International Odissi Festival 2003: Seminar - Ratna Roy on Panchakanya text
Cinematographer: Shaina Anand
Duration: 00:17:04; Aspect Ratio: 1.364:1; Hue: 82.665; Saturation: 0.010; Lightness: 0.209; Volume: 0.186; Cuts per Minute: 0.469; Words per Minute: 70.939
Summary: The 2nd International Odissi Festival was organised by IPAP between August 28 - 31, 2003, in Washington D.C. Dedicated to the memory of Guru Pankaj Charan Das, who passed away in June 2003, it brought together Odissi dancers and scholars from all over the world.
Ratna Roy presents an excerpt from her paper 'The Politics of Representation - The Portrayal of the Female in Guru Pankaj Charan Das' Pancha Kanya Dances'. The texts span two languages - Sanskrit and Oriya, and her reading of the panchakanyas stems from Pankaj Charan Das' own experiences, being born into a mahari family, and considers the disjointedness in the respect accorded to the mahari tradition and their simultaneous dismissal as 'veshyas'.
Time is an important consideration in the faithful translation of the panchakanya text into choreography. Jayant Kastuar, the moderator, points out that the panchakanya dances are 'solo ballets', dramatised texts as opposed to 'abhinaya' in its most orthodox sense.
Ratna Roy presents an excerpt from her paper 'The Politics of Representation - The Portrayal of the Female in Guru Pankaj Charan Das' Pancha Kanya Dances'
"What is important about this as I'm going to this is how he has - and if you want I can actually talk about the text itself but he begins the panchakanya - the openings of all the panchakanya dances, you saw them yesterday done by Ritha didi so I won't go into details of that but it begins with 'angikam bhuvanam yasya', then it goes into 'vichitra-vesha usha suranamya' and after that when all of this 'atmasamartha vibhupata...' then it goes into 'alasya parihara anusara dharma' and pardon me for those who are Oriya and I don't pronounce it correctly - sansayi samsara atibadurgama'. So we are now going into an Oriya text. What is very important is at the very end - it goes into...and this is sung in Oriya rather than in Sanskrit, and it goes into 'Ahalya, Draupadi, Kunti, Tara Mandodari tatha/ pancha sati smare nitya mahapataka nasanam'. Now what was very important for me - when I was talking to this scholar Pradip Bhattacharya about it - why are these five people called kanyas? Now when we talk about satis he said - he said Sati, Sita, Savitri, Damayanti - all of them are the satis - he said these are the panchakanyas. And yet, each one of the dancers are called mahasati. Mahasati Tara, Mahasati Mandodari, it is not just Mandodari and Tara, but the dance number itself is called Mahasati Tara and the end of it, you know the end of it...gives the context of...she is a Mahasati. Whoever it is, whether it is Mandodari or Tara. Of course in Draupadi/ Kunti it's a little bit different, the ending."
"What i find in his dancing and the way he has done it is that it goes between Sanskrit and Oriya. So it's not just Sanskrit, it's not just Oriya but in between the two and like you saw in 'Glaani Sanghar' which was in Oriya, much of the text of the kanyas themselves are in Oriya."
"And the question has been that - of course, Pradip Bhattacharya has written a twenty-page paper on this - what defines kanya, what defines sati. And kanya of course has been defined and the reason I'm bringing up this text is that if you think of Guru Pankaj Charan Das's life - there was a lot of pain in his life and that pain comes out in these dances but what also comes out is his belief in power - of these five women to destroy all sins - the power of that movement to destroy all sins. And so what I see is - in my paper - is how those two work together - the pain pf being in the mahari tradition and being also discarded because they are in the mahari-devadasi tradition because of British rule. And the way which Ashis Nandy calls the 'intimate enemy' because we believed in the intimate enemy and didn't believe our own scriptures of who these people were. And so there's this pain. Here are these naris who are also revered, whose feet were washed and the water was drunk and on the same hand they are also treated like veshyas and that was the word he used - that they were treated like veshyas.
"So who are these panchakanyas? Each one of them was born in a way that was not normal and each one of them had more than one man. You can see the correlation between - that's why I call it a politics of representation - the politics that makes him realise that those two go together the way he interprets it..."
Roy talks of an instance from Mahasati Tara to illustrate how the repetitions in text find their way into the choreography, making time a very important factor in Pankaj Charan Das' panchakanya works.
"How much time should you give to introduce this character; how many verses should you give and how much time should you give at the end to say that this fallen woman who now just accepted another man as her husband is still a mahasati?"
Roy concludes her short presentation by saying that panchakanyas represent a massive research interest and mentions a daylong seminar on the subject in Kolkata. She invites questions from the audience.
Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra talks about the auspiciousness of the panchakanyas; they are invoked when a new tas is undertaken. Panchakanyas constitute a dance composition in the mahari style but are not part of the 'seva' at the Jagannath temple (Roy concurs).
On Kelucharan Mohapatra's request, Roy summarises the character of each of the panchakanyas.
She reads out the attributes in Sanskrit and then translates them.
Ahalya - One who is endowed with the quality of Sattvika; beloved of the earth; one who takes refuge at the feet of her husband; beloved of Gautama, beautiful of body, anxious, well-known; one who was turned into stone; abandoned by the sage.
Draupadi - born of fire sacrifice; one who has five husbands, daughter of Drupada, fiery Sati, one who is purified of adharma, loved by Krishna, dark, framed as Draupadi...
"Each of the dances - the dance begins and then it stops like an epic form and the character is described. In Tara, Rama is also described, then Tara is described, and then begins the battle between Bali and Sugreeva, and then Tara crying. And Tara actually questions Rama and Tara's situation - Tara says, 'Why do you call yourself God Rama when you killed my husband?' And he says, 'He was a womaniser.' At that point, she says, 'What wrong did I do? Why did you make me a widow?' And Rama has to respond to that. And you can see the power of those movements in that dialogue and it's one of the most powerful ones..."
Ritha Devi interjects, continuing where Roy has ended her narrative of Tara and Rama.
Roy repeats the particular references to the text and the drama that Ritha Devi makes.
A woman is only credible if she has a husband...and what Tara accuses him of is unfairly killing Bali by shooting the arrow in the back and that shows in the dance drama."
Kastuar points out the peculiarities of using the text - that it spans two languages and how it is dramatised; here borrowing a term from Padma Subramaniam, he calls it a 'solo ballet'.
"It's not meant for abhinaya; it's not abhinaya as we understand it. It's really dramatising the five characters, but it's much longer; it's drama."
This kind of text might not be suitable for a bhajan, or for a sringara rasa delineation like in an ashtapada, but this would then be called a solo ballet.
"Am I right, Guruji," Kastuar asks Kelucharan Mohapatra.
Ramahari Das says that the piece on panchakanyas may have been the first example of the use of contemporary literature in Odissi dance.
This piece was choreographed in the early 1960s.
Roy: This is not the only text. I have seen Guruji do other things that are from contemporary thinking.
Kelucharan Mohapatra comments - what is important is that it should be done in the Odissi style; what is not important is the year, that's not a concern.