayanidhi Sruti Kala Parishad and to its founder,  guru Dhayanidhi Das, one of the many self made artists, dancers and musicians all rolled in one, who have dedicated their entire life to the cause of Odissi dance, but have hardly received any recognition so far.   


-Khokar M.,1960,‘Technique and repertoire’,Marg Publications,Vol.XIII (2), Mumbai

-Patnaik D.N., 1985, ‘A History of Jayantika’, Jayantika Souvenir, New Delhi

-Patnaik D.N.,2001, ‘My work on Odissi in association with Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra’, Pradakshina Souvenir, New Delhi

-Citaristi I., 2001, ‘The making of a Guru, Kelucharan Mohapatra, His Life and Times’, Manohar, New Delhi

-Kaktihar A.,(undated) ‘Odissi Yatra, the Journey of Guru Mayadhar Rout’, B.R.Rhythms, New Delhi

-‘Kala Srujani’, 2012,2013,2014, Dayanidhi Sruti Kala Parishad, Cuttack

 ( Published in Nartanam, Vol. XIV, N. 4)                                

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Odissi and Chhau-a comparative study

Odissi and Chhau-a comparative study

Origins and history

Odissi and Chhau dance (I will be dealing in this article only with the Mayurbhanji variety of Chhau dance) are two products of the rich cultural history of the state of Odisha; they represent two important aspects of this history and are indicative of the two major trends which characterize the region, the religious or bhakti component and the martial one.
Although two branches of the same tree, the two forms of dance had different and almost contrasting path of development. While we can trace back the history of the Odissi form  to the  nartaki  depicted in the Rani Gumpha cave of Udayagiri (200 B.C.) considered as  the most ancient dancing representation in stone , we don’t have much documents related to the emergency of the Chhau dance before the 18th century A.D.  On the other hand while Odissi had almost disappeared by the beginning of the 20th century and it was only after the Independence that the revival took place, the Chhau had reached its climax by the beginning of the 20th century and  lost its luster  with the merger of the Mayurbhanji state in 1949, when having lost the patronage  of the Bhanji royal dynasty,   it took some time before the new Government came to its rescue.
Although we don’t have much documents related to Chhau dance before the tenure of Maharaja Jadunath Bhanja Deo (1822-1865 A.D.)  we are never less able to trace the  development of the martial trend in  the history of Odisha  through the study of the paiks or infantry soldiers, their contribution to the feudal structure of the region in terms of military service, valor and prestige. From the phari-khanda (sword play) and rook-mar (attack and defense) exercise of the paiks to the  full developed form of Chhau dance the path has been one of continuous development and progression. The patronage of the enlighten rulers of the Bhanji family have been determinant in bringing the Chhau style to the highly refined level of codification and stylization which  characterizes the dance we see nowadays.
One important event in the course of this development has been the impressive performance put up by the Chhau dancers (called paiks by the local press of that time) in January 1912 for the reception of Emperor George V at Kolkata. The item known as ‘war dance’ had been directly supervised by Sri Ram Chandra Bhanji Deo and was a display of all the movements  belonging to the attack-defense technique brilliantly choreographed by the ruler and performed by 64 well trained dancers from Baripada. From this stage onwards the style kept on developing  adding new themes and movements drawn from  folk and tribal dances of the region until it reached a vast repertoire of new and creative items.
While the Odissi style after an almost virtual disappearance got a sudden revival and recognition at the national level in the late 50’s and early 60’s and was able to attain the status of ‘classical’ from the concerned authorities,  the Chhau somehow, although gifted with all the technical premises and with a well codified basic grammar, has not yet  been able to get recognized in the classical category.  I have personally seen a lot of refinement and improvement in terms of presentation of dance items and  musical accompaniment in the course of the last 30 years and I am quite sure this recognition is not far from coming. One only hopes that the young generation of dancers who are nowadays practicing the art form will continue to do it  with the same amount of dedication and commitment which the gurus and practitioners of the earlier generation had shown.    

Technical differences

The basic steps (thabaka and uphli) ) of the Chhau style belong to the desi category  of akasiki chari (Sangita Ratnakara) or aerial steps whereas the Odissi ones are more akin to the bhumi chari or earthly steps. In  the akasiki chari the feet and legs are moved at different levels above the ground before being placed down, whereas in the bhumi chari the raising of the feet from the ground level is much less. Since in Chhau the legs are used to depict actions which in Odissi would be shown by the hands and arms movements,  the leg movements are bound to be much wider and acrobatic than in other styles.
Some of the akasiki chari we find in the Chhau style are:
-vidyubhranta-throwing up the foot in front and moving it around above the forehead quickly before placing it on the ground. This corresponds to the sintha-pada in Chhau (putting vermillion spot on the forehead).
-purahksepa-throwing up the kunchita foot and stretching it forward quickly place it on the ground. This corresponds to the chhodadia in Chhau ( spreading the cowdung on the courtyard)
-harinapluta- jumping up with the foot bent and letting it fall repeatedly, In Chhau this is called harina dia ( the jump of the deer)
-damari- is the circular movement of the bent foot to the left and to the right. This is similar to the gobara-gala of the Chhau (mixing cow dung and water)
-janga varta- where the sole of the foot moving inwards is thrown at the back of the knee and the sole of the foot moving outwards is thrown at his side. In Chhau this is called anta muda (swinging of the hips)
-suchi- after placing one foot by the side of the thigh it is stretched pointing the end. In Chhau this is called baga macho kujia (the crane searching for fish in the pond)
Among the 108 karanas (co-ordination of movements of hands and feet) described in the Natya Shastra the ones most used in Chhau are  vrscika ( one of the leg is bent towards the back), vishnukranta (one leg stretched in front) and lalata tilaka ( put tilaka on the fore-head with the big toe).
The basic movement of the upper torso (dheu-wave) in Chhau  is in a frontal back direction whereas in Odissi is in a sideways direction. The frontal back direction (agrachala prusthi) in Odissi is used only in specific movements depicting water and peacock gaits.
Some   similarities between the Odissi and Chhau technique are the following:
-eka bhudha ghura (single leg spin) is similar to the ekapada bhramari of Odissi
-chalaka (quick sideways movement of the feet) is called chapaka in Odissi,  used very often in abhinaya
- thamaka of the Chhau is called sarana chari in Odissi, when one foot advances sideways and the other slides nearby with a quick movement
The two basic poses of tri-bhanga and chowka are present in both the styles but the Chhau tri-bhanga called dharana has the feet at a distance of 12” whereas in the Odissi one the distance is of 6”. The position of the arms in Chhau (right one up suggesting holding of the sword and left one thrown in front suggesting holding of the shield) and the more open position of the chest  transform the feminine and graceful Odissi tri-bhanga into a masculine and virile stance. The chowka remains more or less same in both the styles except for the position of the arms: the Odissi 90 degree sideways position of the hands in pataka hasta  resemble the iconographic figure of Jagannath, to whom this dance was offered as seva, whereas the upper and lower position of the Chhau arms suggesting the holding of sword and shield establish the martial derivation of the style.
It is interesting to observe how the basic squatting position of the knee and triple deflection  at the neck, waist and knee is present in both the styles, as reflection of their  belonging to the same regional context and how from these two common basic postures the two styles have developed in a opposite and complementary directions, as reflection of their different purpose and finality.
I consider the two styles complementary to each other in terms of energy, body language and aesthetic quality. The elegance and lyrical quality of   Odissi  infuse  elegance into the Chhau whereas the virility and lightness of the Chhau infuse stability and control into the  Odissi.
From practicing the  Chhau movements one can develop better stamina, sense of balance and elasticity of muscles while from practicing the Odissi one develops command over rhythm and control over the micro-movements of hands, eyes and facial expressions.
When the two styles are compared,  the  Odissi  is often described as the lasya  or feminine component and the Chhau as the tandava  or masculine one; this definition does not give justice to either of the styles.   Elements of lasya and tandava are present in both the styles, it is the energy-quality which differs. While practicing both the styles one can really feel the different way the body is energized by the  two forms of movements and realize the  type of complementary energy which in the process gets released.

During the training period it maybe difficult  to keep the two styles separated and some movements of one style may infiltrate and ‘pollute’ the execution of the other, but once the two styles have been mastered, there is no doubt that they enrich each other  and offer a vast spectrum of possibilities in terms of creative choreographies.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

I would like to share few articles I wrote in 1983-1984. Those were the years of the first 'East-West dance encounters", discussions and seminars about tradition, need of changes, stagnation and innovation, and new directions in Indian dance were starting to emerge. Some of the questions put forwards in the articles may be obsolete now, but some maybe still relevant.

Odissi: a flower without the fragrance?

     I was talking to an old devadasi of the temple of Lord Jagannath in Puri. She told me that all the people who were now proclaiming to have been the ‘first’ just took of the Odissi dance what they saw, understood, experienced or absorbed and went away to sell it to the world. But  that was like  to pick up a flower and  think to possess its fragrance too, or to copy the recipe of prasada in the temple; it would not have  the  taste of the original one. In this way, they may have taken away the outward structure of the dance but not the core. This belonged to the temple dancers and would die with the last of them.
    We have come a long way since the time when Odissi dance was a matter of life-long training and dedication of a few girls, secluded from the rest of society and fully oriented towards giving pleasure to their Lord residing in the temple. The dance performances of today are totally intermingled with mundane values like ambition, competition, politics, money, showmanship, individual  prestige and so on.
     But in whose hands does reside the art nowadays ?  Each Guru teaches in a different way to maintain his own stamp and property-rights on the students; the students perform items which have been purchased as you would any kind of goods in the market. With the result that the present repertoire of Odissi lacks variety and originality. Leave aside the younger ones, even senior performers don’t know or at least don’t try to compose anything on their own.
     In Delhi a dance critic once asked me why, instead of the round bindi with the white petals around it, I did not draw an oblong one while performing. That would suit my oval face better. I stared at her and said “ I do not know, this is what my Guru draw the first time I went on stage and it is supposed to be the right one.” Back in Orissa I brushed up my notes taken during my meetings with the old devadasi and I found that their bindi was not at all round: it was oblong like a drop, with a black spot at the bottom and a v shape supporting it all.
     So from where did the round bindi with white petals come? If it was just a convention decided some years ago for the sake of uniformity, then why should I not change it according to my taste and wish?
     And here we are at the crucial point of the famous guru-shishya relationship of which India is so proud. Faithfulness and complete submission to one own’s teacher; no right to decide if he is right or wrong; no complaints; no deviations. I admit that for sometime it was all right. Coming from the experience of the 1968 students’ revolutionary movement in Europe, with all the rebellion against rules, authority and boundaries, I could not believe that I had at last found someone to whom I could hand over all the responsibilities of my existence.
     There were no alternatives: if I wanted to learn the dance I had to bend down to the rules. And this gave an alibi to that part of myself that was constantly searching for some substitute for parents in spite of all the revolutionary declarations of  the other part that was fighting for an independent identity.
     But is this really in tune with the times? In this epoch of interchanging disciplines is there really any meaning in belonging to and depending on a single person as the sole repository of all knowledge?
     Is there any sense in the way different Guru feud from the boundaries of their styles as if what they are dealing with was born with them and will die with them?
     It seems that everybody has forgotten that once, at the dawning of the dance revival, they were all sitting together, putting together all the different experiences they had had, and confronting them with whatever had been handed down by the written tradition..
     So at that stage  the discipline did not belong to any of them, they were just instruments, serving the cause of the transmission of the art, Maybe this phase lasted for too short a time and , before a real structure could be laid down, they were already competing with each other over who was the purer or the nearer to the original even though the ‘purest’ or the ‘original’ has never been determined or discovered.
     And if it is now impossible to bring all of them together again because individual ambitions come in the way, would it not be proper to at least  codify the differences into well-defined and scientific gharana? So that the picture is not left only to the imagination of the poor student to be sorted out with all the attendant risk of incurring one or the other’s anger.
     This will possibly put at the disposal of the dance practitioner a clear panel of variants, ortodox in style but at the same time open to different ways of utilisation. And it will give the dance style the possibility of growing into new combination instead of just repeating itself in closed and stagnant patterns, linked to the creative genius of a few isolated masters. For what will happen when these few Guru are not there any more?
      I wrote an article on Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra’s life; his training in dance and abhinaya included a twelve years stay with his master, learning the art of singing, playing drums,, stagecraft, make-up, literature on Krishna and Radha, besides the direct experience of performing in all the different roles of the repertoire. His childhood fantasies were full of the world of Radha-Krishna and the different leelas .He did not have or need not to have any further or broader education; this is what his world was made of.
     On the other side the old devadasi was telling me that her childhood had not been like that of  her other classmates. Back from school she was not supposed to mix freely with other children and go and play in the streets or along the river. She received at home, from her own mother, teachings about the Radha-Krishna cult, Oriya and Puranic literature, dance and its meaning.
     Her food was always the prasad brought from the temple and her dresses, except for the occasion of seva in the temple, were humble and sober. In this atmosphere, totally engrossed in religious feelings, Jagannath  was the only emotional and psychological landmark of her existence.
    Nowadays Jagannath’s murti  is on the stage, but the dance is done for the public. The same themes are conveyed but the situation is artificially recreated during the two hours of the performance and it dissolves in the background of the audience daily occupations and preoccupations.
     Is this the ‘fragrance’ that is missed which according to the old devadasi will pass away  together with the last one of them?
     The stories of Radha  and Krishna talk of the universal feelings of love and separation. But if the stories have lost their metaphysical reality and are just themes within the reach of human psychology, they surely don’t need to be the only ones to be used in the dance compositions of today. This I say without trying to take away anything from the greatness of Jayadeva’s Geeta Govindam or any of the beautiful songs of the Vaishnava literature.
    The question is: are we able today to render them with the same unquestionable faith and universal implications endowed upon them by their authors and reproduced in the lives and in the dance of the ‘servants of God’? Or are we just getting the flower and leaving out the fragrance?


Krishna or Godot?
During the evenings of the East-West Dance Encounter (which took place from 22nd to 29th January 1984 at National  Center for Performing Arts, Mumbai, sponsored by NCPA and Max Mueller Bhawan.) on the stage the gap was striking; the Eastern dancer all dressed up, ornamented and protected, the Western one naked, exposed, vulnerable.. The latter with wide-open eyes expressed uncertainty, anguish, desperation in relation to the unknown; the former, with devoted and submissive eyes, expressed a longing for her beloved.
 Krishna or Godot? Is the yellow-robbed one with the smiling face and inviting flute in his hands, the target? Or is the unshaped and indefinite aim of our existence to be evoked? In both cases, body, space, energy, directions, music were used. The emphasis was different. Here the face there the legs; here bright colours there black; here the beat there the off-beat; here the expected there the unexpected.
            In both cases long years of training lay behind the conditioning of the body. The best among the Western dancers, for all their physical fitness, cannot move the neck, the torso or the fingers the way the Indian dancer does. The best among the Eastern dancers, for all their training, cannot raise the legs, keep balance or conceive a step out of the rules.
           A conditioned medium for a conditioned human being! Many questions, doubts, proposals, emerged during the closed sessions; is the form or the content to be changed? Can a free dance exist in a traditionally settled society? Can the dancer keep out of social context?  
           One of the first discussion I had with my Guru at the very beginning of my arrival in India, I remember it was regarding my external appearance. At that time I used to let my hair remained uncombed. My dress was casual. My exterior reflected my inner mood. The freedom to choose whether to be an aesthetic object to be used by the male dominated world or a liberated woman was part of my cultural background and was reflected in my attitude and behaviour. My Guru’s arguments were completely different; there was no question of being or not being an object, of being or not being used, of accepting or not accepting the role. There was only one model to which the woman had to confirm and the dancer, as a woman interpreting the model closer than anybody else, had to adhere to it even more. Guruji had rejected more than one student whose style of life was not in accordance with this model. This was not applying to the local Oriya girls, whose life is still more or less according to the rules, but to women coming from more open and exposed context.
            Faced with this contradiction, what should  a woman do: change her life or change her dance? I changed my life. In my own experience at that stage it was more revolutionary to accept a tradition than to be against it. I had already been naked and exposed during the years of vagabondage, of experimentation and political struggle, during the year of rejecting and rebellion that have been part of my story as well as that of a full generation of young people in the West. The present choice is not imposed on me and I am ready to go beyond it as soon as become unrelated to whatever I project into it. If you have found yourself once you
 But what does the symbol of Sita mean to a woman who in life has to follow the example compelled by her surroundings and not by her own choice? And again what does it mean for a woman who rejects this model in her personal life but is still using it as a content of her artistic expression?
            On the other side there is the complete abandon and freedom of the Western exponent. In the process of alienation from the old and the traditional everything has been discarded, the bad and the good, with the result that often the artistic expression has become too abstract, too technical or too extreme and abstruse, in one word, too “void”. True, it reflects the aridity of our modern life, but that should not be an excuse for not trying to convey through the artistic medium an emotional alternative.
            At this point we could say that the broad categories of  ‘East’ and  ‘West’ are no more to be referred to because, as cultural contexts, both can lead to one or an other kind of conditioning of the individual and his expressional needs.. The focus should shift towards the artist as a human being, the genuineness and sincerity of his involvement and dedication, the trueness and coherence in his life and his work. Shiva is eternally dancing his cosmic dance; it is not Odissi or Bharatnatyam, it is not of the East or of the West. It is the universal dance of creation and destruction, life and death, that modern man can understand in terms of energy, atoms, particles, magnetism and matter. It is sometimes joyful, sometimes wrathful, sometimes water, sometimes fire, sometimes at peace, sometimes full of tension.. Can’t we be inspired by this example of dynamism and freedom instead of only trying to copy iconographically his postures and depict stories and anecdotes?
           Is a universal dance beyond geography, languages, costumes, themes and denominations no more possible? I know it may sound as an ‘utopia’ but I just want to take a large breath in the stratosphere before coming back again to our atmospherical reality of  Gurus, styles,, modern, traditional, concrete, abstract, religious, profane,. I am sure if we dancers, with different technical experiences but animated by the same honesty towards our search, could work together, a sort of rejuvenated and universal dance could emerge comprehending the old and the new, the East and the West, the discipline of the body and the freedom of the mind.
          In the present reality of multinationals and intercommunication between states and disciplines, art in general and dance in particular, are still too linked to regional idioms and divided by geographical borders. The horizons should be opened and the cult of the ‘prima donna’ should be replaced by the cult of truth and essential.
          This first East-West Dance Encounter should open the doors to more and more encounters among dancers where, more than shows and talks, there could be experiences of life and work together. Theatre workers have already taken several steps towards this getting together, sharing experiences  beyond any difference of style and tradition. Can’t we dancers too have regular International Dance Encounters, organised every time in different parts of the world, as a common platform of research and understanding?
          The continuity between life and art  which, in the past, has always been responsible for the formation of  any artistic expression seems at present to be lost behind empty schemes and repetitive formulae.A tribal man uses his art to talk with God, whom does the modern man address when he repeats the same gestures on a modern stage? And whom does he speak to  when he creates new gestures that nobody understands?
           Both risks are there: from the East the same and mechanical repetition and deception, from the West, the abstruse and , at any cost, new or the empty displaying of technique and perfection. And, in the middle, is a common ground of the coming together  of artists as human beings, open to each other and ready to give and to take not for the benefit of any bank account but for a kind of mutual, spiritual and human enrichment.
(Published in NCPA Quarterly Journal, June 1984, Mumbai)
Is Tradition A Burden?

     Traditional values are like the double-faced God of the Latin mythology, Janus : on one side benevolent or enriching , and on the other evil or oppressing .
      I grew up in an orthodox and traditional environment , where things of religion and life were given to me as granted and unquestionable . Later on, as I became conscientious , I began to realize that what I was asked to do was not exactly what I was feeling to do . And I started to disobey , to go against the rules , without knowing exactly why and  what I was searching for. It was just that I could not  do otherwise . It took ten years  from those early days  before I could pacify myself with another set of traditional values belonging to another culture in another part of the world.
      So what  happened during those ten years that made me recognize  the positive face of  tradition and get rid of the oppressive one? What does it mean to have refused Christ and have found  Krishna ? And how is it that after having gone through revolutionary movements against rules and authority I found myself so at easy  interpreting the submission of Radha. the tenderness of Sita or the  devotion of Hanuman?
     I do not wish to deal here with the subject from an intellectual point of view but just give an answer that comes out of genuine experience. In life , as a woman who wanted to live as fully as possible any experience , free to choose and reject according to her own choice , it was rather the male more than the female components of my personality to  come forward in many circumstances .
     Being  alone along the way, one has   to struggle and  defend oneself without being allowed to submit own responsibilities in anybody else's hands. In private , as  in social relationships, the need to distinguish and impose oneself takes the upper hand on the need  to be gentle and submissive.
     When now a days , through dance, I am able to identify myself with a feminine 'archetype' full of grace, tenderness, devotion and submission , it is because through these values  I can experience  a part of my personality that probably up to this moment had not much chance to emerge. In the same way , I am equally ready to taste the excitement to be Kali , fire , demon ,or destruction. And again , I am able to enjoy  playing with Krishna ,  dealing with his mischievous deeds and challenges because the experience is so different from the sense of oppression and guilt to which I was used while relating myself with the christian God.
      Having gone through life, through all its heights and depths without fear of the risk and unknown , I am no more slave of values but free to relate to them as  personifications of my  total way of being. The content is mythological ,the form or medium is dance , a coordinated discipline of body and mind. It could have been poetry, literature, ritual , painting or any other medium of expression.
       The medium like the content has not been imposed but found at the end of a long and dedicated search. And as I found them , I am equally prepared to lose or to substitute these safe anchorages as soon as they would stop to  give me back  what I project into them . If you have found yourself once you know that you can not  be lost any more, even in a period of darkness and temporary absence of land marks . When the moon is completely dark, the new one starts to grow, says the Chinese  philosophy . If you are open to this kind of dialectical approach , there is no question of old or new, traditional or modern: it is just a matter of being yourself.
        But being in India , and particularly in Orissa , for almost 5 years , and living  side by side with girls and women who are learning like me the same artistic form  but  have at their back a completely different experience of life from mine and  a different attitude towards the art itself , I ask myself “Is tradition, for them , enriching or oppressive?”
        Or putting the question differently : what does the symbol of Sita mean for a woman , who has to follow this example in life, compelled by her surroundings and not by her own choice? And what does it mean for a woman who has rejected this model in her personal life  but is still using it as a content for her artistic expression?
       For somebody , evidently , the myth still works. They don't find discrepancy in accepting the role assigned to them by the traditional social assets. They don't feel the urge to question . They are still happily living like puppets in somebody else's hands. But more and more girls, who are coming to learn dance, are nowadays getting exposed, outside the class,  to the contradictions of life , to the process of breaking  of rules and values, to the hypocrisy and corruption which governs the society around.
       In this context, does the traditional training based on blind faith and silent execution help them to live their life in a conscious and responsible way? And does this sophisticated and untouched world of art reflect at all the needs and urges of the world outside?
       I am  not here to suggest a pilgrimage to the West to anybody in crisis. I don't think the West has much content to offer. In fact we have been lucky to have had  the possibility to come towards  the East and  to find here alternative values . But from the East , where to go? I think what the West can teach is perhaps how to be honest towards one’s real quest, without arresting the search in front of any risk or compromise. When one has lost the way, he starts  searching for his own directions, he himself  becomes his own religion.
      "Leave everything behind and follow me” is no more a voice from outside but from inside . The call comes from the  total 'Self’ and not only from the rational and conditioned  part of the  psyche alone. At the end or at a certain point of the process one may come across the old symbols again and find oneself acting as a docile Sita or a fighting Kali, but at this stage these characters will be integral elements of one’s own expanded personality and not only part of the mythology. Or one may find that this language is not at all meaningful for him and he may discover to be more at  easy with other kind of identifications, as a social worker or a political activist for example
      Classical dance, among all the artistic mediums, is maybe the one which  has remained the more untouched as far as form and content are concerned. That means that the dancers and performers of today are all equally conscious and aware of their choice, or simply they are just executing without questioning ?   As a dancer who has found such a well of wealth in the tradition of this land I put these questions  to another dancer , who may   take things for granted losing in the process the very essence of it.    

Published in Indian and world arts and crafts, 1984, New Delhi)