International Odissi Festival 2011: In Conversation with Kumkum Mohanty
Duration: 00:35:04; Aspect Ratio: 1.778:1; Hue: 41.274; Saturation: 0.286; Lightness: 0.214; Volume: 0.073; Cuts per Minute: 0.029; Words per Minute: 133.286
Summary: The 4th International Odissi Dance Festival in 2011 was held from December 23 to 30, 2011, at Rabindra Mandap Bhubaneswar. The festival was preceded by an attempt to create a world record by having around 550 dancers perform together at Kalinga Stadium. It saw the participation of most major Odissi ensembles in Orissa and a few from outside the state. With performances for over twelve hours each day, the festival featured several hundred performers in solo, duet and group works over eight days. In its scale, the festival offered a bird's eye view of the landscape of contemporary Odissi and its ever-changing nature. It foregrounded new trends in choreography, music and costuming. The seminars during the festival sparked lively debates on issues and concerns in Odissi. One such concern, voiced repeatedly, questioned the definition of tradition within the space of the dance form and the limits it could be stretched to. This raised parallel questions about innovation and experimentation in Odissi - a debate that found itself mirrored in the performances during the festival.
Kumkum Mohanty ran away from home as a toddler to follow a brass band in a wedding procession. Though she was found soon after, in the care of a vigilant paan shop owner, she fondly cherishes her memory of that incident as a sign of her inextricable links with dance and music. Along with Sanjukta Panigrahi and Priyambada Hejmadi Mohanty, she was one of the earliest students of Kelucharan Mohapatra in the fifties, when he worked with others to establish Odissi as a classical dance form. Besides making her name as a dancer, Mohanty pursued a career in the civil services, ending her career in a post and place close to her heart, as the chief executive of the Odissi Research Centre in Bhubaneswar, set up in the mid 1980s.
Here, she talks about her early years in Odissi and speaks out against bureaucratic apathy towards cultural institutions in Orissa and what she perceives as flippant trends in choreography and compositions.
Kala Vikash Kendra
Odissi Research Centre
Ranjana: You have been associated with this dance...You have been associated with Odissi as we know it, right from the inception. So, hmm, please tell us about your early life and...
Kumkum Mohanty: Early life means...
Ranjana: ...your memories of childhood, and what Odissi was like.
Kumkum Mohanty: Yes. I started learning...in fact when I was in class four, my father asked me to press his legs. Then he asked me, "Can you sing a song?" I sang forty-eight songs. From that day my parents could know, could realize that I am attracted towads music and dance. My mother says when I was two and a half years old, I couldn't talk at that time. I was a late...very late in speaking, but I ran from the house and they had to file an F.I.R. and then my servant who was keeping me, found me in a paan
shop. Then they followed...then they deciphered that there was a band party for the marriage and I was attracted towards the music and went behind the band party. Wherever the band stopped, I stopped there; and one paan
shop fellow, in fact he rescued me and he thought, 'Probably, she is from a good family.' Anyway, then my servant went and he fetched me. So, my mother says that from childhood I was attracted towards music so much that I ran from the house.
Then, when I was in class seven, one of my friends, she wrote an application and went for dance. I liked it, because I was not liking studying very much. Then, I told my father, "I want to learn." Then, he took me to Kala Vikas Kendra and admitted me both in dance and music. Within two years Guruji brought me to the limelight, in fact giving me all the main roles and all that. I didn't know what I was doing, I was too young then. Then it started. After my school was over and Kala Vikas Kendra was over, my father said, "You need not go now" because they were very conservative. And my father's elder brothers, they were very conservative. They didn't allow girls to go out and dance.
But being the youngest daughter in the family, my elder sister was dancing very well, but it was stopped after her graduation. She got married. But in my case, my father always threatened me, "Unless you get a first class first position, I am going to stop your dance." So in order to keep on dancing, I had to study well. Then, I learnt at home. Actually, the turning point came in '67, one seminar was conducted by Central Sangeet Natak Akademy on Gita Govinda
. The musicologists were to read a paper and Guruji, my Guru, Padmavibhushan Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra, he was invited to choreograph some of the Gita Govinda
and present them in Odissi style.
There, then he came and told my father, "I want to take her for abhinaya
. At that time my father said, "Yes", but I said, "No", since I was appearing for my post-graduation examination. My father said, "Okay. I know your potential, you better attend this programme". Then all the choreography started in my house. Even the Sanskrit translations my mother used to write, night after night, for Guruji. And our home pandit
, he would explain. My father was good at Sanskrit, he will sit down and Guruji used to come at nine and till 2 'O clock, two thirty in the morning he would do the composition. And then I performed in Delhi. The Times of India also explained, I don't remember, they wrote that, 'Kumkum is Padmavati'. That was the turning point in my life, to come to the national level.
Then I got programmes. All India programmes. But my father will always put a...(make an objection). "Why should you always go to Indore? It's such a long way". Then, Guruji would request him, cajole him. "Odissi is becoming classical. Unless she starts going, we have no dancers to prove it. Then, ultimately when I danced with Yamini, Kanak Rele and all of them in Indian Dance Festival at Indore, my programme was so good and the write-up in the paper was 'Kumkum left the auditorium with such a tempo that Yamini had to start with Tillana
', you know, 'to keep up the tempo'.
I got some of the programmes, All India programmes. In fact, you won't believe, the address will be Kumkum Das, Odissi dancer, state Assam. But the letter will reach me, Orissa. And when in '70, ICCR invited me to go to Russia, my father said, "No. You appear in the competitive examination, All India Administrative examination. If you get through, then only I will allow you". What an agnipareeksha
. So, I started reading. At that time, I stood first class first in Political Science and I was lecturer in the main Women's college in Cuttack. Then I started studying; I got through. The UPSC, I told them, "Since I am..." They said, "You have become an internationally reputed dancer. Most of the dancers are uneducated. You are educated and if you join the services, then you will be posted at some block, some sub-divisional office, you have to forget your dance."
Then the Foreign Service expert told me, "I want to take you in Foreign Service but forget your dance." I said, "I am sorry". Then they said, "Why do you want to...how many educated dancers are there in this country? Why do you want to join Services?" I said, "I don't want, my father wants." Then they gave me very low marks but I did so well in the theory. I got first position in the Allied All India Service. Then I went to Russia, came back and joined Indian Postal Service because again my father interfered, "No Income Tax, no Customs, they are corrupt departments. You better join Indian Post and Telegraph department. That's an honest department and their places of postings are in the metropolitan cities."
Then I joined and that was the end of Odissi career. Of course I did two-three programmes. Then, I got married in '72, got children, then office. I was totally...ten to six...so busy, you can't imagine; I forgot dance for seven-eight years. Then I felt...my husband was Collector in Junagadh. He wanted to collect some money for the leper children. So he asked me, "Can you dance?" I said, "Yes, I can dance but I must do the practice." (sic) Anyway, I did it. Then, I got a programme in Bombay. Some two-three programmes I did. Then again, my second child was there. It was stopped. Ultimately it was God's will.
I came back. Then I was all along thinking, 'You know, when the compositions were taking place in my house, there was no methodology to write it down - the pure dance.' I was all along thinking, 'Had there been some vocabulary, I could have written something.' Whatever was created at night, in the morning I used to go to the University. If I forget and the Guru forgets, it has to be recreated. So this was a big question mark in my mind. When I left dancing for eleven-twelve years, I was all along thinking, 'Sanjukta Panigrahi, Guruji, they are dancing now, but what about (the) future. What will happen in twenty-first century, unless it is documented?' See, somebody will do research, but unless you have the base for research...where is the base work?
And then lots of palm work, the mudra viniyoga
(hand gesture viniyoga
. There is a one particular Oriya king; he has given the direction how to do it. Even Abhinaya Darpana
, they have not given. This ***** Singh, from Odisha (Orissa). He was a king but he was definitely a dancer because he has given the direction how to read kabata patane
. He says, 'Show your palm, expand it, turn it and then again join it' (Kumkum Mohanty demonstrating with hand gestures), that is 'close the door'. So this was a very interesting subject and for uniformity at the educational level, at the primary level, it was very important and it took me three years.
I differed from my Guruji. "Why are you doing this?" Madana kataka mukha
You can see Madana
like this (Kumkum Mohanty demonstrating), katakamukha
is this (Kumkum Mohanty demonstrating). "Why are you using Madana
, why are you using kataka mukha
(hand gesture being demonstrated by Kumkum Mohanty)" He said, "No, no. I will not listen to this." But I said, "Since we have a shastra
(treatise) here, why not introduce it at the basic level? At the creative level you can use many things." Then I published that, made a CD out of it because if you start writing the shlokas
(song), the Gurus won't read it. So I made a CD. A Sanskrit pundit
(scholar) is reading and Pankaj Sir is showing the mudras
(gestures) and there was sub-titling in the CD.
of Odissi music, very important, I tell you. I did three years work on champu
and collected, published a book with notation and with the cassette; because the ragas
and the mukhyanga
were all there in the cassette, on top of the book and then the songs are there and the musical notataions are there.
Archives...a huge archive I have built. Beginning from Gotipua
. I mean, I went to Puri. During 'Jhulan Yatra' (Swing festival of Lord Jagannath of Puri), all the Gotipua
troupes used to come, whole night I used to record and all in the...Two maharis
were leaving, I called them. In fact, they refused to dance. I pressed their legs or gave them fish curry and what sort of things I did for them to make them dance a little. So these living traditions...you see the dead traditions are the sculptures, they are frozen. But the living tradition, lot of collections I made (sic) and kept in the archive of Odissi Research Centre.
Lot of new choreographies were done.Many things I have done and a buiilding was...Once Mr. Seshan came, he was so impressed, he asked Orissa government to give me one crore money (sic) and the interest will come towards the Research Centre. I saved that money and built the building with stones. The building was over. I did everything but the Orissa government never kept me there. After my retirement, I was out. And till now, they can't find a person who knows dance and administration together. As a result, there is no work now. After me, there is no work. Not a single research work has taken place.
The third book which I was writing on writing the pure dance with musical notations, that I am keeping with me and I hope I will publish it. So the entire prognosis of Odissi dance from '57 till now, I am the only one who is living and know how it has developed and what is happening now.
Ranjana: We all talk of 'Jayantika' but none of us really know what it was.
Actually 'Jayantika' was a team of five persons in Lokenath Mishra's house, MP, Governor, Late. He is no more. He used to take initiative and the Gurus were there. Dhirendranath Pattanaik was there. 'Jayantika'...major role was to fix the repertoire. What will you do in this. There Deb Babu(Guru Deba Prasad Das) and Pankaj Babu(Guru Pankaj Charan Das) differed from Guruji (Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra). Guruji wanted to have Batu
, they wanted to have Sthai
. But that doesn't matter. In my later years...in the Odissi Research Centre, I solved it. I said, "You can call it Sthai
, you can call it Batu
, it doesn't matter." So that is the greatest role of 'Jayantika'. But the major contribution to the development of Odissi is by Pandit, Late Pandit Bhubaneshwar Mishra. He was a disciple of Dwaram Venkataswamy Naidu. He had academic training in violin and joined All India Radio, Cuttack; then switched over to Hindustani music and worked on Odissi music.
So he was the main person who knew the grammar of Carnatic music, the grammar of Hindustani and the grammar of Odissi. He is the person, I must say, he is the mother of Odissi and Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra is the father of Odissi, because a dancer can never dance on drums. You need music because the dancer swims and sinks on music. So he created the music and most of the pallavis
, which are still living and still a thing of joy forever, that is Bhubaneswar Mishra's music composition. Of course, Guruji worked on the mardala
(percussion instrument), day in and day out, which will suit the music. So, his music compositions, probably no body will excel; can repeat or excel in another five hunderd years; or Guruji's compositions.
So, all of them were composing in my house. My mother used to make paan
, sab denge Guruji ko
(She would give everything to Guruji). She worked a lot till 2 'o Clock in the night, until I go to my study room at 2 'o Clock in the night. She used to help me. So, most of the compositions have taken place in my house and some of them in Sanju's (Sanjukta Panigrahi's) house. So what was happening in my house, I wanted to bring it down to...ORC...at Government level. The same Gurus, under the same roof, same sort of compositions should take place. At the same time, Shyamal turned and said, "The research work" and that's what happened. Now, you see, the whole expanse of Odissi dance, the Government of Odissi dance.
But, I am sorry , most of them don't keep the grammar intact and the worst thing is everyone is a Guru now. After the demise of major Gurus, now everyone is a Guru. I worked with my Guru for fifty years, I tell you. Till he was living, I never dared to do any choreography. I observed. I worked hand-in-glove with him, used to bombard him with questions, "What is...how do you do it? What are your thoughts?" He used to tell me that in pallavi
, there is a particular anga
. Now, that particular anga
I am finding, after dancing all the pallavis
So, my experience, probably, since I am continuing since '57, is the most. How it developed. But, nobody listens. I insist on Government because, as you know, we are controlled, the society is controlled by IPC, IPC (Indian Penal Code). But, in Classical dance and music there is no IPC. How much you should go...no further, the parameter. So, the negative side is, any Tom, Dick, Harry is starting composing. As a result, quality of compositions or choreography is going down. I mean, they won't stand in the National level. Okay you are doing it in Orissa but, in the National level it is very difficult to stand, compared to Bharatanatyam, Kuchipudi and like that.
Ranjana: How do you see a change in Odissi?
Kumkum Mohanty: No, I continued the same thing.
Ranjana: No, I mean, not in your own way but also, generally in Odissi.....
Kumkum Mohanty: When I see, mostly..,most of them are mechanical. They just translate the music into action, but this spontaneity, the naturalness. Most important is the naturalness. I mean, you are projecting a character, you must feel that character and project. But, most of them, they don't understand the theme. They just translate the music and they are supposed to do, they do it. That's all. Suppose a mother and Yashoda I am doing, I am addressing the child, my looks will be on the child. When the mother wants to feed the child or make..coax him to sleep, you must look at the child. They don't look at the child, they will look somewhere else and do the abhinaya
. These are the small differences and most of the dancers, they never come to the seniors. Suppose, I, next to Guruji, all the compositions are with me. I don't find anybody coming to me to correct themselves.
Kumkum Mohanty: Except in a few cases, Pallavi Das, in U.S.A., she learnt brajaku chora
from me and she did it exactly like me. So the tricks or the nuances; how your expressions should move with the gamakas
(variations) of music, that is the most important matter. How many dancers understand the music gamakas
? The alaap
is done, where is the nyasa
? So, your feeling must come down at the nyasa
point and again go up. So, knowledge of music is very important for abhinaya
. Unless you remember the music and the song, how will you project? Always think, 'what next, what next', your eyes will be bigger, because you are thinking...
Kumkum Mohanty: No. My whole attention is - in my school Gita Govinda
, which I formed here, music is compulsory. I say to all dancers who want to learn dance, you better know music. In South India, all of them start with music. Then, they come to dance. That's why they are so strong in music and rhythm. In Orissa, it's not there. These days, some teachers knowing three-four items, they open a school. They themselves don't know the chandas
, the laya
, how the music is moving. If the beat is fast, then they can't say. Unless, the master knows, how will you teach the children. And the child, the student doesn't know what is shuddha swara
. Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Dha Ni Sa
(singing) or the thivra madhyam
or komal Re
How will they understand the nuances of music? That's why I made it compulsory. From my experience from my students I am seeing, those who are good in music are good in dance.
Kumkum Mohanty: Those who can sing the music, you may not sing the entire notation, but (singing). So, my experience is, unless you are good at music, good at literature, good at conceptualizing the characters; you can never project the abhinaya
Music plays a very vital role in dance which is lacking in Odissi. I go on harping, in Odissi Research Center, those ten students I used to take, I had made it compulsory...class for Sanskrit, Oriya literature, musical notation and vocal music. So, if you want to be a teacher, you must know the meaning of champu
is very difficult to understand, the tunes of chhanda
, the Sanskrit knowledge of Gita Govinda
or any shloka
you take, and how to write notations. Whatever items you know, you must write down the notations. Must be sure of the notations and rhythmic factor in it; so you can definitely transmit it to the next generation.
And over and above, is the music class. Now, privately I am starting...I have done my institution 'Gita Govinda'. I have made it compulsory, music. But, I find those who are good at music, they excel in abhinaya
. Two of my students are very good. They are small girls, class twelve, just passed. But, they are, I tell you, incorrigible! Because they have the sense of...but of course, God has given...God gifted quality should be there. Not to everybody. And there are some faces which will, which are more expressive. But, not only that, your efforts should be there. Because in one second, the music...musicians will go on. You have to express...give the expression within that framework of one second. If that one second is gone, your expression is gone. So, if music flows in your blood, the automatic expression will come.
Because they will never wait. If you forget, you will never reach the heart of the audience. So, in order to reach the heart of the audience, you must have the music flowing in your blood, the concept of the theme, the character of the theme and your sadhana
Ranjana: Do you think - I don't know, if there is a connection...but in some ways, this narrowing down of dance education...just because you are a dancer, you are ignoring other aspects of art. Do you think, in a way, it also connects, with the way people are becoming narrow-minded.
Kumkum Mohanty: No, it's not narrow minded. The society has changed. People have no patience. Parents have no patience. When I started learning, my father never wanted me to perform. Learn. Learn. Learn. But, nowadays, the parents are so impatient. Within one year, "Why my child...why shouldn't my child go to the T.V.? Why shouldn't she dance here and there?" In my case, whichever parents come, I say, "I take minimum six-seven years. Before that if you are interested, don't bring her here". Minimum standard of entering a stage is six-seven years of grinding. Number two, ths modern dance, Bollywood dance had become so famous and T.V. and all that. They give so much of advertisement and allurement. If you find a modern dance school, you find 150 students, in Odissi school 25 students. So, narrowing down, I must blame the teachers now.
Ranjana: I also mean it in the sense that, I mean, otherwise if you studied literature and music - you have a well-rounded dance education.
Kumkum Mohanty: No, general education is a must.
Ranjana: I mean, can you...the other day, at the seminar there were these debates about what is Odissi and what people could do with music and that within that limit. But I think, maybe, it also stems from the fact that certain people are not learning that way. The only way...
Kumkum Mohanty: Exactly, exactly. I am coming to that. My point is that. That simultaneous education is most important and understanding the theme, the lyric, and that is the duty of the teacher. Most of the teachers are illiterate, how do you expect them to teach them.
Kumkum Mohanty: They themselves...Nowadays what is happening, they tell some music director, "I want to do this-this theme". The music director, he choreographs the music. In my Guru's place, my Guru used to sit down. He will insist, "No I want this sort of music. Here you stop. I want sanchari bhava
music. Here this line seventeen times, fifteen times I want.' But now a days, it is the music director, whatever he does, these people don't understand. I tell you, none of them have any idea of music or subject matter, how to develop it. You must think and here you dominate over the music director. Harp, harp on him. 'I want this music, no I don't like this, I don't like this. Give me this soft music or vigorous music or angry music.'
Kumkum Mohanty: I mean, it is...But nowadays, ask the choreographer. Whatever he thinks he does. then, he brings the cassette and gives it to them. Composer and he tells, 'Here Rama will come, here Sita will go, here Lakshman will go.' It is the music director's dominance now.
Kumkum Mohanty: Could you follow? The difference in my time, I have seen, Mishraji, Pandit Bhubaneswar Mishra, was a giant. But even then Guruji would...
Ranjana: Sit together...
Kumkum Mohanty: Yes. They sit together and do the compositions. It's never separated. Even now, whatever compositions I do, I make the music composer sit with me. Not separately that, 'You do whatever he does, I will just translate it.' That, I do according to Guruji's style. You must sit together so that your ideas can be converted into music. What you think how to develop the topic.
Ranjana: Also, I mean, this you touched upon earlier. What do you think of the nature of institutional education? Where do you see it going? I mean, there are two or three institutions in Orissa and some elsewhere that offer degrees in Odissi...
Kumkum Mohanty: No. I somehow disagree with this. Degree is not a passport to become a good performer or good Guru. Okay. You get the degree, you get a job somewhere. Once you get a job, you forget your dance because whether you dance or not, you get the pay. What difference does it make? And most of the dancers who have got the job, have stopped dancing. So, my request to all these youngster Gurus, who are working as private tutors. Okay, you earn money, you need it, you do private tuition, you have your institution, but please give some time to yourself.
For example, I conduct the class till nine 'o Clock. After nine to ten, I do my own practice. Because, I think, unless I am perfect...it's a visual art, I can never show them perfection. So these Gurus don't listen. None of them. Till now, none of them have come to me because the original compositions are with me. 'Madam, is it correct? Whether I am doing it right?' They feel shy. They feel they are demeaned by this. But I don't know a particular musical composition or the complexity in the chhanda
, I go and ask, "Can you tell me what is this?" I learn from them, then take the class. I never feel shy. Suppose we did it in (singing), now I want to do it in sargam
notation. So I will go to the vocalist who has learnt from Bhubaneswar Mishra and mug it, practise it and then I will take the class.
But, these minor Gurus, they call themselves Gurus; I never call them Gurus because you have no knowledge to become a Guru. They never do that and till now I never found somebdy coming to me and 'Since you are the...you are the puppet with whom Guruji composed' and I know the typical things. None of them have ever asked me. Each one is a Guru on their own. That is the danger point. That is the...because you are going away from the technique and the nuances of the earlier compositions.
Ranjana: In a way, this is the aim with which the Odissi Research Centre was set up?
Kumkum Mohanty: Odissi Research Centre is totally gone now. Its an institution for event management.
Ranjana: What sort of archive does it have?
Kumkum Mohanty: Archive. See archive key was all along with me. The day I retired, I handed it over to the administrative officer and then the officer was transferred. Now it is with a dancer. Most of the important cassettes are lost. They are taking it away. Huge. Multi-million dollar cassettes, CDs I had kept. And I don't know how Government of Orissa gives importance to it. The Chief Minister named it after Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra. But somebody else was the...is appointed the choreographer is totally, diametrically opposite to Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra's style.
Kumkum Mohanty: Bureaucrats never understand. Even the Chief Minister.
Kumkum Mohanty: The style which was flourishing, it has slowed down and nobody is serious whether the classes are conducted, whether the research work is done, whether the archive is intact. I mean, yearly store-keeping accounts shold be there. Whether all the cassettes are there...nothing is done.
Ranjana: And I believe right now they learn a mix of all the styles. In a way...
00:34:14,951 --> 00:34:15,929
Kumkum Mohanty: Yes. Ya. Ya. Ya.
Ranjana: In a way, that's good. But, in a way, I feel....
Kumkum Mohanty: No. No. No, you must keep the gharana
intact. My point is, you ask the girls if you want to know Deb Babu's style, then keep some away. If you want Guruji's...Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra's style...you can debate and develop. Three styles can continue with separate...
Kumkum Mohanty: Yes, keep it separate. Let there be two-three girls or boys. But the gharana
would have been maintained. Either way, it is a hotch-potch now. In some areas you find all the styles together. Otherwise, it doesn't give importance to anybody.
(End of interview)
And then, I have thought of making a scheme, like documentation, codification, notation and dissemination and gave it to Government of Orissa. The then Chief Minister, Jani Vallabh Pattanaik brought me on deputation and I published 'Odissi Dance - Path Finder', bible of Odissi now. The grammar. In fact, the grammar and foot positions, foot movements, body positions, everything - there are fourteen chapters. It's codified and nomenclatured. The second book was on the 'Still point and Mobile point'. You are dancing; when you slow motion it and show some typical poses and typical movements. So these two books I published.