Zohra Segal Arts Festival:

Aruna Mohanty’s choreographic work Nayaka Pratinayaka in Odissi

Text: Dr Sunil Kothari, Cultural Critic, New Delhi

Aruna Mohanty

The existential philosophy: I am therefore you are. The concept took shape in the form of Nayaka Pratinayaka by Aruna Mohanty in Odissi dance to the libretto written by Odia poet-critic Kedar Mishra. I saw it for the first time at Bangalore. It lingered long in the memory. The memories were revived again when Aruna Mohanty presented it during Zohra Segal Arts Festival at IIC in New Delhi.

Kedar Mishra took up archetypal characters from Satya Yuga, Treta Yuga, Dwapara Yuga and Kali Yuga. That offered Aruna enough scope to create the characters. The text was in Odiya and there were comments in English for each Nayaka and Pratinayaka. Singing and music made it dramatic when both Nayaka and Pratinayaka asserted their beings: I am therefore you are.

With red backlight creating a silhouette and a stool in front serving as throne, place, the palace as per the dictates of the story of each aeon. 

In Satya Yuga, if there was demon Hiranyakashipu, so was Narasimha, a half lion-half man incarnation of Vishnu. The well-known story of the demon king seeking immortality and his inability to bear his son Prahlada worshipping Hari, father challenging his son to prove if his God Hari was omnipresent, and if so was he in the pillar? He strikes the pillar and out jumps the figure of Narasimha who kills Hiranyakashipu. The poet reiterates: I am therefore you are! The character of Pratinayaka was etched well with vigour and tandava element. 

Come Treta Yuga and the Nayaka and Pratinayaka are Lord Rama and Pratinayaka Ravana. The Odia poetry repeats ‘I am therefore you are’. In suggestive abhinaya encompassing major episode of Ramayana, Ravana in disguise as mendicant kidnaps Sita. Sita throwing her ornaments, fight with Jatayu, monkeys building bridge Setu over the ocean, Rama crossing it and the duel between Ravana and Rama, Rama killing Ravana by shooting an arrow at the vessel of nectar in the stomach of Ravana and his death, the existence of Nayaka and Pratinayaka was artistically established. Aruna’s impersonation as Rama and Ravana was distinct.

Dwarapa Yuga had Kamsa as Pratinayaka and his nephew Krishna, the eighth child of his sister Devaki as Nayaka. Krishna arrives and kills an elephant; Kamsa is frightened remembering the eighth child of Devaki will kill him. The attahasa, the laughter that Kamsa unable to bear, places his palms on his ears and is frightened knowing that Nayaka will annihilate him. Using light to enhance the fear was dramatic. Emerging from behind the throne and out of fear running hither and thither Kamsa’s character came alive. The duel between Kamsa and Krishna echoed the statement: ‘I am therefore you are’.

Nageen Tanvir

In Kali Yuga, Truth stood out as Nayaka. The elements of greed, arrogance, ego, lust, violence stood out as Pratinayaka. Gambling and greed, to amass the wealth, stealing and arrogance, Aruna depicted them in a versatile manner. In particular, the artistic use of pallavi with lusty rhythm to portray the seduction, lust of women of easy virtue and all the coquetry was brilliant. And the violence, killing innocent people, striking terror found reflection in Aruna’s abhinaya proving that navarasas, were at her beck and call. But despite these opponents, an element of the final victory was of Truth. Pratinayaka and Nayaka existed – one is there, therefore the other is there. In Odia, ‘mu achhi boli tumi accho’.

Due to a technical hitch, the English commentary was not clearly heard. However, the entire presentation in Odissi for its innovative theme engaged one’s attention. Aruna has successfully explored various themes and concepts in Odissi.

Quite in contrast, she had presented an ashtapadi, Madhave ma kuru manini maye from Gita Govinda, set to music by Subas Pani. The Sakhi admonishes Radha for her pride and not going unto Krishna while Krishna resting on a bed made of lotuses was awaiting her. She reminds her, “Did he not come for you in a guise of a mendicant? Why are you dejected?” asks Sakhi to Radha. Sakhi makes her realise that he is divine. Aruna while dancing this aspect subtly used the various incarnations, which was an artistic ploy. Her choreography for ashtapadi depicted characters of Radha, Sakhi and Krishna. Finally, Sakhi pushes her to go to see Krishna. 

In the opening number of Varsha, various images of clouds gathering in the sky compared to an elephant, the lighting like a flag, the sound of clouds like the sound of mardala (drum), the dancing peacock, the falling of raindrops, the flowering of grass shoots, and the Indrachapa (the rainbow) evoke in nayika separated from the beloved, the desire for union with the nayaka, and when he arrives, dancing she goes with him. The varying moods were choreographed highlighting the poetry.

The musicians accompanying Aruna were Vijaykumar Barik on mardala, Surmani Ramesh Das on violin, Rupak Kumar Parida for vocal and Satpathy on the flute. Ramharidas had composed the music and Dhaneswar Swain provided rhythm. Pala traditional music was used for music of Varsha. 

Earlier a young percussionist, Rimpa Siva on tabla mesmerised the audience with her excellent playing. A born tabla player trained by her father from childhood, she had the flair to conclude the bols and various styles of different tabla masters including her father. Endowed with the energy she was a complete delight.

The three-day festival also had screenings of a documentary Mazhahabi Laddoo, the film Chini Kam starring Zohra, Amitabh Bachan and Taboo, directed by R. Balki, Chhattisgarhi folk music by Nageen Tanveer and Charan Das Chor play by Habib Tanvir’s Naya Theatre.

In the foyer was an exhibition of the Ohara School of Ikebana and Delhi Blue Pottery Trust; Dadi Padmumjee’s Ishara Puppet artists in their colourful costumes welcomed the audience. Kiran Segal coordinated the entire festival. It was dedicated to Joy Michael, the late director of Yatrik, a close associate of Zohra Segal.