By Sanjay Kumar Jena
Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra, instrumental in making Odissi reach the world audience, passed away in Bhubaneswar on April 7. He was 78. He is survived by his wife Laxmipriya and dancer-son, Ratikant. The last rites were performed at Swargwar in the religious town of Puri on April8.
He was rushed to a private nursing home around 11 a.m. after he complained of uneasiness, where he was declared brought dead.
Considered the greatest exponent of Odissi, Kelucharan not only groomed generations of performers but was also responsible for codification and stylisation of the dance form. Among the thousands of his disciples in Odissi some well-known names include Kum Kum Mohanty, Sonal Mansingh, Pratima Bedi and the late Sanjukta Panigrahi.
Born on January 8, 1926, at Raghurajpur in Puri, Kelucharan was drawn to the Gotipua dance form at a tender age and frequented the akhara of Balabhadra Sahu. Seeing his son´s interest, his father Chintamani Mohapatra, a mridanga player, sent him to Guru Mohan Goswami at the young age of nine to take lessons in acting, mime, singing, percussion and stagecraft.
From 1946 to 1952, Kelucharan worked with the Annapurna ´B´ theatre group of Cuttack and established himself as a dancer, percussionist and choreographer. His big break came with a solo piece in a dance-drama on Devi Bhasmasura under the direction of Guru Pankaj Charan Das. Kelucharan stole the show with his performance of Nataraja, while Laxmipriya, who later became his wife, portrayed Mohini. The two soon became famous for their Dashavataar dance performance.
In 1953, Kelucharan joined the Kala Vikas Kendra in Cuttack, the state´s first college of dance and music, teaching Odissi and researching on the various folk and tribal dance forms of Orissa. During this period, he also choreographed several dance dramas. His interpretations of Radha in Geet Govinda is legendary.
In the eighties, Kelucharan left the Kala Vikas Kendra to under-take tours of various cities across the country, teaching and spreading the dance form.
Perhaps the legendary Kelucharan was the number one promotor of Odissi and his endeavour and perseverance for the dance form won him the country´s top civilian awards like Padmashri, Padma Bhushan and Padma Vibhushan. He also bagged the Sangeet Natak Akademi award.
Orissa Governor, M.M. Rajendran, hundreds of Kelucharan´s students and people from all walks of life rushed to his house to pay their last respects. Orissa Chief Minister, Navin Patnaik, who described him as Orissa´s ambassodor to the rest of the world with his Odissi performance, announced to hold his funeral with full state honours.
“I am choked to say something on my guru,” said Kum Kum Mohanty after paying her last respects. “He was a symbol of love, compassion and was committed to his work so much so that, it would continue to inspire his disciples for all times to come.” Smt Mohanty is one of his leading students.
“Guru Kelucharan´s achievement is exemplary. I do not think anybody can match Kelucharan in the coming days,” said Guru Gangadhar Pradhan, another leading exponent of Odissi.