Guest Column

Revolutionary Life & Legacy Of Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra

Kedar Mishra

“To see this oddly beautiful old man float across the stage on swirling, twisting, flowing movements, the candles flickering all about him, was an unforgettable experience of magic and ritual. I sat there spellbound, staring at Guruji as if he were some being from another world, a personification of archetypal movement,” wrote Fritjof Capra, the famous scientist-thinker, the celebrated writer of “Tao and Physics” in the appendix of his book, “Uncommon Wisdom”.

Capra had an opportunity to watch Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra and Sanjukta Panigrahi perform together in Mumbai. It was in 1980 and for Capra, watching Guruji’s performance, as he confessed, was an “experience of magic and ritual”.

Today if Guruji were alive, it would have been his 98th birth year. He was born on January 8, 1924, and died on April 7, 2004. According to his biographer Ileana Citaristi, his actual birth year was 1924 but officially it was recorded as 1926.

Perhaps, he was the greatest global ambassador of Odishan culture. He single-handedly took Odissi dance to its peak. We can add as much glory as we wish to his memory, but nothing will really suffice to say what a genius was he.

Starting his artistic career from Mohan Sundar Dev Goswami’s Rasa as a personal attendant to becoming the greatest maestro of Odissi was quite a spectacular and extraordinary walk of life. In one sentence, his life and legacy were/are a revolution. He changed the wheel of history and created his own podium there. He is the maker of a new tradition. He knew the authenticity of Odissi and had the guts to redesign, reshape and redefine it within the boundary of the tradition.

He nurtured the best dancing talents in India for more than five decades. There is a magnificent body of work in Odissi choreography to his credit, but what remained untold are his own performances as a dancer. I have not seen, anyone second to him, transforming body expression to a level of divine tranquillity. He was fluid poetry on stage, a moving grace and his dance appeared to be from another world. He was the divine bridge between our world of ordinariness and the extraordinary world of timeless beauty and bliss.

Another area of his genius, which is very less discussed, is his grasp of music and rhythm. Those who had seen him composing music for dance or playing mardala can easily vouch that his hands were simply magical. His touch and twist on mardala had the illuminating ability to lead the audience to a supernatural experience. Long back, in 1975 he wrote a paper titled “the use of music and rhythm in Odissi dance” where he argued that rhythm is basically a part of the artiste’s spiritual self.

In a plain sentence, a friend says, every Odia must aspire to touch the feet of Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra. It does not matter whether he is with us as a mortal in this world or not.


Kedar Mishra

Writer, Journalist & Critic

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