The beautiful thread of Odissi

Madhur Gupta
On the 2nd of February, a solo performance was held at the IIC in Delhi by Odissi dancer Madhur Gupta. The title given to the performance was ‘Tantu – tradition strung in a thread’, a coming together of three generations of artistic sensibilities. Madhur is a disciple of Guru Madhavi Mudgal and Guru Sharon Lowen.

The first piece for the evening was a mangalacharan, ‘Manikya Veena’, a choreography by Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra from 1965. It was an ode to Goddess Saraswati, who has lotus-like eyes, a gait like an elephant’s, komalangi chaturbhuji (four-armed), kalyani and sangeet rasike. It was a precisely rendered piece. ‘Rajnigandha’ was the next piece, choreographed by Madhur himself. It was a pallavi. A pallavi is an abstract, pure dance piece with rhythmic movements. Rajnigandha is a nighttime flower that spreads a fine fragrance. The pallavi was set to the night raag Kedar, tala Triputa. The music composition was by Guru Bankim Sethi and rhythm by Prafulla Kumar Mangaraj. The music was very rhythmic – ‘sampoorna rang surange halit doolit tarange’. The piece had very neat footwork with rhythmic movements and swaying of the body.

The third piece was ‘Jhagadi matra khela ho Shyam’. The Odiya abhinaya choreography was by Sharon Lowen. In Odiya literature, a composition in which every stanza of the song starts with the same alphabet is called a champu. A champu is part folklore and part poetry. This champu starts with the letter ‘jhha’. Lalita catches Krishna looking at Radha and trying to fathom his feelings for her. She tells him, ‘Your anxiety to meet Radha is such that time does not matter. For you, every moment is burdensome. Your body has become red with the arrows of Kamadeva intoxicating you. It is like an unripe bud. You go about all over uttering the name ‘Radha’, ‘Radha’, finally falling to the ground. Radha is much above you, so why create so much melodrama? Just forget about her and make merry.’ The music composition was by Prashant Behera, and rhythm by Prafulla Kumar Mangaraj. The composition was in taal khemta, raag Mishra pilu. Madhur depicted Lalita going about her chores, feeding the calves and making a sandalwood paste. She tells Krishna that since his body is pierced, he can apply it on himself. The attitude of Lalita sakhi was depicted well in the abhinaya.

The next piece was Kumarsambhavam. It’s a description of the wedding of Shiv and Parvati as described by kavi Kalidasa. Parvati is looking at Shiv with curiosity and mischief as he opens his third eye, and then, she is struck as if by lightning. Parvati is shy and fears that her friends will tease her about the telltale signs of love. She looks at herself in the mirror but sees Shiv in the reflection. She reflects on his attributes – the moon, the snakes, the bagambar. As she sees Shiv in her reflection, she is astonished. Madhur was able to bring out beautifully the expressions of goddess Parvati as she looks at Shiv and feels the emotions of love, and as she turns around and sees Shiv instead of seeing her own reflection. He has very expressive eyes.

Next, Madhur performed the ashtapadi ‘Yahi Madhav’, of Geet Govind. It is a choreography by Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra from 1961. Radha is waiting for Krishna the entire night and at daybreak, when Krishna appears, he has all the signs of a dalliance with another woman. His eyes are red from keeping awake the previous night. Radha says, ‘Go Madhav, go Keshav, oh lotus-eyed one, go back to the other woman.’ Krishna denies that he has been out the whole night. When she says that he has crimson lips from kissing the kajal of the eyes of the other woman, he says the colour is not from kissing but from eating black jamun. When she says that his body is scratched due to love play, he says that the scratches are from the thorns of the tree, and that he got flowers for her. Finally, a broken Radha says that I waited for you with flowers and sandalwood paste all night, but now, all is a waste. How could you deceive me? Your heart is as defiant as your body. Madhur, in his portrayal, shows Radha taking a diya to the door and waiting for the knocking of the door by Krishna. She’s happy to see him coming, but on seeing him, her expression changes. And then, Radha accuses him and he tries to pacify her. The abhinaya for the entire piece was good, the annoyance of Radha was brought out well.

And finally, the last piece was Shantum, a choreography by Guru Madhavi Mudgal from 2016. The chanting of the Shanti stotra leads the dancer and the listener towards moksha, which is a release from the cycle of rebirth – ‘peace to the heavens, to the earth, to the trees,’ it goes. It was a pure dance piece rendered with precision.

The accompanying orchestra featured Prafallu Kumar Mangaraj on the mardala, Prashanta Behera on vocals, Dheeraj Kumar Pandey on the flute, Lavinya Ambade on the sitar, and Vishwanatha Mangaraj on the manjira. Madhur depended heavily on the good orchestra and musicians. “We have worked for a year on this production. My guruji is very particular, so we polished everything. Sharonji is known for her abhinaya. Her teaching is very deep. She translates every word and then we come to the choreography and abhinaya,” he said about the choreography. His costume too was very aesthetic, with a dupatta tied to the waist. For each piece, he would change the colour of the dupatta.
Pics: Anoop Arora