By Kedar Mishra
365 days and 365 festivals, my State should be celebrating its rich cultural heritage through a never ending circle of festivals- that is my vision, that only is my dream. Before he stopped speaking, I looked at the person. His eyes were fixed to the distant horizon, as if he is extending his dream to those unknown zone of difficult possibilities. His dreamy look assured me, nothing is impossible. Today that dreamer is no more, but his dreams speak more eloquently. Guru Gangadhar Pradhan (July 10, 1948 – October 10, 2010), the high epitome of optimism and a moving metaphor for dream, died two years ago. Nobody was ready to believe that the lively dreamer died in a fatal heart stroke. His iron willed persona and humble appearance can be seen no where in this mortal world. His existence became a leaf of memory. But the dreamer that he was can never die. His dream to create a global platform for Odissi in the very soil of Odisha is still alive in many a forms. As a performer, Guru, percussionist, composer, organizer and visualiser, he played versatile roles and justified those responsibilities to an enviable perfection. He lived a very short life but created a very long chapter of history.
To Catch the Moon
Born in to a farmer’s family, Gangadhar Pradhan was destined to be a dancer. His birth place Parikula is a little village close to Dimirisena, another village of great historic importance and a significant center of temple dancing. Nilakantheswar temple of Dimirisena was famous for nurturing Gotipua dance for many a centuries. Here village folks dedicate their little boys to be Gotipuas and to serve lord Shiva as the divine entertainer. People who believe that Odissi is basically an exclusive Vaishnavite art form must take note of this Shaivaite tradition and evaluate Odissi as a dance form which includes multiple streams of socio-cultural medium of expression. The parents of little Gangadhar dedicated their sick child to lord Shiva on a banana leaf and from there the little boy became a dancer. He started learning the tricks and techniques of dancing as a Gotipua from Chandrasekhar Pattnaik and Birabara Sahu. “From a clumsy compound of Nilakantheswar temple, I nurtured a new dream to catch the moon on sky.” This was the expression of Gangadhar Pradhan. I vividly remember my interview with him. He talked about his life and art explicitly and with great details. He was never encouraged by his father to be a dancer. After ritualistic dancing as a Gotipua, the boy should come back to farming that was his father’s wish. Contradicting his father’s dream Gangadhar wished to catch the moon on the sky and aspire to be an Odissi dancer.
That was the era of a new beginning. Odissi dance, as a new classical Indian dance was getting global attention. The grand troika of Odissi, Guru Pankaj Charan Das, Kelucharan Mohapatra and Debaprasad Das had been drawing a solid road map to recreate history. Young and determined Gangadhar joined the masters as their devout pupil. Shattering his father’s dream Gangadhar set his journey to become an Odissi dancer having a purse with Rs. 27/- only. In Bhubaneswar he was guided by eminent Odissi scholar Dhirendra Nath Patnaik and got admission in Utkal Sangeet Mahavidyalaya. Under great Gurus Pankaj Charan Das and Debaprasad Das’s watchful eye, the talented young boy started learning the techniques, style and grammar. What he had learnt as a Gotipua dancer, got a grammatical base line here and he was fortunate enough to learn Odissi from all three major Gurus of Odissi and was also blessed to get guidance from doyens like Sanjukta Panigrahi and Minati Mishra. He joined Sanjukta Panigrahi as a co-dancer and percussionist after his initial training.
Man with a Mission
His career as a dancer and dance teacher was not an ordinary one. He was the leader and path finder of the second-generation Odissi. As a student he learnt the art forms from his elders, but as a creator, he started weaving his own dream. To set a stylistic rupture from the very established streams of the great masters were not an easy task. He took the challenge and started composing on his own. His master piece Konark Kanti, Shiva Panchaka, many Ashtpadis from Geeta Govinda, Nava Rasa,Astanayika….. the list is quite long and refreshingly original. He imbibed styles of three major Gurus and created his own style of expression. Emphasizing more on the finer elements of body, he restructured the movements, stepping and style of expressions. He was a wonderful communicator and explicit chronicler of textual details in group formation.
People know him as a brilliant choreographer, teacher and great organizer. Personally, I have seen him performing on and off the stage many a times. The memory of his mesmerizing performance as a Gotipua, at the age of 55 is still afresh in my mind. That was an exclusive lucky show for me and few of my friends. Prior to his untimely death Guruji was going on with a grand ambitious project to document all kinds of folk dance forms of Odisha. He invited all senior Gotipua Gurus to participate in a documentation camp and luckily I got an invitation from him to watch the camp. One by one, seniors like Birabar Sahu, Maguni Das, Gobinda Pala and many others spoke and demonstrated the raw style and techniques of Gotipuas. Finally came a frail looking, darker old man. He was introduced to us as Guru Bhagirathi Mohapatra, a contemporary of Gangadhar Pradhan. Sakhi Mu laje mali..mana karuthila kimpa mu yamuna ku gali lo… that was the song. Describing the blissful embarrassment of a Gopika at the bathing ghat and her erotic expressions for Krishna were enacted in a typical Desi manner and the body kinetic of the man was superb. After Bhagirathi Mohapatra’s performance I requested Ganga sir to perform the same Abhinaya and to show us the transformation process from Desi to Margi. And Guruji came up like a young – love sick Gopika and what a performance that was!!!!
After Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra, it was Guru Gangadhar Pradhan who was the undoubted leader of second-generation Odissi. His institutional Odyssey Orissa Dance Academy (ODA) has producedt the largest numbers of teachers, composers and organizers. The most sought after gurus and choreographers of our time are mostly nurtured by Guruji. Starting from Aruna mohanty, Nandita Patnaik, Bichtrananda Swain, Meera Das to Yudhisthir Nayak, Lingaraj Pradhan…..the list is pretty long. Democratic functioning of ODA opened up a space for new generation Gurus. He created pupils, trained and nurtured them. Sometimes he had serious problems with them, but he gave the best to the world of Odissi and for that his role as a leader is unchallenging and unique.
Dreaming a Life
Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before- said Edgar Allan Poe. Gangadhar Pradhan’s daring effort to dream in darkness is a leaf of that history which documents the uncommon deeds of a common man. A village boy’s dream to recreate Konark and enliven the frozen beauties of age old stone carvings got fresh breath of life in the shape of Konark Natya Mandap, the open air auditorium near Konark. An unbelievable dream shaped into reality and his dream stands erect and immortal with that great structure. He nurtured a great band of pupils, founded numerous art institutions, not only in India but all over the world, organized series of festivals, composed a numbers of ever refreshing choreographies, a Padmashri, Sangeet Natak Academy awardee, former President of Odisha Sangeet Natak Academy and so on- but for me setting aside all his towering achievements, his only identity moves me forever is that there was a dreamer whose dream can never die. Nothing can eliminate the dream of a god of life and he was none other than Guru Gangadhar Pradhan.