Friday, 10 July 2020

Two post war dance stalwarts - So different yet alike - Taalam: column by Leela Venkataraman

But for Ratikant Mohapatra's invitation to participate along with senior critic Dr. Sunil Kothari in a discussion, under the aegis of Bhubaneswar University, based on two Padma Vibhushans - Late Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra and Pandit Birju Maharaj - I would not have had a close parallel look at the career graphs of two dance stalwart gurus who, for all time to come, have provided the reference point for Odissi and Kathak respectively. Revealing for me were points of unexpected similarity in the two very different personalities.

The starting point of their entry into dance however was vastly different in each case. For Pandit Birju Maharaj, born in Lucknow in 1938 to the exalted founding family of Lucknow gharana Kathak, as the only son of Achhan Maharaj (after seven girls), with legendary Bindadin Maharaj as grand uncle and uncles in Shambhu Maharaj and Lachhu Maharaj, each a stalwart, Kathak came as a birth right and almost unwritten dharma for the torchbearer of the gharana.

On the other hand, born in Raghurajpur village in 1924 - 1926, (latter according to official documents) with his birth perceived as inauspicious due to death of siblings, leading to name being changed from Madan Mohan to Sabakhy Kela or low street performer, Kelucharan's inexorable childhood love for watching Jatras and dance taught to the Gotipuas, had to constantly contend with father Chintamani Mohapatra's (a Patachitra painter) firm belief (in keeping with the times) that dance was the last resort of the truly shameless and immoral.

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