Madhumita Raut, Anand Foundation

Madhumita Raut, an Odissi Dancer and teacher

Madhumita Raut, daughter and senior disciple of Guru Mayadhar Raut is an Odissi dancer and an Odissi teacher who is running the Mayadhar Raut School of Odissi Dance at Asiad Village, New Delhi.

AS: Ma’am, could you please talk a little about your childhood days and your initiation into Odissi?
MR: I started very young, I can’t remember when. My parents tell me that I must have been three or so but they started with the Oriya tribal folk dance. We were in Delhi itself. We migrated when I was about one. So my father saw rhythm in my body and thought I should start with this. He would do some adivasi steps, I would come forward and go back, matching my movement with the beats. He would say something like dhita dhita dhita dhita and I have been told that when I was about 4, then formal training training began. But I have never learnt alone in the class. It was always with a big group and behind a lot of senior students. I was the youngest. And well, it was just like a routine thing for me, nothing special. And I never thought that Odissi would become such an important aspect of my life. I was more focused on my academics. So much so, that when I applied for admission in Indraprastha College for Women, DU, I didn’t mention in my application form that I knew a classical form of dance. I had forgotten!
But I don’t know how, since it was a part of my everyday routine, it had become a very strong part of my life, you know. It was like eating, drinking water, it was so intrinsic and essential. So dancing was at power with that. And then, the Odissi world here, in my father’s house, under my father, was complete. He was so dynamic, he was doing so much, it was complete. So I found my avenues abroad. There was so much happening there, Odissi was not so popular. But in every nook and corner, you could see Bharatanatyam and Kathak, I’m talking about Netherlands. So I stayed there, I started teaching Odissi there and I was the first Odissi dancer there who danced in a temple. Then as time went by, I kept delving deeper and deeper into Odissi.

AS: What is it about Odissi that appeals to you?
MR: See, when I was so small, I only learnt it because my father was teaching me, I was so fond of my father. Nothing about Odissi appealed to me. It was my father who appealed to me. But, later on, when I was in my teenage years, I guess it kept me emotionally very stable. I would feel extremely low the day I didn’t dance. And later on, you see, you evolve as a human being and your interpretation about dance, your perspective also keeps changing. Then a bit later, I realized that it was so feminine and I could relate to it so well. Then later I realized, no, it had something more deep in it- the Bhakti Shringara rasa. Then later on I started feeling that it had become a medium of meditation for me. So the meaning of Odissi keeps changing for me but I just know one thing that it is me, it is in me and that it is a very very big part of me.

AS: Since your training has been in Guruji’s style of Odissi, how is Mayadhar Raut Paddhati of Odissi different from other schools?
MR: Odissi was codified and created from all the regional dance forms and it came to this form of Odissi that we see today. All these Gurus sat for hours and hours every night after their respective work (all of them were employed somewhere or the other) to discuss what was to be included in our Odissi syllabus and this went on for months. What all is typical of Odissi, typical of Mahari, it has to be put in our Odissi syllabus/format. After this was done, for some time they worked together. At that time, there were only four main Gurus- Guru Pankaj Charan Das, Guru Keluchan Mohapatra, Guru Deba Prasad Das and my father, Guru Mayadhar Raut. With the advent of time, all of them left for some place to teach Odissi. For instance, Deba babu joined Utkal Sangeet Mahavidyalaya, so did Kelu babu. My father came to Delhi. Each of these gurus were proficient in some aspect of dance, some point was stronger. So that emerged stronger in their individual style of Odissi- for example, Pankaj babu belonged to a Mahari
family so he had the Mahari influence and all the other three gurus learnt the same from him. Thus, traces of Pankaj babu’s style of Mahari dance was also seen in theirs. Kelu babu mainly used to play the pakhawaj, he was initially known as a mardala player. Thus, his dance style of Odissi has lovely rhythmic patterns. Rhythm is given prominence. Deba babu did a lot of jatra as he didn’t have that kind of classical training. But he did Odissi, the kind of Odissi that existed while he was growing up so he lent that colloquial flavour to Odissi. There is the presence of a lot of Shabd swara path, some little jatra elements, some lokadharmi. This is something which we don’t portray much because when you are in that strict classical idiom, you keep away from lokadharmi and concentrate on the natyadharmi elements. Guruji had a very strict training in the classical texts and classical format and he had mastered Abhinaya Darpana, he focused on abhinaya. So when you talk of Odissi Abhinaya, then you talk of Guru Mayadhar Raut because he concentrates on the navarasa, the nayika bheda, nayak bheda, shringara rasa and ashtapadis. He’s known as the master of ashtapadis. So this is how the gurus have their individual signature/stamp on their respective styles.

AS: What does the “classical” in Indian Classical Dance entail?
MR: It pertains to the certain grammar of your technique. You have to adhere to that codified grammar. As guruji said in his interview- natyarambhe vari vari vane vastu nishedane kuchasthale nishayam ch nadyam amarmandale turange khandine vaayushaye gamnodane pratapech prasadech chandrikaya ghanatape [ ma’am showed multiple uses of the pataka hand gesture in classical dance]- in the sense, this is pataka hasta which must be shown in a particular manner only and can be used in a certain context. We have chowka, where the technique requires you to place your feet at a particular distance and in a certain fashion. It strictly talks about what is lokadharmi, what is natyadharmi and how much of it is to be enacted. These scriptures/texts that we have to follow speak of these mudras- about the fact that we cannot straighten our knees or jut out our hips. For example, what is the typical Odissi posture ‘tribhangi’and how is it to be maintained. We only had Abhinaya Chandrika and it was not published until very late. And whenever I have read it, I have found it to be very incomplete. It mentions very little, like, just 4 pada bhedas and few mudras. But we are practicing many more. So then there are many texts. In the south, there are many. We dancers majorly follow the following texts- Natyashastra, Abhinaya Darpana and Abhinaya Chandrika.

AS: You’ve had the opportunity of meeting some Maharis. Can you speak a little about the same?
MR: The Maharis weren’t dancing and they knew just one or two dance movements. I interviewed them, spoke with them at length and asked what is it that they did. She told me that they used to just go,sing Gita Govinda and return. By the time we reached the Mahari tradition, most of the dance steps were lost because the tradition was suspended by the mughals. To a large extent, Odissi was kept alive by the Gotipuas. What we see today is basically the gotipua dance.

AS: Minus the acrobatic effect.
MR: Acrobatic was just 1% of the repertoire. People liked it, they enjoyed the madari-like aspect and because people clapped, they gave it a lot of space in their Odissi repertoire. Gotipuas only sang Oriya Vaishnava songs.

AS: Now that we have come from the temple to the proscenium stage, all viewers are not that well versed with Indian history, culture and mythology. How do you bridge the gap?
MR: I have incorporated Goethe’s poetry. I’ve danced on Hungarian poetry. This is how I introduced Odissi to a foreign audience, by taking up their Literature and fusing it with Odissi. I have also danced on Dinkar’s poetry. Because I travel a lot in the north belt, I have taken up Valmiki’s Ramcharitmanas which people understand and enjoy. Once I wanted to take up something from Sikhism and Islam but I was told not to. Religious heads said so that it would offend people. I studied at Bharati Vidya Bhawan where we were taught sarva dharma priya. So I thought let me incorporate all but unfortunately, I was not given the permission to do so.

AS: Ma’am, when we say that this is a Classical dance performance, what does it speak about, what do we draw from it?
MR: Natyashastra is also considered as the fifth Veda. You need to know why was Natyashastra written? It was penned down to give us the rules which we could follow to perform. What does Literature teach you? It teaches you to perform something which will keep the audience morally strong. Through our dance we have to always share for the betterment of our audience. So it was always enacted from the Mahabharata or the Ramayana to show that good triumphs over evil. That was the main thing

AS: Coming to your school, the Mayadhar Raut School of Odissi Dance puts a lot of emphasis on Guru-Shishya Parampara. How far have your students come?
MR: The school belongs to the students. When I was a child I used to get disheartened and discouraged when something didn’t happen according to my expectations or if the pace of its accomplishment was slow. I was told that you must remember, that the Pandavas were just 5 in number, and the Kaurava, 100. So when you’re seeking perfection or righteousness or excellence, it will come very gradually and in small numbers. If something is easy and fun, it will gather a big crowd. But something like classical dance that holds so much within it, what we draw from it will only come gradually. I can’t say whether our students have done justice to the art because even at this stage, I feel that my journey is still on. But they are on the right path. I feel by and by, they are enjoying and learning. It’s the process which is important and significant and I see that change happening in them.

AS: Do you see the young generation responding well to Indian Classical Dance? Not just Odissi, but the others too?
MR: Those people who are in classical studies, whether it is the Sitar or Bharatanatyam or Odissi, I see them responding extremely well. There is a big vacuum in your life if you are not learning the classical arts. I see a big difference in the youth who are doing classical and those who are not. The way they think, the way they are rooted, the thehraav that one needs to have, you get to see all of it in the ones who are close to our classical arts. Our youth needs it. The fickle mindedness, the urgency to move from one thing to another, the constant hurry that all of us are in, all of this needs to be looked at and efforts must be made to correct it. Also, there is no patience left in people. Classical Arts teach you patience. Good things don’t happen instantly. You plant a good tree and it will be years before you can reap its benefits. The instant will remain instant, with no long term benefits. This “instant culture” that our youth is adopting at a very fast pace, it needs to be mellowed down. And this
also where classical arts are also needed. Abroad too, the child is immediately put into learning piano or ballet. This is so because they know that these studies will help them be stable, patient and better human beings.

AS: How did your overseas students respond to an art form that has its roots entrenched deep in Indian history and culture?
MR: In our day to day life, most of the family set ups are of joint families. We have festivals where relationships are celebrated. So this element that I call spirituality, is inherent. It is a part of life here. But abroad, (I’m generalizing), it is a faster lifestyle. It’s extremely materialistic. You give money and take a lesson. The Guru Shishya parampara that we just discussed is an absolutely strange concept there. Money rules. When I teach there, yes, we have some inquisitive minds. So for them it’s a lesson, a course, a syllabus that needs to be finished. Here, it becomes dharma and that’s where lies the big difference. When I perform there, there’s more discipline, no noise, and people are receptive. But then I know that if I’m reciting ‘amchandra rupala bhajuman’ what would be the level of engagement and understanding here and there. So, that’s there. I feel, you can share but dance is the culmination of that land’s culture. I can go there and share it in Japan but what are they going to do with Od
issi there? We can share, but only to a certain extent. For the students abroad, the dance doesn’t trickle down and become a way of being. For instance, in Orissa, in every household, every girl is doing Odissi. They are close to Odissi music, textile, chhand, taal. They are as close to Oriya culture as they can be. It’s like you put up a good exhibition and share your work.

AS: What is your take on technological intervention? Does this improvisation aid in beautifying the dance form and uplift it or does it emerge as a distraction?
MR: Mostly seen, it is definitely a distraction but we do need good lights and stage props. But all of it needs to be done aesthetically. It has to gel well with your repertoire.

AS: And in the end ma’am, why dance?
MR: Why dance? You dance because it is an expression of joy!