The Shreekshetra Utsav at Puri displayed the abounding variety of Oriya art inspired by the Jagannath phenomenon.
KONARK TALES: Odissi dancer Sujata Mahapatra. PHOTO: AVINASH PASRICHA.
CELEBRATING THE collective power of Jagannath consciousness, Shreekshetra Utsav at Puri launched by Orissa Tourism, initiating an annual feature of this holy city was a rare example of planning, selection of venue near Gundicha mandir, and execution moving alongside intent. One of the chaturdhamas along with Dwarka, Badrinath and Rameswaram, Puri is the home of Lord Jagannath, the living emblem of Orissa's psyche, its syncretic consciousness enshrining in a Vaishnavite identity traces of Saivism, Buddhist Tantricism, Shakti and Tribal Sawara worship. The abounding variety of Oriya art inspired by the Jagannath phenomenon was featured in the festival. It showcased the totality of the Oriya identity not excluding the rare sand artist Manmohan Mahapatro.
To take only glimpses from a mammoth five-day fare, the curtain raiser each evening was invoking Lord Jagannath through choral singing by different groups with Gita Govinda verses, Adi Sankaracharya's Kadachit Kalindi, Dinakrishna's Jaya Jaya Jagannath Nilagiripati, and a very professionally rendered Vallabhacharya's Madurashtakam by Orissa Sangeet Mahavidyalaya the last evening.
Representing mahari culture central to Jagannath's ritual worship, and containing the Odissi seed, was Gayatri Khuntia, led to the stage by devadasi Sashimani. Guru Pankaj Charan Das' concept of mahari dance with soft interpretative gestures of songs representing the mahari's sringar, the Bhitar Gaoni Seba, Samprada Niyoga Mahari Seba and Bada Sringar Seba, evoked nostalgia.
The traditional Raas from which gurus like Kelucharan hailed, in the `Maninee' episode presented by Udayan Cultural Academy showed the art coming full circle with an all-male tradition now rendered by only females, playing even the role of Krishna. Odissi solo had its finest exposition in Sujata Mohapatra's grace and angasuddha in the Hamsadhwani pallavi and restrained abhinaya artistry in "Kede Chhanda Janilo Sahi". Ramahari Das' pallavi composition in Kamodi visualised and presented by Kolkata's Aloka Kanungo, followed by a sensitive interpretation of "Lalita Lavangalata" was the other notable solo projection.
The dance-drama `Ananga Utsav' became central to the event. Based on a thoughtful selection of Gita Govinda bharita(s) or last verse of songs containing the poet's signature, Orissa Dance Academy's slightly overdrawn presentation by polished dancers under Guru Gangadhar Pradhan's direction and sensitive choreography, combined aural with visual appeal. The spiritual and the erotic in the sambhoga and vipralabdha sringar and the emphasis on poetic creativity with the guru himself as sutradhar were vividly portrayed.
SANDS ART: Manmohan Mohapatra's work. PHOTO: SUDARSHAN BOTU.
More Siva-based, but not out of sync with the Jagannath ethos was Guru Durga Charan Ranbir's group Nrutyayana's presentation of `Bhadrakali Ashtakam', and `Sthayee', Debaprasad's finest creation. `Aditya Archana' as a group presentation had arresting group images. Competent dancing albeit, Rahul Acharya's `Ashta-Shambhu', in his too-arched spine and protruding lower back, called for postural correction.
Holding the audience spellbound with its group aesthetics in Contemporay Odissi was Kolkata's Odissi Vision Centre under Sharmila Biswas, whose group visualisation of the lasya/tandav blend in Sabda Nrutya was brilliant. `Prerana' with cameos from the Krishna myth began with a superbly evocative Krishna Janma based on the sonorous verses of Jagannath. The Maninee episode from Raas with Krishna disguised as bangle seller and yogi sneaking into Radha's house, with the final alta application, was sensitively handled, the fine but portly male dancer not reducing comic essence into slapstick funning. The group Yashoda/Krishna vatsalya scene was appealing. What failed to come off in a group presentation pertained to Krishna's boyhood feats based on the song "Kede Chhanda". Artistic costuming and imaginative music enhanced the production.
The vadya part had Dhanurdhar Reddy and group in a bristling mrudang session. A vibrant tala vadya performance featured dhol, changu, nagara, pakhawaj and khol led by mardal expert Banamali Maharana.
But it was authentic Odissi music, in the champu, chhanda, janano, yatra and aakhanda sangeet sessions and kavya in the form of Vaidehisha Vilas of Kavi Samrat Upendra Bhanja that made the festival special even for Puri dwellers - eyes being opened to a diminishing culture. A less fussy backdrop, a stage with headlights not obstructing view, a separate photographers' enclosure, tighter compering, inclusion of the conspicuously absent Gotipua Nach and above all more audience support are areas for future attention.
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