Monthly Archives: February 2012

The New, New Festivals of Odisha

Bara masare tera jaata (literally meaning thirteen festivals in twelve months, in Odia) is how Odias refer proudly to the abundancy of festivals in the state throughout the year. Whether it is the more pan-Indian festivals like Holi, Diwali, and Maha Shivratri; Eastern Indian festivals like Durga Puja and Saraswati Puja; Pan-Odisha festivals such as Rath Yatra, Raja and Kartik Purnima, or even more regional festivals within Odisha like Dhanujatra of Sambalpur or Thakurani Jatra of Berhampur—you will never have a period in a year without a generous amount of occasssions to celebrate. If there is nothing else, you have the 12 Samkrantis in a year, many of which have some extra add-ons: Dhanu Samkranti with the dhanu muan (a sweet preapared mostly but not only in South Odisha), Pana Samkranti with the pana (a special drink) and Makara Samkranti with the makara chaula (a special rice) and so on.

The modern day manifestation of that love is a series of new age cultural festivals (mostly music and dance) some of which have become sought after events by the culture loving crowd from India and abroad. The oldest and most popular in this genre is the Konark Festival. Originally started as Konark Dance Festival in 1989, this is the oldest annual pan-Indian classical dance festival in India. This is organized between 1 to 5 December every year jointly by the Guru Kelucharam Mohapatra Odissi Research Centre (GKCM-ORC) Bhubaneswar, along with Departments of Tourism and Culture, Government of Odisha. Artistes from India and abrod paricipate in this festival and perform all classical styles such as Bharatanatyam, Kathak, Kuchipudi, Chhau, and Mohiniattam. The 2011 festival also has the International Sand Arts Festival going along with it.

The second most popular festival outside Odisha, is the Mukteshwar Dance Festival, which along with Rajarani Music Festival, is known locally as Ekamra: The Temple City Festival and is organized in mid-January. Unlike Konark Festival, the focus of Mukteshwar Dance Festival is Odissi dance. Odissi performers–both groups and solo–from across the world participate in the this. Rajarani Music Festival, which does include non-Odissi classical music as well, is, however, not that well-known outside Odisha, even though it features well-known vocalists and instrumentalists from across India belonging to Odissi, Hindustani and Carnatic traditions. This year (2012), it featured Pandit Rajan and Sajan Mishra (Hindustani) and Pandit O S Arun (Carnatic), apart from Pandit Damodar Hota, an accomplished singer in both Hindustani and Odissi traditions.

A Dance Sequence in Mukteshwar Dance Festival 2012

I had the opportunity to attend the Mukteshwar Dance Festival this year on the first day. The performances were magnificent. But the attendance was thin. Apart from locals and some foreigners, there were hardly any Indian tourists from outside Odisha—ironic considering that it is primarily organized by the state Department of Tourism, with help from (GKCM-ORC).

Orissa Tourism is involved in organizing most of these events—including the Dhauli-Kalinga Mahotsav. The Dhauli Mahotsave is organized by Orissa Dance Academy and is an Odissi dance festival. The Kalinga Mahotsav, on the other hand, is a martial dance festival and is organized by Department of Tourism.

The Department, in association with GKCM Odissi Research Centre and the Department of Culture, Govt of India, organizes annual International Festival of Odissi Dance in the last week of December. The 2011 festival was held between  23 to 30 December 2011.  It made to headlines for getting into the Guinnes Book of World Records for the largest number of dancers (555) dancing for close to  8 minutes. Otherwise, this is one of the prestigious festivals for the performers.

The other music and dance festivals include Gotipua Dance Festival in November, organized jointly by GKCM ORC and the Department of Tourism (this year’s edition is slated for 15 to 17  November 2012), Odissi Music Festival (organized this year between 8-10 January 2012), and  Konark Dance & Music Festival organized by the State Tourism Deaprtment, along with Sangeet Natak Academy, organized between 19 and 23 February 2012.

While this sudden flurry of activity in the state on the festival front has got some visibility for the state, so many festivals with similar focus and similar names has created a lot of confusion as well. The festivals are not marketed well which explains the thin attendance. For example, one fails to understand the rational of two festivals, Mukteswar Dance Festival and Dhauli Mahotsav, in a span of one month. Similarly, the February Konark Dance & Music Festival has created a lot of confusion, as the website for the festival is konarkfestival.com, which actually is the name of the December festival at Konark, the oldest classical dance festival in India with the temple as a backdrop.

Finding information at the website of the concerned organizers is an adventure in itself. You never know whether you land up in 2008 page or 2011 page. In short, despite organizing so many festivals–and organizing fairly well, to be fair to the organizers–the lack of coordination among the organizers (that is despite a common entity, Department of Tourism being involved in most) and the complete lack of long-term marketing, has not yielded results the way it should have. With so many Odias and Odisha-focused groups active in the social media, the organizers need to use them more effectively. Combining a few of these events together to create a fewer, larger events would actually make the marketing easier. Ideally, some spacing could help, as all these events are between November to February. But that is easier said than done, as in summer and rainy sessions,  it is next to impossible to do any mass events. They too are not tourist seasons in Odisha.

While there are too many dance and music festivals, Odisha Tourism has started to other initiatives–the Sand Arts Festival in Dec-Jan (9 Dec 2011 to 29 Jan 2012) this time and the Toshali National Crafts Mela, which was held between 15 to 27 December 2011.

But what is really heartening to note that there are efforts now, albeit among private groups and individuals, to shed Odisha’s image as a place of traditional culture alone. Two events are noteworthy on this account. The first, called India Surf Festival was organized between February 7-9 this year near the Konark-Puri Marine drive and saw participation of surfers from across the world and was a great success. The second, an avante-garde festival of films called, the Bring Your Own Film Festival (BYOFF) which was held between 21 and 25 February 2012.

I am sure I am not aware of many more such initiative that must be happening and are in preparation. While all these festivals have the potential to make Odisha a hot tourist destination, there are gaps that need to be closed. Use of social media, good coordination among different bodies, a more effective use of the Odia diaspora and a good long-term marketing initiative can make Odisha a place where the old and new traditions meet seamlessly!

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Filed under Culture, Dance, Music, Odia music, Odisha & Odia, Odissi Dance

Heartening News: Experimentation is Back in Odia Music

Some time back, I had read an essay by Sarat Kumar Mohanty, one of the most prominent essayists of Odisha, about the crisis of talent in contemporary Odisha (this was most probably in late 90s or early 200s). He had argued how there has been a gradual decline in talent and experimentation from the 60s and 70s in all the areas of creativity—citing explicitly the example of a young Akshaya Mohanty cycling around Cuttack with new tunes on his lips.

For at least three decades—60s to 80s—Akshaya Mohanty stood for all that was new in Odia music. While there were other popular singers and composers—such as Prafulla kar and Bhikari Bal—anything that was innovative and experimentative emanated from the mind of Khoka Bhai, the way Mohanty was popularly called. His music combined the nativeness of Odissa in all its forms—folk, classical, or the newly emerging urban culture of Odisha—with inspiration from across the world—in form, style, and content. While Harry Belafonte’s There’s a hole in the bucket  became a highly odia-ized Mathiare gote kana, Bachchan’s poem Laao laao piya nadiya se son machhari became Dhibara re anide anide mote suna Ilishi. In some others, he used khanti (pure) Odia content to try new forms. Such an experimentation is Odisha’s all time favorite Kanchi Abhijaaana.

For a long time, that experimentation has been missing. It is heartening to see there is some effort, of late. And not surprisingly, leading it from the front is Devdas Chhotray, one of the most prominent lyricists of the Akshaya era, whose other identities include a noted civil servant, educationist and writer. To most Odias, though, it would suffice to say that he wrote songs such as  Paradesi bandhu tume, Kainchi kakudi nalita pitaMate Saila Saila Nakara Guna, and Rupa Shagadire Suna Kania

I first picked up an album called Maya Darpan a little more than a year back from Time N Sound in Bapuji Nagar, Bhubaneswar, a shop I religiously visit on each of my trip to Odisha. When I picked up the CD, what impressed me were both the idea and the guts. It was the poetry of Mayadhar Mansing, something that exhilerated (and to be honest, scandalized) us in our school days. No other poet who was considered a great by our parents generation had anything close to what Mansingh offered. I also felt the exprimentation was particularly adventurous, as both the composer, Om Prakash Mohanty and singer, Susmita Das were unknown names to me, though I must admit that I have hardly kept up with Odia music in the last two decades. “Devdas Chhotray presents” on the top of the cover was  reassuring, though. But when I listened to it, I knew here was a classic. Unfortunately, none of my friends who listen to Odia music had heard about the album, let alone listening to it. I too could not find much in the usual places on the Internet to forward a link.

So, while I was appreciative, I was sceptical too about the continuation of that experimentation. That is, till a few months back, I picked up two more by the same trio—this time the lyricist being Devdas Chhotray himself. One called Hati Saja Kara, was taken from the name of a poem (and a book which I had happened to read) by Chhotray. The other, called Nua Luha Puruna Luha decribed itself as a collection of songs that were introspective and nostalgic—and which claimed that it was inspired by Ghazal and sufi poetry. And both these albums impressed again, though I would confess that I found the Nua Luha…to be a little heavier in terms of lyrics, with melody failing to catch up. That apart, all the three were great experimentation, largely successful. This time, I could get some info on the web about the composer and the artiste.

All the three are released by a label, Mitu’s Music, owned by singer Susmita. I wrote to her and got a prompt reply. The good news is that the songs are available in her website, susmitadas.in, and anyone can listen to these. By the way, some of them are available in Youtube as well such as Dekha hela kimpa from Maya Darpana and Hati saja kara from Hati Saja Kara. 

Better news is that their experimentation continues and in the offing are two more albums: one, Rubaiyat of Omar Khaiyam, and two, some old radio songs of Akshaya Mohanty, which are no longer available.

I will surely post more on the topic, if I manage to speak to the trio in near future.

While with three albums out and two more in pipeline, this trio lead the experimentation wave, there are some other notable efforts as well. One is an album of Akshaya Mohanty’s unsung lyrics sung by an artiste Namrata Mohanty, called Deepa Jale Deepa Libhe, released again by the artiste’s own label, set to music by the same composer, Om Prakash Mohanty.

Another is recital of Sriradha, arguably the best long poem written in Odia in the last 50 years, by Rabi Satapathy, again released by some unknown label. This is an even bolder experimentation. And while Satapathy does a fairly good job, I would recommend it only to someone who has no other way of reading the poem. The voice is uniform throughout and surely the poem is not. Nevertheless, here I am talking of experimentation and am not into reviewing the work.

One last example I would like to cite would probably not fall in this category—as it is not really a creative experimentation but a commercial one—but nevertheless made me hopeful. It was a collection of children songs such as Jhool re hati jhool, Chaka chaka bhaunri, Dho re baya dho, Itikili mitikili, and Aa aa re bai chadhei. The songs were accompanied by some below average animation, but nevertheless, this is the only Odia CD that I have bought for my five year old son so far, though he has more than 100 CDs of Hindi and English cartoom movies, songs and so on. This, too was released by an unknown label with a Mumbai address. And since then, in each of my visit, I have inquired if there is a second one but unfortunately I have always heard a no.

On one hand, the wave of experimentation makes one hopeful and reassured. On the other, the fact that very little is known about these albums to people who would have loved to lap them up, makes one a little apprehensive. None of them are released by any of the major labels—neither the Saregamas and the Sonys, nor even the JEs and the Sarthaks. In case of Susmita, she admitted that their marketing has been anything but extraordinary.

I just hope that increasingly the new medium of web would be used creatively and effectively by both the artistes and the fans to reach out to the market that may just be waiting in San Francisco, Dallas, London, Bangalore or New Delhi. I promise to keep a watch.

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Filed under Culture, Music, Odia music, Odisha & Odia, Uncategorized