A memory treasured, preserved and nurtured

Ballets are forgotten, ballerinas retire, choreographers die,” remarks noted dance critic Jack Anderson. He captures the fleeting quality of dance when he calls it “the most perishable of the arts”.
However, once in a while, there comes an inspired artiste who makes an indelible impression on the lives of those around him. The many disciples of Kelucharan Mohapatra, who will proudly lead you to their bedside altars where his photograph shares space with gods and saints, will testify to his genius. On April 7, 2011, his seventh death anniversary, his disciples in various Indian cities will make offerings of dance as a tribute to him, cementing a tradition that started the year after his death in 2004.
Born in Raghurajpur, Puri, in 1926, Kelucharan Mohapatra was exposed to dance at a tender age. He spent his formative years working in a rasa lila troupe and then worked with the renowned Annapoorna Theatre. He played a key role in the restructuring of Odissi during the Jayantika movement in 1957.
Mohapatra was an iconic performer who gained equal prominence as an idiosyncratic but lovable teacher. His disciples are scattered across the globe today. Ratikant, his son, feels that his father went beyond dance to teach his disciples valuable lessons about life itself. “Wherever he went, Guruji inspired people immensely. We feel honoured to be doing something in his memory because he gave us so many things in life. Every year, we organise a festival called Samsmaranam on his death anniversary. It has travelled to different cities like Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkata since its inception in Bhubaneswar in 2005,” he says.
As Samsmaranam wends its way across the country, it leaves a gamut of memorial festivals in its wake. Cities touched by it strive to continue paying tribute to Kelucharan Mohapatra by carving out new festivals, creating more space for memories and more opportunities for dancers and dance-lovers. In Bhubaneswar, the nerve centre of Odissi, Mohapatra’s disciple Ileana Citaristi organises Remembering Guruji, a thematic festival where some of his older students converge to perform. She says, “We wanted to present Guruji’s original compositions exactly the way we learnt them from him. With his choreography passing from hand to hand, it is a good thing for the new generation to see the original. We begin the festival every year by screening Guruji’s rendition of the mangalacharan, an invocation. We have had thematic presentations every year; previously, we have performed ashtapadis and Oriya songs. This year, we are going to perform pallavis.” It is understood that if Samsmaranam returns to Bhubaneswar, all his disciples will join forces to organise a single festival.
Ratikant also maintains that their policy of not collaborating with sponsors to fund Samsmaranam gives it a sense of collective responsibility and fosters a kinship between his father’s disciples. He elaborates, “Our parent organisation, Srjan, collaborates with Guruji’s disciples in a particular place. We share equal responsibility for organising Samsmaranam without involving outsiders. All his disciples are happy to contribute to the festival effort and work together to make it happen every year.”
After innings in Bhubaneswar, Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkata, Samsmaranam makes its first foray into South India this year. Odissi dancer Sharmila Mukherjee, who runs Sanjali Centre for Odissi Dance in Bengaluru, will host the festival in collaboration with Srjan. The festival will feature Odissi compositions by Kelucharan Mohapatra apart from showcasing new work choreographed by Ratikant.
In their varied approaches to the act of commemoration, Mohapatra’s disciples continue to pay homage to his versatility. While Citaristi prefers a theme-based programme that only features compositions taught by Mohapatra, Ratikant favours a mix of old compositions and some fresh Odissi choreography.
In Mumbai, Debi Basu, Daksha Mashruwala and Jhelum Paranjape will present Anusaran, where Paranjape asserts that the real tribute lies in going beyond what has been taught. “We did think of performing only what he had taught us, but the essence of true learning also lies in doing your own thing and thus following in your guru’s footsteps,” she explains.
Anusaran makes a radical departure by inviting dancers of other forms to perform at the festival. This year, Bharatnatyam dancer Sandhya Purecha and Mohiniattam performer Mandakini Trivedi will also portray Kalidas’s Nayikas in a thematic presentation. Paranjape is optimistic about the future of the festival, indicating that they are also open to including theatre performances in the coming years.

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