Odissi Guru-Danseuse-Choreographer


Padma Shri Smt. Aruna MohantyOdissi


This year, on Republic Day, Odisha woke up to the news of an Odissi Guru being nominated for the prestigious Pad ma Shri Award. The entire state erupted with joy as the Odissi fraternity earned another feather to its cap. In a tete-a-tetewith Coffee Bytes, Smt. Aruna Mohanty, an Odissi danseuse–par-excellence, talks about her relationship with this dance form and much more.                                                                                      by Subhojit Panda

Congratulations on being awarded the Padma Shri! How would you define this success?

Thank you! Honestly, for the last 50 years, I’ve been driven by the nasha (passion) of Odissi rather than focusing on Awards or any Samman. I remember, on 25th January this year, when I got the call from New Delhi congratulating me for the Padma Shri, I thought somebody was playing a prank on me (Laughs). It took me a while to realize that I would be conferred with this prestigious award. More than anything else, the thought of happiness and pride on the faces of millions of Odias across the globe mattered the most to me. I bow down to the Almighty and feel blessed to be a part of this beautiful world, called Odissi. I dedicate this Award to the dance form, Odisha, the Odia art & culture and all the people who stood by me and supported throughout. I strive to be associated with Odissi and make my state proud till my last breath.

How would you define your relationship with Odissi?

Without Odissi, I’ve no identity. I sleep, eat, drink and breathe Odissi. There is nothing on earth that gives me more pleasure than Odissi. It reflects on the Odia art, culture, tradition, heritage, lifestyle, thought process and much more. I feel proud that through Odissi, I’ve been able to represent my state on a global platform.

What is your opinion about experimentation with classical dance forms?

Yes, I love experimenting, as long as it is done within the framework of the dance form. Nobody has the right to play with the Odia grammar, its footwork, sensibility, music and others in the name of experimentation since it tends to dilute the aestheticism and purity of the dance. Odissi is our soul and identity, each dancer needs to understand the background of the music and lyrics before performing. We cannot afford to be careless and insensitive towards it.

Do you believe dance is a strong medium to highlight issues in our society?

Of cours e! Si nce time immemorial, performing arts have always taken inspiration from real life incidents to depict human emotions, experiences and issues. I think dance is the mirror of the society that subsequently helps in creating awareness among the masses. In fact many of my productions and compositions are based on sensitive issues in our society.

You’re also widely known for being vocal on social issues.

We are human beings first! Unless you do not get affected by societal issues, you cannot dream of being a good artist. I’ve always taken a stand for issues plaguing our society and feel proud in doing so. In fact it is every artist’s responsibility to stand up for the society that has given him or her, support and adulation to excel in the field.

Being a role model for women around the globe, what is your impression on women empowerment in today’s scenario?

Every woman should take pride in the way God has created them. Honestly, I’ve never believed in the disparity, God has created men and women for a purpose and has entrusted both of them with certain duties and responsibilities. The world is a beautiful place gifted to us by God, I believe all of us can co-exist and do good work.

As a woman, is there any particular issue that worries you a lot?

I’m appalled by the handicapped mindset and thinking of the society on women that still exists today. I recently did a composition themed ‘Naari’ that depicted the journey of women right from the epics- Ramayana and Mahabharata, till today. The composition portrayed the agonies of ‘Kunti’, ‘Draupadi’, ‘Gandhari’ and ‘Sita’ among others and celebrated womanhood. They were not perfect but they fulfilled their ‘dharma’ (duty) as mothers, sisters, wives and leaders in their own right. In the same way, all women today are like these characters that battle hardships everyday and come out victorious every time. We need to salute their indomitable and undying spirit. They are Ajaya, Bijaya and Nirbhaya!

How has your family supported your long and stellar journey?

I hailed from a middle class family in Cuttack. My father was a writer and a theatre personality and my mother was a homemaker. So I grew up in an atmosphere of art and culture where working hard was important rather than name, fame or money. Despite stiff resistance from my grandmother, my parents always stood by me like a rock, supporting my passion for Odissi. Besides, I’m grateful to my husband, Debasish Patnaik who has also stood by me through thick and thin. I’m blessed and indebted to my in-laws who have encouraged me throughout.

Any message for budding Odissi dancers?

Primarily, I have three things to share – Firstly, there is no force on earth that can stop you from achieving your goals. Challenges will come, but never give up. Secondly, awards are based upon your work and not gender. Lastly, never work for awards. Work hard for the dance form and awards will eventually follow.

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