Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra
Among the many gems of Orissa has produced in different fields of art along the centuries, one of the latest is certainly the Odissi dance Guru Sri Kelucharan Mohapatra born on 8th January 1926 at Raghurajpur, Puri. As it is the case with most of the geniuses, who emerge from time to time in the history of humanity, the story of his life is one of struggle and unending dedication. The story of his artistic experience touches all the salient features of the cultural life of Orissa of the last sixty years and it becomes the story of the growth and recognition of the Odissi style as one of the classical dances of India.
From the traditional expertise of the “Chitrakaras“ through the entertaining art of the “Gotipua“ and “Jatra“ parties, the “bhakti“ oriented “rasa leela“ performances and the innovative attempts of the Annapurna Theatre, Guruji’s artistic journey is one of continuous learning and growth. Gifted as he was with a highly sensitive, respectful and creative disposition, he observed and absorbed facts and phenomena of life around and transcreated them into forms of aesthetic beauty.
Kelucharan was under the able tutelage of Shri Agadhu Moharana in “ Mrudanga “ and Shri Kshetramohan Kar in “Tabla” training during his days with the theatre party of Mohan Goswami and he did not stop there. In Cuttack he continued to take lessons in Tabla playing from Shri Harihara Rao. Initially contracted as an accompanist for only a month he stayed with the Annapurna ‘B’ theatre of Cuttack for about five years from 1946 to 1952 distinguishing himself as a dancer, percussionist and choreographer. The real break came when a solo piece in a dance-drama on “Devi Bhasmasura“ brought Kelucharan into the limelight. His brilliant performance as the “Nataraja“ under the direction of Guru Pankaj Charan Das, established him as a mature soloist. In the role of Mohini was Laxmipriya who later became his wife. From that day till they married, in all performances either they were partners in a duet dance sequence or Laxmipriya would dance to the rhythm provided by Guruji.
Always under the guidance of Guru Pankaj Charan Das and Guru Durlav Chandra Singh (in theatre) the pair became famous for their performances of the “ Dashavtaara “ dance which was dovetailed into the legendary drama- “Sadhaba Jhia “ in 1947.
By now Kelucharan was well equipped to teach Odissi dance and in 1953 he joined the Kala Vikas Kendra at Cuttack, the first college of music and dance to include a course on Odissi in its curriculum. He taught there for more than fifteen years. Besides working in the Kendra he used to impart lessons privately to some disciples including Sanjukta Panigrahi, Minati Mishra and Priyambada Hejmadi and was taking dance classes in some schools and colleges of general education. During these years he choreographed a number of dance-dramas in Odissi style, including “Panchapuspa“, “Krushna Gatha“, “Geeta Govinda“, “Urbashi“, “Krushna Leela“, “Sakhigopal“, “Konark“ and “Sri Kshetra“. Supported by the Kendra, he did research on various folk & tribal dances of Orissa and enriched his repertory of Odissi dance poses through further study of temple sculptures especially those found on the Bramheswara, Parshurameswara and Konark temples.
While involved in this process, his individual style was gradually taking a distinct shape and simultaneously became systematic and precise. These are the years when the first “pallavi“ in ragas “Vasanta“, “Shankaravarana“, “Kalyani“, “Mohana“, “Saveri“ and “Aravi” and the first ashtapadis from Geeta Govinda like “Lalita Lavanga Lata“, “Sakhi He“, “Dhira Samire“, “Yahi Madhava“ were composed.
In the eighties, after leaving the Kala Vikas Kendra, Guruji travelled assiduously to different cities of India to be able to teach and spread Odissi dance, as far and wide as possible. He became a regular visiting teacher for the Gandharva Mahavidyalaya in Delhi, For the National Centre for the Performing Arts in Mumbai and for the Padatik Dance Centre in Calcutta.The number of his students kept on multiplying and when he was not teaching them in their respective towns, they would come, especially in the summer months to learn from him in his house in Cuttack.
The title of Padma Shree came a few years later in 1975 and in 1981 he was conferred a Doctorate by the Akhil Bharatiya Gandharva Mahavidyalaya. He won the Kalidas Samman awarded by the Madhya Pradesh Government in 1987 and the title of Padma Bhusan in March 1988; the Padmabibhushan was conferred on him by the President of India in March 2000 and Shankerdev Award of Govt. of Assam by the Prime Minister of India in March 2001.
In spite of the many honours received, the amount of work produced (he has over two hundreds solo compositions and about fifty dance ballets to his credit) and the number of students who hail from all over the world and literally adore him, Guruji has never lost his undemanding simplicity and childlike purity:
he lets his greatness sit lightly on his shoulders, carries his genius playfully with him. For him dance is “Sadhana“ and teaching is “Dharm“. He says
Devotion and dedication run through the life and art of Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra. Each action in his life as in dance, is a continuous offering at the lotus feet of Lord Jagannath.
Odissi dance in the hands of this great master has climbed to new and dizzy heights, and has become an universally admired Art form through which this great soul has, humbly and sincerely paid his devoted service to divinity.