Mayadhar Raut is one of the most prominent gurus of Odissi. Image courtesy: Sahapedia

In Conversation with Guru Mayadhar Raut: Odissi

in Interview
Published on: 14 September 2020

Madhur Gupta

Madhur Gupta is one of the leading Odissi dance exponents of his generation. He is also an author and columnist widely featured in national and international publications for his sensitive writings in the field of arts and culture. Apart from extensively performing and writing, Madhur also teaches Odissi at Sangeet Vidya Niketan, New Delhi.

Madhur Gupta in conversation with Mayadhar Raut.

Mayadhar Raut is one of the most prominent gurus of Odissi. He was one of the founder members of Jayantika, an association of scholars, performers and gurus, formed in 1959, that played a major part in the reconstruction of modern Odissi. In the late 60s, he came to Delhi and started teaching Odissi at a dance school called Nritya Niketan. Later he joined Shriram Bharatiya Kala Kendra and taught there for 25 years. Mayadhar Raut has great mastery over ancient treatises like Natyashastra, Abhinaya Darpana and Abhinaya Chandrika and adopted many aspects from them into Odissi. He was the first guru to introduce sanchari bhava in the dance, and also was the first to adapt Gita Govinda ashtapadis to Odissi on stage. His disciples include well-known performers like Ranjana Gauhar, Kiren Segal, Aloka Panikar, Vanashree Rao, Usha Gupta, Jayalakshmi Eshwar, etc. For his substantial contributions to the growth and evolution of Odissi as we know it today, he has been honoured with several awards, including Sahitya Kala Parishad Award, Utkal Pratibha Puraskar, Odissi Sangeet Natak Academy Award, Kavi Samrat Upendra Bhanja Award, etc. 

Following is an edited version of the conversation with Guru Mayadhar Raut conducted by Madhur Gupta in Delhi, 2018.

Madhur Gupta (MG): Guruji, tell us something about your early life and times in Cuttack.

Mayadhar Raut (MR): When I was in the third grade, Kalicharan Patnaik (who then ran a drama troupe known as Sakshi Gopal Natya Sangh) had come home. He saw me singing and dancing around, and asked my father: Isn’t he your younger one? Bring him to me, let’s see if he can do some acting or singing. So, in 1941, I joined the troupe. I used to do the Gotipua dance initially. It was Gotipua only in name, with just two of us performing. We also had Ras Leela performances. But later, they wound up this troupe and formed a drama company.

I joined them there too. During this time, we received basic training on the different vibhags in Odissi from Guru Pankaj Charan Das. We used to have classes from seven to nine in the morning. What I have taught my students, all those are my compositions. The things I learnt then were just fundamental steps, and different pada bhedas (variations of steps).  

Then I went to Kalakshetra in Madras (Chennai) for four years, where I mastered the Natya Shastra. Then I applied the different aspects of Natya Shastra, like gati bheda and chari bheda, into Odissi. Because I realised that Abhinaya Darpan and Natya Shastra are for all dance forms, and not just for Bharatanatyam.  

To take the practice of Odissi forward, an institute called Kala Vikas Kendra was formed on August 28, 1952. Dr Pranakrushna Parija was the president.

When I was 26 years old, I joined the institute. Back then, people used to ask: Has he come to become a dance master or is he here to play with the kids? Then Babulal Doshi—the secretary there—would say: I found him from Cuttack town. It’s written in the stars that he will be a guru.

So, I began teaching at Kala Vikas Kendra on a ₹15 salary and just three students. Within nine months, we gathered more students from the neighbourhood and ended up with 33 students. I also used to help out other gurus. And like that, I played my part in the progress of Kala Vikas Kendra. 

MG: Which other gurus were with you at Kala Vikas Kendra at the time?

MR: Kelucharan Mohapatra and I were there at the time.

MG: Could you tell us a bit about Jayantika? What motivated you to come together with other gurus to form this association?

MR: Everyone had different styles during the time. For instance, different dancers would do the same mudra differently. But I realised Abhinaya Chandrika has defined most of those mudras. There was an urgent need to standardise the poses and mudras. This prompted Kelucharan Mohapatra, Debaprasad Das, Raghunath Datta, Dayanidhi Das and I to come together, along with some others. We then took the following oath: "In today's meeting we promise that we will abide by the decisions and course of action deliberated by Jayantika and we will not allow any action which will negatively affect Jayantika."

MG: How did you and the other scholars in the Jayantika Association do your research to codify Odissi?

MR: The Gotipua style and Mahari (temple dancers) style are very different. Gotipua had more of bandha nrutya (a dance routine with acrobatic poses and movements), which the Mahari dancers never used to do. Pankaj babu (Guru Pankaj Charan Das), being the adopted son of Mahari Ratna Prabha Devi, strictly followed the Mahari style. At Jayantika, we combined different elements from both these traditions and formulated Odissi.

In 1948, when the All India Radio began in Odisha, poet Kavichandra Kalicharan Patnaik named the dance form Odissi. Just like how we have Odissi music, let’s call our dance form Odissi, he said. That is when it got the name. Before that, it was just Gotipua and Mahari.

MG: Whose idea was it to bring all of you gurus together?

MR: MP Loknath Mishra, a politician who used to patronise Odia culture. Every evening, we used to have dance classes at his place. We would gather there every night after classes, drink some chai, and hold meetings from 9 to 12. Whatever each guru used to perform, we would correlate it with the shastras. We would then eliminate the elements that weren’t there in the shastras. Shastra without sadhana (practice), and sadhana without shastra are two entirely different things.

That’s why we formulated Jayantika, on September 1959—the year I returned to Cuttack from Kalakshetra. We did a dance program on September 13. I, along with Sanjukta Misra (Panigrahi), Jayanti Ghose, Krishnapriya Nanda, D.N. Patnaik, Debaprasad Das and Batakrishna Sena, performed at the event. Odisha was ruled by the Congress and Swatantra Party then. Impressed by our efforts, the government donated ₹1,001 towards the Jayantika cause.

Later, we went for events at the Puri temple and observed different dance postures (bhangis) and mudras. We also went to Konark after that. Our expenses were met through donations made to the Jayantika Association. I remember this one time when we went to watch Gotipua, they were performing lots of bandhas, one dancer standing on top of another. That wasn’t how it was performed during our time as Gotipua performers.

At one of our meetings, Pankaj babu opposed our mudras, since he was into traditional mudras and not the ones from Abhinaya Darpana.    

Gradually, I broadened the practice of Odissi—including gati bheda and jati bheda—after my return from Madras. I also taught this to the other gurus. After that, I came to Delhi for a year to learn modern dance at the Natya Ballet Centre, along with a couple of other dancers.

MG: Guruji, who sent you to Delhi?

MR: It was Babulal Doshi from Kala Vikas Kendra who sent us there. Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay had put up a poster about the Natya Ballet Centre being formed, and had also asked him to send some artistes to Delhi for a year. Harekrishna Behera was one of the artists who went with me. Odissi was well-respected there.

At the Natya Ballet Centre, Badrinath Khosla’s daughter (Anuradhika) was one of my classmates. One day she told me: Mayadharji, if you wish to settle down in Delhi, my father is opening a dance school called Nritya Niketan, you can teach there.

That’s how I started teaching in Delhi. I had many students then. In 1969, I brought my family along to Delhi. And the following year, I took up a permanent post at Shriram Bharatiya Kala Kendra, and taught there for 25 years. But as I grew old, I had to stop going to the institute. They requested me several times to return and even said they would arrange a taxi for me, but I refused.

MG: What were the items that were performed before the formation of Jayantika?

MR: The songs were really different back then. There was no vibhag, we added it much later. My main task was to look at the mudras in Odissi, and compare it with the Natyashastra, Abhinaya Darpan and Abhinaya Chandrika texts. In Kalakshetra, they were particular about mudra viniyoga (usage). They used to teach us the viniyoga sloka for each mudra. So, after coming back from Madras, I introduced viniyoga in the practice of Odissi. If you remember the viniyoga, you will remember the mudra.

Yatho Hasta thatho Drishti, Yatho Drishti thatho Manah Yatho Manah thatho Bhaava, Yatho Bhaava thatho Rasa (Natyashastra) (Where the hands are, there goes the sight; where the sight is, there lies the mind; Where the mind fixes, there the feelings come and in accordance with feelings the enjoyment (rasa) takes place).

MG: So, the viniyogs used in Odissi now are same as the ones you learnt at Kalakshetra?

MR: Not exactly, I tweaked it to suit the Odissi style. For example, I have used a lot of elements from Abhinaya Chandrika in Odissi, like the nirdeshika mudra. I combined these with aspects of the Natyashastra and Abhinaya Darpan. Even the avahita hasta was not in Abhinaya Darpan.  

MG: Guruji, who were your major students at Shriram Bharatiya Kala Kendra?

MR: I have taught Vanashree Rao, Ranjana Gauhar, Kiren Segal, Aloka Panikar, Usha Gupta, Vidyottama Sharma, Jayalakshmi Eshwar, Dibakar Khuntia, and many others.

MG: When the Kamani Auditorium in Delhi was inaugurated, you performed Gita Govinda. Tell us a little bit about that.

MR: It was in August 1971, and V.V. Giri was the President of India. There were plans to have a Kathak performance at the inaugural ceremony. But the authorities later insisted that I open the ceremony with my Gita Govinda performance.

Around this time, I was supposed to go on a foreign tour with Radha Reddy, my student. Our event was scheduled for August 15. But I was supposed to be back to Delhi by August 18 for the stage rehearsal at Kamani, so I couldn’t go on the tour. This incident led Radha Reddy to give up Odissi altogether, unfortunately.

MG: Were Gita Govinda performances common in Odissi before?

MR: No, the songs were mostly in Odia back then. I was awarded the Kavi Samrat Upendra Bhanja Samman (2005) for my Gita Govinda performance.

MG: Can you tell us how you started performing Gita Govinda in Odissi?

MR: I am particularly fond of Gita Govinda because it has all the rasas, and several stories. It has eight different types of heroines, including the proshitabhartruka nayika (heroine with a sojourning husband). The government was also interested in promoting Gita Govinda further. When I went to Italy for four years, I worked mostly on Gita Govinda. The director at the institute there even published a translation of the text.

MG: Isn’t shringar rasa the most dominant rasa in Gita Govinda?

MR: It isn’t just shringar rasa, it’s bhakti shringar. If you don’t have bhakti (devotion), how can you have shringar? There’s this scene where Radha waits all night long for Krishna. When he appears before her only the morning after, she shoos him away singing, “Haye Madhav, haye Keshaví”. She doesn’t let him enter, and says, “You go away to Chandravali’s, don’t be with me.”

MG: How did your contemporaries and the general public react when you started doing Gita Govinda choreographies?

MR: In Pashyati Dishi Dishi there’s this line which says tad-adhara-madhura-madhuni pibantam (She sees you who are so skilful in drinking the sweet nectar of her lips).

After a stage performance, our then deputy chief minister Pabitra Mohan Pradhan asked me: Are you married? I told him I’m not. Then he asked me how I could teach young dancers such an item, and I told him I only let students over 18 years of age learn Gita Govinda from me. I didn’t teach my daughter when she was young. I don’t teach children the shringara rasa. Gita Govinda is taught at the fifth or sixth year of practice.

There was this professor who once told me: What do these children know of prem (love)? Leave all of that, teach them bhajans. I even had an argument with some parents once. When we were practising for an event, parents of some students protested, asking me not to teach the shringara rasa. So, I told them I am only teaching them what’s written in the books, I don’t teach them anything from my imagination. But they retorted saying: You’re unmarried and so are your students, so you can’t perform this bit. It’ll ruin your students’ prospects. And then I asked them: What about the film songs they sing? Do they understand the meaning of those?

MG: Can you tell us about how you brought the sanchari bhav (transitory emotional expression) in Gita Govinda?

MR: In 1957, I joined a workshop by Shambhu Maharaj, where I saw him perform on the song ‘kaun gali gaye shyam, bata do koi, kaun gali gaye shyam’. He performed that same line in so many different ways.

Did Krishna vanish into the kohl that I’m wearing; did he disappear into my bindi, where did he go?

So, I learnt sanchari bhav from him. Later, I started using sanchari bhav in my choreographies, mostly in points of transition between two events. In one of the sequences, I turned around the scene where Radha decorates her bed for Krishna. In my version, it is Krishna who decorates his bed for Radha.

Racayati sayanam sacakita-nayanam pasyati tava panthanam (He, apprehending your arrival, prepares the bed, and looks at your path with startled eyes).

Actually, in Pashyati Dishi Dishi it is Radha who yearns for Krishna.

Bhavati vilambini vigalita-lajja vilapati roditi vasakasajja natha hare sidati! (When Radha returns to external consciousness and realises that you have still not arrived, she loses all bashfulness and begins to weep out loud).

MG: Guruji, tell us some of your personal favourites from among your own choreographies.

MR: I like four–five items from Gita Govinda. One is Haye Madhav, then there is Pashyati Dishi Dishi, Sakhi he Kesi Mathana Mudharam, Rati Sukha Sare and Nindati Chandanam. I’ve observed how other gurus perform these items. But nothing else can match how harmoniously Gita Govinda blends with Odissi music. One time when I was in Madras, M.S. Subbulakshmi and D.K. Pattammal had come to see our programme. Subbulakshmi invited all of us artistes over for coffee the next day.  When we went, she said: Even I have sung many Gita Govinda pieces, but I really liked your music the other day. She also asked one of our singers to sing a song from Gita Govinda, and he sang three­four songs. ‘I saw him perform yesterday, can you dance for us now?’ she then asked me. I told her that although I teach my students, all the steps don’t really stay in my memory. I then went on to perform Rati Sukha Sare for her. Subbulakshmi’s eyes welled up at the end of the performance. The depth of the rasas amazed her, and her heart was full seeing how beautifully Gita Govinda went with Odissi music.

MG: Guruji, what led the Jayantika Association break away eventually?

MR: The gurus started following their own styles. They had joined Jayantika and taken their oaths, but they were not willing to change their own styles after a point. All of us also had to move to different places for our jobs [Guru Pankaj Charan Das and Guru Debaprasad Das to Utkal Sangeet Mahavidyalaya and Guru Mayadhar Raut to Delhi].

MG: What were the costumes used in Gotipua and Mahari? How were the different elements in the Odissi costume—like the bengapatia (silver waist belt)—decided upon?

MR: The bengapatia is from the Mahari style. The sari worn in Mahari is very long—it is 12 yards. When Sanjukta Panigrahi was studying in Madras, she had brought us a sample. I told her the fan (the decorative anchal at the side or in front) was too long, and that made it look too similar to the Bharatanatyam costume. Then we agreed on bringing the fan till the knee level. I also introduced the ring chuda in the Odissi costume, drawing inspiration from what I had seen in various patachitras.   

MG: Do you feel dancers now follow the same style of Odissi that you used to teach them? 

MR: My students do follow the style that I have taught them, to carry on the tradition.

MG: Can you tell us a little bit about the lalitya or elegance in Odissi dance?

MR: Lalita komala madhura nritya, Odissi nritya. Elegant, beautiful, sweet, that is Odissi dance. This is the essence of Odissi.

MG: What qualities do you think are most essential to an Odissi dancer?

MR: Abhinaya Darpana says a dancer should have ten qualities. Javaha Sthiratwam Rekha cha Bhramari Drishti Shramaha Medha Shraddha Vacho Geetham Paathra praanaa Dasha Smruthaha (Agility, steadiness, graceful lines, balance in circular movements, glancing eyes, endurance, intelligence, devotion, good speech and understanding of music).

The movements in Odissi shouldn’t be too fast also. I prefer Odissi in madhya laya (medium tempo). This is not Kathak for it to go too fast.

MG: What wisdom have you gained from your gurus, and what do you have to say to today’s Odissi dancers?

MR: Some students come to learn from me, and then go away. I strongly believe in the guru-shishya parampara, where students learn by living with the guru. Just like how Krishna stayed with Sandipani Muni and learned from him.


Translated by Medha V.