Carrying on a legacy

Carrying on a legacy

in father's footsteps

Carrying on a legacy

Renowned Odissi dancer Madhumita Raut uses the medium of dance to promote social causes. She talks to Juanita kakoty about her legendary father, and her passion for dance.

A conversation with celebrated Odissi exponent Madhumita Raut draws out the ordinariness of her extraordinary life. The daughter of legendary Mayadhar Raut who transformed the aesthetics of Odissi in the 1950s, she is not only the inheritor and proponent of her father’s legacy, but has also used the medium of dance for social causes. “There are four schools of this dance form; and the Guru Mayadhar Raut School is one of them,” she proudly declares. At the same time, she is aware of the responsibility involved in taking forward the heritage of the man who codified, redefined and restructured Odissi to bring it to the level of a classical dance form.

“I was never conscious that I was learning dance,” Madhumita reflects. “Dance was like any other activity at home, a part of everyday routine. In fact, it was such an ordinary part of existence that I even forgot to mention that I was an Odissi performer while applying for a degree course at Indraprastha College in Delhi University.”

In her growing up years, she recalls, after being back from school, every evening would be spent watching some great artiste. And Sundays were spent visiting art galleries. “We stayed at Mandi House (in Delhi) — the hub of cultural centres. Places like the Kamani Auditorium, Triveni Kala Sangam, Sangeet Natak Akademi etc. were all close by. Twenty years ago, there were more performances happening than these days. Every other day there would be a performance by some great artiste. But, after a few years, that changed and fashion shows took over. Even the government-sponsored programmes declined.” She also fondly remembers her school Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. “I realised much later what an institution I had the privilege to be associated with. It helped every student to understand and cherish India’s culture and traditions,” she says.

Legendary father

Talking of her pedigree, Guru Mayadhar Raut was the first to present the Gotipua dance on stage in 1944, was the founder-member of Kala Vikas Kendra (Cuttack) and acted as its first Odissi Guru in 1952. Kala Vikas Kendra, thus, became the first institute in India where Odissi began to be taught.

Guruji founded the Jayantika Association in 1959 with his colleagues to codify and develop Odissi as a classical dance form. They built its vocabulary by incorporating the basic sciences of abhinaya. Madhumita shares, “He accomplished all of this even before I was born. There was a phase in Orissa when the devdasi tradition stopped, Jagannath worship stopped, and so the dance form, whose origin has been associated with these institutions, was lost too. The dance form eventually became corrupt and the classical tradition was lost. It was only when my father returned from Kalakshetra, where he trained under Rukmini Devi Arundale, that he took Odissi back to the shastras. He got the classical texts translated into Oriya and held classes for dance teachers so that they could understand the shastras.”

Guruji went on to introduce Sanchari Bhava, Mudra Viniyoga, and the Rasa Theory in Odissi, and was the first to choreograph Gitagovinda Ashtapadis with Shringara Rasa. “When he introduced Sanchari Bhava (that includes dance expressions as enumerated in the shastras),” Madhumita recounts, “There was an uproar created by the parents. The sensuous and spiritual love stories in Gitagovinda, which imagines the divine desire for spiritual and physical unity between Lord Krishna and Radha, upset the parents. But eventually they gave in and let their children participate in such performances.”

Mayadhar Raut is turning 83 years old this year, yet, Madhumita says, “He is still very active; comes and sits in the class and still teaches better than me. He catches mistakes in students that I don’t notice,” The daughter talks of how loving her father is and that “all students are Madhumita for him.” She admits that he is not strict, but a perfectionist, he surely is. “It is the perfectionist in him and his loving nature that draws out the best from his students. You would just not want to let him down. His power lies in his humility, his simplicity, and the fact that he is a great storehouse of knowledge.”

Gurukula-like school

Love is the true spirit of guru-shishya parampara, Madhumita states, and it is this that she claims one can find in plenty at the Mayadhar Raut School. “My father sees to it that his students are comfortable, are learning well, have taken their meals, etc. This is a very old school of thought; and, I must say, very rare these days. What we have here is very unlike the commercial ventures that you get to see today.”

As the conversation closes, Madhumita leaves a message — “I feel every country has something to offer. Our country has this great tradition in the classical arts; we should acquaint our children with them.” And on a lighter note she adds, “People do come to classical dance eventually, but they are already 40 years old by then. It will be good to see them come early.”