Song of Surrender

Monday, 6 March 2017

Ekaika: the singular legacy of Deba Prasad Das

By Sunil Kothari

Gajendra Panda
'Ekaika' means solo and Gajendra Panda, prime disciple of Odissi doyen Deba Prasad Das, has taken it upon himself to revive the glory of the solo format of Odissi and project his guru’s vision under the banner of Ekaika. Gajendra Panda feels that the recent trend at all major dance festivals, be it Konark or Khajuraho, privileges group presentations of Odissi, thereby marginalising the potential of a talented solo dancer in the process. Under the auspices of his institution Tridhara—the very name suggestive of the three streams of his guru Deba Prasad Das’s approach, that is, tribal, folk and traditional Odissi—Panda has launched Ekaika with the support of the Ministry of Culture, Government of Odisha.

While his concern has been echoed by dance observers and critics, the organisers feel that group dance offers scope for many young dancers to perform while solo dance loses its reach on a large arena. Both arguments have some validity. However, in the case of a closed auditorium with a capacity of about 500 seats, a solo performance—especially the abhinaya can be seen and enjoyed. As part of Ekaika, Panda presented his disciple Aarya Nande from Sarangarh at Rabindra Mandap, Bhubaneswar.

Speaking on the occasion, dignitaries recalled Guru Deba Prasad’s long association with Indrani Rahman who put Odissi on the international map. They also stressed the importance of taking Odissi beyond its strongholds of Bhubaneswar and Cuttack even as they lauded the efforts of Gajendra Panda in discovering and grooming talent in far-flung Sarangarh on the border of Orissa.

Aarya Nande opened her recital with the traditional mangalacharan.  The invocation dedicated to Goddess Lakshmi and Narasimha had the hallmark of Guru Deba Prasad Das’s usage of sabdaswarapata. This tradition of sabdaswarapata, like the kavits in Kathak, lends an aural texture with its epithets and mnemonic syllables.  The Deba Prasad bani is distinct for his choreography of sthayi nritya and recitation of the ukutas, mnemonic syllables like kititkka tahum tahum ta theinda.

Manaudharana, an Odiya bhajan by Upendra Bhanja in praise of Lord Jagannatha, set to Misra Arabhi raga and Triputa tala, was choreographed with communicative sanchari bhavas. Similarly the episode of Gajendra moksha was suffused with drama. The court scene in the  Mahabharata depicting the game of dice and Draupadi’s humiliation are old familiars to audiences of dance and drama. So is the story of  Siva saving his devotee Markandeya from Yama, the god of death. The dancer has to guard against portraying exaggerated abhinaya and understand the fine line between the artistic and the theatrical.


Aarya Nande
The nritta oriented pallavi choreographed by Gajendra in Keeravani with music composed by Lakshmikant Palit had some movements of folk dance. There was an element of abandon in the lifting of the leg and waving of the arms, with the dancer often performing in a circle. Aarya, however, needs to rigorously practise the chauka position. The concluding Durga Tandava saw Aarya in her element, performing with vigorous frenzied movements to highlight goddess Durga’s tandava. Guru Deba Prasad Das is known for such compositions that he brought within the fold of the Odissi repertoire.

Vocalist Vinod Bihari Panda rendered the text of the song in a powerful baritone while the accompaniment on mardala by Ramachandra Behera, violin by Agnimitra Behera, sitar by Swapaneswar Chakrabarti and flute by Jabahar Misra were pitch-perfect and evoked the precise shades of the mood. It is indeed heartening to see the efforts of Gajendra Panda, a performing artist himself, in keeping his guru’s tradition alive and imparting training to young dancers of promise.

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