Nine-year-old prodigy Srishti Debroy’s mature Odissi performance

Srishti Debroy

On 26 November 2022, Srishti Debroy presented a solo Odissi performance under the aegis of Manasija. The stage was decorated with marigold flowers, which reminded you that the Delhi winter had arrived. In one corner of the stage was seated an idol of Lord Jagannath.

Srishti with her mother and guru Arunima Ghosh

Srishti is a budding soloist in Odissi, being groomed by her mother and guru, Arunima Ghosh. Her technique is very neat and precise and in her abhinaya, she expressed a lot with her eyes and face. But here I must mention the age of this dancer – she is only nine years old, and she has been dancing with her little feet since she was three! That day, she had become a soloist with her rangapravesham. Honouring her with their accompaniment were Guru Prafulla Kumar Mangaraj on mardala, Sukant Kumar Nayak on vocals, Dhiraj Kumar Pandey on flute, Lavanya Ambade on sitar and Arunima's guru bhai Vishwanath Mangaraj on manjira. Veteran make-up artist Brij Mohan Gupta did her make-up.

The first piece was mangalacharan – a Ganesh vandana that was a tribute to the late Pt. Birju Maharaj, who had composed it. The composition was in raag Bhopali, ektali. Maharaj ji had seen Srishti dancing and had blessed her. He had told her that he would want to be there for her rangapravesham. So this piece was dedicated to him. Srishti looked adorable in her red and yellow aharyam. The recital started with the melody of the flute and the sitar. After a pushpanjali, Srishti depicted the attributes of Lord Ganesh through postures and hastas – his trunk, his tilak, kundal, modak, his elephant ears, ekdant, gajamukha and his steed, the mushak. He plays the mridangam and the damru. Srishti depicted these with ease. All her movements were precise and steady.

The second piece was a batu, a pure nritta piece which is a sthayi. In a batu, the dancer covers the stage, which is her canvas, with time, rhythm and movement. The sculptures from the ancient temples are the inspiration for a batu and the sculpturous poses come alive in rhythm and movement. The piece was choreographed by Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra and the music was by Bhubaneshwar Mishra. Srishti started by taking the posture of Goddess Saraswati with her veena. She rendered the nritta with excellent and controlled footwork, undimmed energy and perfect hastas. Her neck and eye movements were graceful. She took a squat with one leg outstretched and she completed a full circle in the same stance. Each movement was complete.

The third piece was ‘Madhurashtakam’. She performed a stotra in praise of Lord Krishna, composed by the great saint Vallabhacharya in shuddha Advaita philosophy. The madhu in the madhurashtakam stands for honey and everything about Krishna is sweeter than the nectar of honey. The depiction began with the melodious sound of the flute and other instruments. Srishti took the stance of morpankh and bansuri and she chose to depict the stotra through the enactment of incidents from Krishna leela. 

She took the Kaliyadaman stance, with which Krishna vanquishes the demon and dances on the serpent’s hood. He strolls through the lanes of Vrindavan with his cows and carries the calves of the cows in his arms. As she took the four-armed stance of Krishna, she covered the entire stage with her nritta. She took leaps while standing in chauka with great precision. When the cows rest, he puts his head on them to rest, just as he sleeps on the shesha. 

He steals butter from the gopis and he steals their clothes when they go to bathe. When he is caught stealing butter, he is punished by Yashoda ma, who ties him to a tree. Holi with Radha and the sakhis is full of fun. He roams Vrindavan with abandon, carrying his lakuti on his shoulder. He plays with his sakhas. They eat together in the vanbhojan, snatching from each other’s mouth as equals. In the end, she performed pooja as the devotee and took the stance as the lord himself with the bansuri. All the madhur leelas of Shri Krishna were rendered with emotions.

The following piece was ‘Dashavatar’ by Kavi Jayadev. It is a composition from the Odissi repertoire and the choreography was by Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra. It was in raag Yaman, taal ardhchamba. Srishti’s nritta to cover the stage as she entered was graceful. She depicted the demons through wide-eyed expressions and the lord through hastas and postures in broad plie. The Varaha bhagwan was shown holding the earth on his shoulders. 

The Narsingh avatar was shown as ferocious and the gait for Vamana bhagwan was very delicate as he puts his foot on Bali’s head. The valorous Parashuram bhagwan was depicted through fighting in nritta, Rama shooting arrows, the Buddha through his hasta mudras and Kalki bhagwan riding on his horse. Krishna was shown in his chaturbhuj incarnation with shankh, chakra, gada and padma. Finally, she took the stance of the lord preaching geetopadesh to Arjun. This was again a very precisely rendered piece. As Divya Goswami pointed out, the dashavatar depicts the stages of foetal growth and evolutionary stages.

After a break and a quick costume change, Srishti was back on stage. The piece was titled ‘Varsha varananam’. It was a composition to describe the Kishkinda forest in monsoon. It was a vivid description of how the sunlight takes the water from the river and delivers it back as rain. All is joyful when you connect with nature – the wind caressing like a lotus, the scent of the flowers omnipresent, the animals, birds and flowers all merry. The melody of the flute conveyed the ambience of the rainy season. Srishti’s costume had blue and green and other colours of nature. 

The rain falls on the earth and brings out the sweet smell from the dry earth. The water becomes the nectar from the flowers, the ketaki flowers spread the sweet scent. The elephants move with elan and the peacocks dance. The creepers are laden with drooping flowers. The koel frolics as the water falls to the earth and aanand or pure bliss spreads. There was a lot of energy and rhythm in the piece. Srishti danced around and leapt effortlessly. She tiptoed into the puddles of water that she depicted. Her final stance and her dimpled smile won hearts.

Gurus Ranjana Gauhar, Sharon Lowen and Madhavi Mudgal were among those
who graced the function
Srishti's father, Sanjit Debroy (right) with the musicians - Guru Prafulla Kumar Mangaraj, Sukant Kumar Nayak, Dhiraj Kumar Pandey, Lavanya Ambade and Vishwanath Mangaraj

Over the years, as an observer, a reporter and interviewer of dancers and musicians, I have learnt that as a dancer, you have to first perform well to win hearts. The other factors are less relevant. Srishti won the hearts of the audience, not because she is a child and looks cute, but because she is a very dedicated dancer and her strict training shows in her performance. She is child prodigy and has an inborn gift for a very mature way of presenting her technique. She must have started to see and hear her mother in her womb. As a one-and-a-half-year-old, she was already reciting bols. And today, at the age of nine, she already has a firm grip on her technique and also has the thehrav of a mature dancer. She finishes every move with precise hastas and footwork. Her chauka is neat, her neck and eyes move with the rhythm and she expresses well in her abhinaya. All the best to this star performer who is in the able hands of her mother.

Pics: Anoop Arora

Kathak dancer Divya Goswami was the compere for the programme