Life Is Beautiful If Passion Becomes Profession, Says Odissi Dancer & Floral Designer Janhabi Behera

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Bhubaneswar-based Janhabi Behera is quite familiar as a gifted Odissi dancer. Recipient of the prestigious Ustad Bismillah Khan Yuva Prative Puraskar from Central Sangeet Natak Akademi, India’s highest honour for young performing artistes, she is known both nationally and internationally as a soloist of the famed Odisha Dance Academy of late Odissi legend, Guru Gangadhar Pradhan. 

However, Janhabi’s distinct identity as a self-taught and gifted visual artist is not known to many. As a floral designer, she has been winning hearts since her first exhibition was mounted in Bhubaneswar in 2018. Dance and floral design apart, her expertise in the art of make-up of dancers and interior designer of textiles products are the other distinct features of her journey of three decades as a creative artiste.

Excerpts from an interview with OdishaBytes: 

How old has been your fascination for flowers?

My madness for flowers is older than my passion for dance. As far as I remember, the plucking of flowers always pained me the most as a child. I felt that flowers looked the best on plants. 

As I grew up and joined the Odisha Dance Academy in Bhubaneswar as a student of Odissi, we used to get flower bouquets on stage after our group presentations. Instead of discarding the bouquet, I used to carry it back and decorate the flowers in different ways at our home. I always tried my best to ensure that these plucked flowers remain alive for a long time.

As a child, I also loved to make rangolis at our home with flowers instead of the usual preferred medium of powders during various rituals. 

When was your fondness for flowers converted to a professional floral designer? 

Odisha Dance Academy’s annual dance festivals used to be hosted at Rabindra Mandap in Bhubaneswar. As a student having a special interest in rangoli, I started using flowers at the entrance of the auditorium as a welcome gesture for the audience. I got a lot of appreciation from the visitors that prompted me to think about an exclusive exhibition of my floral decoration designs. 

The two-day show, ‘Phulare Phulare’ held at the Lalit Kala Akademi in Bhubaneswar received a rave response from the artistes’ community, media and visitors. I exhibited 15 of my creations in it. Since then, I have not looked back. I am regularly invited by event hosts and managers to put up my flower decorations for various events.   

Would you please share your trade secret? What makes your floral shows so special?

Honestly, there is no secret in my art of flower decoration or design. As you know, I am a self-taught artist and designer. I simply follow my heart. However, I ensure that I never repeat the same design. And this gives each of my works a fresh look. 

I give maximum importance to colour combination. I also experiment with three- dimensional designs. To add to my colour scheme, texture and shape, I also use leaves and fruits at times. Though I use marigold flowers a lot as it is plentily available locally. I am fond of trying my hand and creativity with all sorts of flowers. 

As an artist, you have dabbled both in performing arts and visual art as an Odissi dancer-choreographer, a dance make-up specialist, floral and interior designer. Do these art forms complement each other in your work?

Yes, my experience of dance has helped me a lot in my growth as a self-taught visual artist. In dance choreography, placement of dancers and exploration of the stage-space is very important. Similarly, the make-up and costume that we put on also teach us a sense of beauty and aesthetics. These aspects helped me a lot to imagine my floral and textiles designs. 

I have realised that floral design is not merely a craft. It is an art that demands creativity and involvement like in dance that is never merely a drill. 

What was your career plan as a young girl? Did you ever dream to be an artiste?

I always wished to be a dancer though I can’t explain why. As a child, I was fond of dancing to the songs being aired on the radio. So, my parents got me admitted to Odisha Dance Academy, ignoring the negative comments of the neighbours and relatives over their permission to a girl child to be a dancer. It is that dance, which has been my life and identity today. I am eternally indebted to my supportive family and the Odisha Dance Academy, especially my gurus Aruna Mohanty, Ramesh Chandra Jena and Yudhisthir Nayak, for making me a dancer.

The life of an Indian classical dancer is a huge challenge, especially on the financial front. What is your take on it?

An artiste’s life is always full of struggles and challenges and it is the maximum for an Indian classical dancer. Yet, the joy and pride that one derives from being an Indian classical dancer are unique. I realised the great respect associated with the career of an Indian classical dancer at the international level after I toured several countries to perform. We artistes survive on some kind of madness for our chosen art forms. So, we bother less about the financial gains. 

However, there is the need for due patronage of our classical dance and dancers, both by the government and the public if we truly care for our cultural heritage.

Have you ever regretted your decision to be an artiste?

Never, not even in any moment of despair. I rather feel blessed that I am an artiste. I was very passionate about art and I always wished to make it my profession. If your passion becomes your profession, then life is beautiful. I believe I am living a life artistic and beautiful. 

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1 Comment
  1. Bharadwaj Mishra says

    What a beautiful life Janhavi talks about and lives, amidst the everyday problems of a middle class life.. that’s soul satisfying.. seeing passion as profession, loving and performing art in all its forms, making essential livelihood out of essence of life.. Kudos to Janhavi and team OB for bring up more light on such a beautiful life..

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