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An exceptional emblem of the revived tradition: Sujata Mohapatra

Text:Paul Nicodemus

                             A heavenly belle, dedicated to perform for the world with her mesmerizing dance, grace and perfection of the dance form, Odissi. She enchants and makes the audience spell bound with her innate born talent and exhilarating elegance.

In an exclusive for the Dance India, Sujata Mohaptra, a renowned practitioner of Odissi, a multiple accolade winner, a charm personified and a cool priestess; above all, she is a devoted disciple, a doting daughter-in-law, a compassionate spouse, a lovable mother, who equally manages in doing justice to all her roles, facing every minuscule challenge with humongous steadiness and commitment.

Born in the year 1967, in Balasore, Odisha, Smt. Sujata Mohapatra made her initial foray into the dancing arena in her early childhood. Born into a rich cultural background, she grew up in an artistic environment that delicately nourished her creativity and brought out her innate interest in dance.

Her introductory revelation to dance was from her mom, Smt. Kumudini Mohanty who was also a dancer. At the age of four, supported by her mom, she was admitted into Nrutya Sangeeta Kala Mandir in Balasore and learnt the dance form until her bachelor education.

Relocating to Cuttack, Odisha she continued learning dance under the guidance of Guru Sri Raghunath Datta, while simultaneously pursuing a Masters degree in Oriya Literature, at Revenshaw College. Subsequent to her literature degree, she was introduced by a celebrated dancer, Kumkum Mohanty to Guru Padma vibhushan Kelucharan Mohapatra to join his esteemed tutelage at Odissi Research Center, Bhubaneshwar.

A dual master degree holder in Literature and Odissi dance, Sujata Mohapatra has emerged as eminent Indian classical dancer and teacher of Odissi dancing style, a disciple and daughter- in-law of Sri Late Guru Padma vibhushan Kelucharan Mohapatra and wife of Sri Ratikant Mohapatra who is a dancer, percussionist, choreographer and archivist of Odissi.

As a disciple and daughter- in-law of the legendary exponent of Odissi, she is blessed to inherit his ardent devotion and blind passion for the classical dance form. Eighteen years of rigorous training under the guidance of her Guru, had eventually moulded her into a poised performer from a devoted and diligent disciple.

She strongly believes to be specially blessed to have become such an artist in guiding paths drawn by the Almighty and her guru Sri Kelucharan which makes her life, a perfect blend to do the service to the Odissi dance form.

Leading the dance legacy along with husband Ratikant Mohapatra

Under the exquisite guidance of Late Guru Padma Vibhushan Kelucharan Mohapatra, Sujata and her husband Ratikant possess a great responsibility to persist the legacy of the dancing legend. The teachings and knowledge, Sri Kelucharan has offered them stands as precious lessons and needs to be carried forward, following his footsteps spreading the dance form all over the world.

Not only representing their family legacy, the Mahopatra’s also share the responsibility with artists and disciples of the renowned guru Sri Kelucharan and the Odissi dance community around the world. 

Her beloved mother-in-law, Guru Maa Smt. Laxmi Priya was also the first Odissi dancer who performed Odissi on stage.

Her daughter Preetisha, who is also an Odissi dancer, represents the next generation torch bearer following the footsteps of this family tradition.  The family wishes to contribute in all possible ways to elevate the dance form, honoring legacy of legendary guru Sri Kelucharan.

Odissi and its style representing Odisha

A rare combination of intensity and spontaneity, Sujata’s dance is noted particularly for its strict adherence to Guruji’s style, which is known for its grace, depth of expression, and technical exactitude. Sujatha also strives to follow the style of Guru Kelucharan, as it cleanses one’s soul practicing the dance form and enables a divine realm in the audience.

Gifted with a resilient body, an amazing stamina, and large luminous eyes, Sujata has a compelling stage presence. Her dance has a striking sculpturesque quality that is at the core of her immense appeal.

In her view, Odissi, stands as a significant beauty in the Indian classical dance adding an essence of its own to the Indian culture. Odissi with its ethereal grace and eloquence reflects the spirit of the region Odisha, known as the temple state, Mahari tradition as its asset. The dance form represents the mythology and ancient texts in a simple and fulfilling way catching the attention of the audience.

Inspiration and Contribution

Sujatha draws inspiration from her revered guru, her mother land’s traditional culture and her parents who stand as towering support. She also rejoices in other dance forms which boost her to find the depths of the dance form, Odissi.

Apart from being an excellent performer; Sujata is also actively involved in teaching Odissi. Presently, she holds the designation as the Principal of ‘Srjan’ (Odissi Nrityabhasa), a prime Odissi dance institution founded by Late Guru Padmabibhushan Kelucharan Mohapatra. In July 2011, she opened an Odissi Institute – Guru Keerti Srjan, in her hometown, Balasore

Sujata also serves as the Artistic Director of Guru Shradha located in California, and is responsible for determining and implementing the institution’s overall artistic vision. Guru Shradha’s students are extremely fortunate to receive direct instruction and input from Smt. Mohapatra, one of the most highly sought-after Odissi teachers in India.

Everyday regime, challenges and memorable instances

Her day begins with a quick stroll of few kilometers and then indulging in ritual activities at home. Post breakfast, she practices for a while and then conducts dance classes. This stands as her routine when she is not on a spree of performances. She spends her leisure indulging in hobbies like floor painting, running, and cooking.

One of her beliefs is that ‘sadhana brings siddhi’, which loosely translates that daily practice is essential to achieve perfection. She strongly supports that practicing is the key to create a mesmerizing performance.

While creating a mesmerizing performance, challenges may be a part of it. One such challenge Sujata faces is while performing, in representing the authentic dance culture attaining to the expectations of the audience in inter-state cultural dance festivals.

Her best moment in her dance journey was being a disciple under the mentoring of her Guru Kelucharan. Learning, performing and practicing along with him always was sanctified for her.

Speaking about the fusion contour of the dance form, Sujata believes that there is minimal chance of flawlessness in performing a traditional form rather than recreating or amalgamating it to the current trend. It affects the authenticity of the dance form and may lose its lucidity.

Imbibing the roots of the dance form from her legendary guru, she has always experienced the impact of traditional dance in aspects of foot work, grace, expression and movements. These carry much value than experimental fusion of the dance form.

Professional career and passion towards arts

Being a professional dancer surely creates her significance in the society around her as she considers that, when your passion and career are alike, one experiences bliss than any other.

She also claims that being a dancer is one of the ‘marga’ to create a connection with the divine power and build up a pious bond with the art forms, which may likely not be visible in any other profession. It creates an inner peace within oneself and makes you experience splendid pleasure of performing.

Attributing the value of arts in society and environment, Sujata believes that art forms give a perfect chance for individuals to elevate their tired souls from their mundane lives. Art forms create a positive energy within the hearts of people. She also adds that dance as an art form represents a kind of yoga which generates optimistic energy and vibrations in motivating people.

Honorable Awards

Suajata Mohapatra’s delightful dance performances dedication has been acknowledged by the numerous awards and respect. Some of her notable accolades are the Nrutya Choodamani award from Krishna Gina Sabha, Chennai, Nrutya Sagar Award from Cleveland, USA, Aditya Birla Kala Kiran Award, from Mumbai, Raja Award from Raja Foundation, from Delhi, Pandit Jasraj Award, from Mumbai, The 2nd Sanjukta Panigrahi Award from Washington DC, USAShe has also been awarded the prestigious Mahari Award from Pankaj Charan Foundation, Bhuvaneswar Orissa

In her opinion, dance festivals should be performed in way that the younger generation could see and learn from to motivate themselves from the qualitative work of the artists. They certainly help the artists who perform to showcase their talent and skills promoting their respective dance form.

On a concluding note, Sujata expresses her joy in representing Indian classical dance globally as a pure emotion of pleasure and prestige. She feels proud to spread her dance culture and tradition throughout the world with her dance form.

Her global performances have always filled her with joy of appreciation and support of audience regardless of their location, language and culture. Through her dance journey filled with purity, poise and appreciation, she aspires to become a cultural ambassador of her country.