By Kedar Mishra
Photo Credit: Arabinda Mohapatra and Sabyasachi Panigrahi
A man of maverick simplicity, oblivious of his own genius and greatness lived a complete life of eternal music. He sang behind the silver screen, mesmerized his fans on stage and accompanied the best of Odissi dancers with utmost sincerity and devotion- with great sense of attachment, he played whatever roles life prompted him to play and amazingly he set extraordinary height for every sojourn of his creativity. Famous play back singer in Odia and Southern films, maestro in Odissi style of singing, composer, teacher and devoted lover of Odissi art Pt. Raghunath Panigrahi has redefined every line of his artistic life with new verve and vigor. No doubt a great musician he was, also he was a man of the kindest heart, a hero who never cares for his heroic aura. Music was his prime identity, but for his fans and followers he was the loveliest and the kindest human being. Like a divine fragrance he embraced all who came across his fold. He was like the tender breeze of spring. (The way he pronounced Dheeeera samire.. in Geeta Govinda), soothing, loving and a healing touch to a wounded heart.
Child of Divine Darkness
Born on August 10, 1932 in a small town named Gunupur in the southern district of Rayagada, he was the part of a large family where music was a way of family life. He belonged to the lesser known southern style of Odissi singing, absolutely free of Hindustani impact. After Apanna Panigrahi and Tarini Patra, Pt. Raghunath is the last torch bearer of this rare style. With him ended an era. From the tiny town of Gunupur we was shifted to Puri and later sent to Madras now Chennai to learn music. His crystal clear voice and deeply moving rendition caught hold many a attentions and he became an established play back singer in Southern films. Later he joined Odia film industry as a play back singer and scored his mega hits in the tracks like Susama go tuma ange ange bhara madhu jochhana..or Na jaa radhika… in the golden era of All India Radio and The Gramophone records dozens of his tracks that have become highly popular and shall remain as undying classic. Coming from a small town, the young singer became a much sought after singer in Madras and that city has become Raghunath’s new life line. There he met his soul mate Sanjukta, who later became the brand ambassador of Odissi dance and a legend. They fell in love and tied nuptial knot in Mumbai.
A Style of His Own
Pt. Raghunath Panigrahi was a versatile singer who stepped into every forms and styles of Indian music, starting from classical to folk, from devotional to romantic, from film to dance numbers. His Bhajans and Odishi are distinct in style and bear a typical signature of Panditji’s style. Though a classical maestro, he was open to all kinds of experiments. Punching Desi elements in classical genre was his hallmark. When he used to sing Bhakta Salabega, the Muslim devotee of Lord Jagannath he preferred a style fitting into the literary class of the poet. Likewise when he used to sing modern poets like Gangadhar Meher, Madhusudan Rao or Laxmikanta Mohapatra, he chosed another style. Rupa rekha nahin hey sunya dehi..the famous Bhima Bhoi Bhajan of Panditji was a rupture in his own journey. Chandan Hajuri’s famous song Chaka nayanaku patita kehi…in his voice became an undying flow of surrender. When he used to sing Sabuthiru banchita kari….that always went deep into the depth of human heart evoking sympathy and spirituality. Sometime he preferred folk as his vehicle of melody Sri purusottama jiba mana…., Kalia dhana to lagi jau e jibana…can be taken as instances.
Odissi and Geeta Govinda
He was more known as Geeta Govinda Panigrahi. Prithviraj Kapoor, one of the legendary actor of Indian cinema used to call him as Geeta Govinda Panigrahi. Leaving a highly promising career of play back singer, he fully devoted his life for Odissi and Geeta Govinda singing. For many Indians, Panigrahi’s Geeta Gobinda becomes their morning Raaga. Clarity, purity in diction, blend of perfect moods with Sur and absolute involvement of his voice with the text, makes his Geeta Gobinda a household treasure. The best thing about his rendering of Geeta Gobinda is that it is Trans cultural and truly metamorphosed into the love song of humanity. Apart from Geeta Gobinda, few immortal Odissi tracks of his are the proudest strength of Odissi school. Manasija manamohana….., Ki nadare pranasangini…etc embolden his own style of Odissi. He was a colossus, huge and gigantic, superb and splendid.
Unison of Dance and Music
Raghunath Panigrahi and Sanjukta Panigrahi as a couple shall remain inseparable and their unison resulted in a grand repertory of dance based compositions. No Odissi dance recital is complete without Panditji’s compositions. Initially he composed the Astapadis for Sanjukta, added few pure musical pieces like YugmaDwandwa Pallavi subsequently. His divine composition Ahe nila saila…becomes every dancer’s most seen after dream. Ardhanariswara, was a composition immortalized by Sanjukta in her elegant dance style. Later it was adopted and redefined by Nritya Gram ensemble, making the musical track unchanged. He composed hundreds of musical pieces for many a dancers, starting from Sanjukta Panigrahi to Bijayini Satpathy. In dance scenario the grand Troika, Raghunath, Sanjukta and Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra designed an era of excellence. Even today one can feel the magical spell of his music in Barsha Abhisara, based on Kalidasa’s Ritusamhar and superbly danced by Sujata Mohapatra. There are hundreds of his musical compositions for dance that has remain scattered and one must compile all his musical scores for historical references.
His death, though timely has created a huge vacuum in the world of music, in particular to Odissi. Odisha and Odissi lost one of its most treasured musician.