Remembering Guru Gangadhar Pradhan, Who Dreamt Of Putting The Small Odisha Town On The Cultural Map

As we arrived at Konark Natya Mandap, the venue of the thirty fifth annual Konark Dance and Music Festival in Odisha, held over the previous fortnight, we discovered individuals pausing for a second on the entrance to supply prayers at a memorial earlier than taking their seats.

This memorial is devoted to Guru Gangadhar Pradhan, who, for 25 years, used to face with folded arms at this very entrance on daily basis of the pageant as he welcomed viewers, artistes and visitors.

Founder of the favored pageant, which he curated, Guru Pradhan additionally established the Konark Natya Mandap.

“After his untimely death a decade ago, the festival continues to celebrate his vision and artistic values. Legendary artistes such as Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, Vyjayanthimala Bali, Ustad Zakir Hussain, Yamini Krishnamurthy, Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia and Vikku Vinayakram, who have been the recipients of Guru Gangadhar Pradhan Lifetime Achievement Award, have supported and performed during the last 10 editions,” says Gurupada Baliarsingh, joint secretary, Konark Natya Mandap.

Barely two kilometres from the gorgeous Sun Temple stands the Konark Natya Mandap on some sand dunes nestled amidst casuarina groves. A duplicate of the Konark temple, it offers an ideal atmosphere for the dance and music pageant that’s held right here each February.

In an earlier interplay, Guru Pradhan had advised me, “When I started Konark Natya Mandap and the annual festival here, my objective was to promote and project the rich cultural heritage of my state to those visiting Konark and Puri from all over the world. I wanted to set up a gurukul to train youngsters.”

Not simply an incredible guru and choreographer, he had a outstanding sense of visualisation too. The three-tier stage that may accommodate about 200 dancers at a time is proof of that. Guruji is claimed to have altered the design six occasions earlier than arriving on the last one.

Son of a poor farmer, Gangadhar Pradhan was provided on the age of 5 to a village temple to function a Gotipua dancer. He stayed within the temple for 10 years. When he was 25, he established the globally famend Orissa Dance Academy in Bhubaneshwar. And by the point he was 30, he had already acquired the land for his dream mission, the Konark Natya Mandap.

His solely treasured possession then was a bicycle and he used to make a residing by instructing dance and accompanying dancers on the mardal (percussion instrument).

“When we shifted from Bhubaneswar to Konark with our children, there was no habitation around this site. We put up a thatched hut on the small piece of land given by my mother and stayed in it. Guruji would hardly sleep or eat well those days. He would often wake up in the middle of the night and walk around immersed in his thoughts. It worried me; I did not know what was on his mind,” says Sulochana Pradhan, guruji’s spouse.

Despite no monetary backing and assist, Gangadhar Pradhan didn’t surrender his plan. Recalling the primary pageant, Guru Pradhan as soon as stated, “It is etched in my memory. It was on an open-air stage of brick and mud. The artistes found it extremely difficult to perform on it. But such was our spirit that the 10 dancers and seven singers, including Ileana Citaristi from Italy, and the small audience were oblivious to it all, being immersed in pride and delight.”

His shut associates bear in mind how late Odissi exponent Sanjukta Panigrahi requested him to cancel the pageant the yr his mom was identified with most cancers and use the cash for her therapy, however guruji refused. He typically skipped abroad excursions for the pageant, regardless that that resulted in financial loss.

When he was appointed as a visiting college at Cornell University, U.S., he used the ₹12 lakh grant he acquired to purchase land for the Natya Mandap relatively than construct himself a home.

A recipient of the Padma Shri, the Sangeet Natak Akademi award, an honorary doctorate from Utkal University, Odisha, and honorary citizenship from some nations, Guru Pradhan not simply promoted classical dance however all genres of Indian artwork, particularly the lesser identified ones. .

“He was the first to offer a platform for Odisha’s indigenous percussion instrument mardal, which was till then seen only as an accompanying instrument for Odissi,” says famous mardal exponent Guru Dhaneswar Swain. Similarly, he was additionally the primary to introduce Assam’s Sattriya dance to Odisha by way of his pageant.

Like the humanities, his audiences had been handled equally. At the pageant, there have been no reserved seats, and villagers and invited visitors all sat subsequent to one another. The well-known group dinner he organised through the pageant noticed audiences and artistes sitting on the ground to eat the Odia meals served on banana leaves by the villagers, who additionally labored as volunteers on the pageant.

It was the spectacular success of Guru Gangadhar’s Konark pageant that prompted the Odisha Government to launch its personal famed flagship pageant, the Konark Utsav.

“A day should not pass without a performance happening at Konark Natya Mandap,” Guru Gangadhar had advised his disciples. And they’ve saved it going. Music and dance are the each day choices to the presiding deity, Lord Balunkeswara.

The day he handed away, the Gotipuas carried out his favorite composition, ‘Ame Odiare Ame Odia’ (We, the Odias) on the Mandap’s entrance.

As we left the venue this yr, we felt Guru Pradhan’s presence. He lives on by way of each efficiency staged right here.

The writer is a Bhubaneswar-based journalist, who writes on tradition.


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