The first family of Odissi
by Honey Patnaik
Dancing is the language of the soul and freedom of your mind. “Dance like nobody is watching and liberate your soul to the universe”, says Sujata Mohapatra, the beautiful dancing doyen of Odissi. Her mother-in-law Laxmipriya Devi who breaks into a smile, could not agree more. 87 year old Smt. Laxmipriya Devi, fondly known as ‘Guruma’ is a first generation Odissi dancer and also the first ‘Gotipua’ woman dancer of Odisha. She is the wife of renowned Odissi Guru‘Padma Vibhushan’ Kelucharan Mohapatra,the founder of the SRAJAN dance institution.It was a proud moment for ‘Coffee Bytes’ to share some special moments with the mother-in-law and daughter-in-law duo has played a major role in taking the Odissi dance form to a different level, globally.
Guruma do you remember when you first performed the gotipua dance on stage?
It was somewhere in October, 1947 when I performed the gotipua dance in Cuttack. My codancer was Guruji(Kelucharan) himself and he had taught me the Dasavatar. He was an assistant tabla player in Annapurna-B theatre group in Cuttack those days. My favourite was the Vamana avatar and I could do it really well since I am short.
Sujata, you are a renowned Odissi dancer yourself, how do you see the present generation adapting to the classical dance of Odisha?
I perceive a great difference in the learning style between the international and the local students. Students from outside Odisha seem to have more dedication, commitment and focus, unlike those from Odisha who somewhere take this dance form for granted and lack patience. They want a readymade item which they can learn and perform immediately. There has to be an understanding about the wealth of tradition that surrounds this amazing dance form. The dancer needs to understand the symbiotic relationship between an expression and the pose, which is very important.
Guruma what was the song that you loved most?Can you share some fun moments when you used to be a star in Annapurna-B theatre group?
My favourite abhinay was ‘nahi ke kari dela mitani go’ and ‘jaa na re mo raana parana miita’… I am lucky that I got an opportunity to dance, sing and act during the pre independence days as I came from a very orthodox Brahmin family from the Khurdha district of Odisha. My mother stood guard over me to ensure there was no hanky panky !! (Gives a toothless mischievous smile). We girls used to give money to guruji and send him to get some katki bara, kata aloo singda and gugunee for us in the evenings. It was later that I fell in love with him and we got married. One of my favourite dramas used to be Bhasmasura where I played the powerful role of Mohini, Guruji was Shiva, Guru Pankaj Das was Bhasmasura and Guru Mayadhar Raut was Vishnu. I had also acted in plays like Kansa kabata, Kalapahada, Sadhaba jhia, Bandhu Mohanty etc. and a few Odia movies -Suryamukhi, Manikajodee and Amada baata.
Sujata how has Guruma influenced you as a dancer and which is your favourite segment in Odissi?
Maa has always been a great source of inspiration and I have learnt from her also, even though I was guru ji’s student. I learnt a beautiful abhinay which happens to be her favourite song… ‘nahi ke kari dela mitani go’ in the Mahari style. She taught me the typical ‘thanis’, her movements and posture were pure and unique. I love the hansa dhwani pallavi and my favourite abhinay is kete chhanda janelo sahee nanda raja ra tiki pilati
Sujata what are the ingredients necessary to become a good Odissi dancer?
Sadhana and passion are the two most important ingredients for any classical dancer. The passion to dedicate oneself to the knowledge of learning, understanding and ultimately executing the richness of this dance form. We take the students to different temples to help them understand the traditional history of our state. They study the sculptures, the poses and read the different stories that go behind each posture. We have students from Russia, China, Japan, USA etc who do not have any idea about our culture, heritage and tradition. They come for a year or so to learn and train in our institution and they also enjoy the Odia home cooked food, wear Odia sarees and try to understand our language. When they go back to their homeland they take back a very rich understanding of the Odia culture and tradition with them. Two true Odias, Sujata and Laxmipriya Devi lead a full and fruitful life, contributing to the rich heritage of Odisha. In the sunset of life, Laxmipriya Devi could not have wanted anything more from life than to be surrounded by students who love to be with their Guruma.