Category Archives: Odisha & Odia

The One Man Genre

What is the maximum number of novels or plays a person can write in his/her lifetime? 50? 100? 200? Will you believe me if I say here is an Odia playwright who has written more than 500 (most likely close to 800) plays?

Will you believe me if I add that most of those plays have been extremely popular among the audience—when performed on stage and/or broadcast on radio?

Yes, such a person, whose ‘prolificity’ did not, in any manner, come in the way of his ‘class’, did exist among us in flesh and blood. He still does—albeit in our collective memory.

Gopal Chhotray—whose birth centenary was celebrated yesterday—was not just an extraordinarily successful playwright; he was an institution in himself.  And before you take that as cliché, let me explain what exactly do I mean by that.

Gopal Chhotray was associated with all the possible platforms where a play could be performed—stage, radio, cinema and finally television. He experimented with all kinds of themes—social, family, historical, mythological… And when it came to performance of a play, both on stage and on radio, he was involved with all aspects of its production—from choosing of characters to dialogue delivery to music. Even when stalwarts like Pandit Balakrushna Dash or Akshaya Mohanty would be in charge of music, Chhotray would ensure that the note that he wanted sounded just right. But the unassuming way in which he would do that ensured that all he got from these great people was respect, nothing else.

Yet, the true greatness of this man lay neither in his prolificity nor in his versatility.  It lies in the fact that—and I have the advantage of saying this in hindsight—in a career spanning half a century, he almost defined and shaped Odia drama as a genre—warding off some mindless external influence that Odia theater was beginning to pick up in the post-Kavichandra phase. For long, he almost carried it on his shoulder.

Don’t get me wrong. It is not to suggest that he was better than others.

Take Manoranjan Das, probably the only other name an average Odia would take alongside Chhotray’s when quizzed about Odia drama literature. Das, incidentally, was a colleague, contemporary and very good friend of Gopal Chhotray. (Trivia info: Devdas Chhotray, Gopal Chhotray’s son and noted Odia lyricist actually performed in many of Manoranjan Das’ radio plays, not so much in his father’s plays).

As a playwright Manoranjan Das—who has inspired a lot of researchers to study his creation—was extremely talented. But if his plays impressed the critics more than the audience, it was because he experimented a lot—and many a times, was way ahead of his times.

Gopal Chhotray came from a solid theater background and always had an ear to the ground. It is to his credit that he never used that advantage to just play to the gallery. On the other hand, he experimented and introduced new ideas, both in theme and presentation—but keeping the audience in mind. He defined, shaped and ‘cultivated’ the taste of Odia drama audience.

This contribution of Chhotraty—shaping an entire genre—to my mind, is a far greater contribution than creating some great pieces of individual plays.  Alongside people like Kavichandra Kalicharan Pattnaik, Balakrushna Dash, Akshaya Mohanty and Kanhu Charan Mohanty, Chotray’s name should be taken as a great influencer of popular culture in post independent Odisha.

It is to his credit that he used this influence to do more than just ‘successful’ and ‘experimentative’ work.  Like a true cultural leader, he took it on his shoulders to do more for the community. One was to revive traditions and (as I have written above) thereby ensure that Odianess remains in Odia drama.

Take his single-handed effort to resurrect the legacy of Ganakabi Baishnab Pani’s rural street plays. By writing and composing his geetinatyas following the patterns and musical scores of Baishnab Pani’s geetinatyas for All India Radio, Chhotray, for the first time, got the poet of masses (ganakabi) to the classes. For the first time, Pani was in the drawing room of the urban households.

In fact, to the people of my generation—I grew up in the 80s—Chhotray is best remembered for these geetinatyas like Ganesha, Janmashtami, Napahu Rati Namaru Pati, Mahishasura Mardini, Sampurna Ramayana, Bindu Sagara and the like.

Janini mu kie Siba kouthi ta ghara, Kandile ki heba karindra gamana Indra ki sahaje chhadiba, Dina ganutha ganutha mesha chhiati, Bindu bindu tirthakalare purna e saroabara still reverberate in our minds.

The list, of course, willingly leaves out the most popular of them all—Patent Medicine. That deserves special discussion. If Chhotray resurrected Baishnab Pani, he gave new kind of popularity to Fakir Mohan’s Patent Medicine.  In a recent Twitter poll, we asked the Odia tweeple what their favorite Fakir Mohan work was.

Patent Medicine scored above even Chha Mana Atha Guntha (and Rebati, Daka Munsi). In the discussion that accompanied, many had no hesitation in admitting that it was Shrimati Samarjani, the geetinatya version of Patenr Medicine that is etched in their minds. Many also explicitly said it was Chhotray and Akshaya Mohanty who should share the credit for taking the work to a new level of popularity. Just to reiterate, many even tweeted lines from it—from Babu hei jebe kabu kala mote to Epakhe das sepkahe das; from Makara to helu pagala to Na Sulochana kolata chuna. By the way, it is four decades since it was first broadcast.

It is probably apt to share the genesis of the geetinatya. Gopal Chhotray had adapted works of many great writers to stage and radio plays. Among Fakir Mohan’s works, he had adapted Mamu andChha Mana Atha Guntha among others for radio. Patent medicine was, however, first written for stage. It was even staged in the Collegiate School in early 60s, with Hemant Das and Urvashi Tripathy as the lead pair of Chandramani Babu and Sulochana Dei. But after success of mythological geetinatyas on radio, Akshaya Mohanty suggested that Chhotray adapt Patent Medicine to a geetinatya form. While it was a big challenge to present a social story to a melodramatic geetinatya form with so many songs, Chhotray took it up. The rest is, as they say, history.

Not only did it go on to win All India Radio’s pan-India award for best radio play, it created a cult work in Odia—with a modern theme presented in traditional Odia musical style. Imagine Akshaya Mohanty using an Odissi tune To lagi gopadanda mana re kalia suna in a Fakir Mohan social!

Yet, these geetinatyas are only a small fraction of Chhotray’s work. To the older generation, his plays such as Para Kalama and Bharasa (originals) as well as the likes of Jhanja, Amada Bata and Malajanha (adaptations) are the ones that define Gopal Chhotray. He has written screenplays for more than a dozen Odia movies, including such notable movies as Shri Jagannatha, Maa, Nua Bou, Amada Bata, Abhinetri, Matira Manisha, Kie Kahara, Adina Megha, Dharitri, Bandhu Mohanty and Badhu Nirupama. As you can notice, most of them are strong adaptations. Unfortunately, not a single original of his—many of them very successful on stage—has been made into a movie. It should also be noted that for Malajahna, the movie, which got some rave reviews, especially for the music scored by Akshaya Mohanty (his first as a composer), was not based on Chhotray’s screenplay. This was because he had earlier committed to someone else for that, though that was never made. But being a man of words, he stuck to his promise and politely declined to do the screenplay for Malajahna, which Akshaya Mohanty was co-producing.

Today, Odia is a recognized classical language. Outsiders are a lot more interested in studying the language and culture of Odisha. Odia gananatyas are a multi-crore industry. Yet, somewhere the distinct yet liberal popular Odia culture, whose foundation was built by the likes of Chhotray, seems to have lost its vibrancy, between the rampant copying and ‘lifting’ culture on one hand and the ultra-conservative puritanism that frowns even at healthy cultural exchanges, on the other.

 

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Who’s the greatest Odia?

Some time back, I ran a Twitter poll for two days through an account @OdiaCulture, fairly well engaged with Odia tweeple who are active promoting Odisha and Odia on social media.

The poll asked a simple question.

Who is the greatest Odia of all time?

There were four choices given: Samrat Kharavela, Jayadeva, Utkalamani Pandit Gopabandhu Das and Biju Patnaik. Why these four? Because after considering all aspects, I came with five names, the fifth being that of Madhu Babu (Utkal Gouraba Madhusudan Das). But since Twitter allows only four options, I had to drop one. But why did I drop Madhu Babu? Based on what I was trying to find (more of that later in this piece), the more distinct their areas of contribution and time periods, the better it was for my purpose. Utkalamani and Madhu Babu were not as distinct from each other as they were from the rest. Why I chose to keep Utkalamani and not Madhu Babu is a question I can answer through some arguments, but let us, for the time being, keep it as a pure toss-up.  Maybe,  if you were at my place, you would have chosen to include Madhu Babu over Gopabandhu. For the purpose of my study, that would not have made too much of a difference.  I asked respondents to write other options through replies and not surprisingly, all the votes that came through reply option were for Madhu Babu.

As expected, a few questioned the logic of trying to compare them—all greats in their own rights, contributed in different ways, and were separated from each other in time by long periods, centuries actually. Kharavela belonged to 2nd/1st century BC, while Biju Babu died less than 20 years back.

Let us start with the basic—what was the need of comparison?

Do you think the poll was really meant to find out the greatest Odia of all times—through 40 odd expected responses (yes; that was the target)?

Of course, it is silly to even expect that. The real reason was not evaluating those great people but to gauge how today’s generation—especially those who are on Twitter and are proud of their Odia heritage—thinks. There too, the idea was not evaluate—there is no right or wrong answer—but to gauge what is important to them.

To expand, what exactly matters to those who are proud of their Odia heritage—as that is the primary reach of the handle.

Let me explain.

If we go by the literal meaning of the question, it can be restated as follows.

Who is the greatest person of all times who happens to be an Odia?

The second part (underlined) is just a factual condition here. Their being ‘Odia’ is just a filter.

The question can also be put like this.

Who out of these four is the greatest?

Ideally, answer to this question should not be different, if the respondent s an Odia or not.

Now, let us look at the survey results.

Utkalamani Gopabandhu was an emphatic top choice, followed by Kharavela and Biju Patnaik tied at a distant second position; with Jayadeva coming a poor fourth.

Now, imagine this question being asked to non-Odias. Do you think, they would answer it the same way?

From Tamil Nadu to Punjab; Maharashtra to Kashmir, Jayadeva and his Gita Govinda are fairly well known. Whether it is Mohiniattam or Bharatnatyam,  Kuchipudi or even Yakshagana, Gita Govinda has found its way into their repertoire.  Commentary on Gita Govinda has been written by Kashmiri scholars. Jayadeva is the only poet from Eastern India whose verses are included in Guru Granth Sahib.

Which other Odia is revered so much across the length and breadth of this country? Yet, it is true that when it comes to doing anything “for Odisha or Odia”, Jayadeva has little contribution.

First, he was a poet; and most (not all) poets do not make a direct impact on people’s everyday living. Two, unlike say Bhanja or Radhanath, he wrote primarily in Sanskrit and not in Odia. Yes, his contribution to Odissi music is immense. But little did he know that it would one day be called Odissi music.

It is just that he happened to be born in Odisha.

On the other hand, Kharavela made half of India part of Kalinga; that is a matter of pride for all of us. Biju Patnaik is the only Odia leader who could stand up to national leaders and talk of Odia pride. Utkalaamani was a social reformer, a social worker, an educationist and contributed significantly to Odisha state and language movement.

In other words, they have contributed significantly to “Odia and Odisha”.

The nationalist Odias community has, in its mind, interpreted the question as this:

Who, out of the following, has contributed maximum towards the cause of Odisha and Odia?

In other words, to be considered a true Odia, the expectation is that you must do something explicitly for the cause of Odisha and Odia; at least be identified with any aspect of it. So, a Jayanta Mohapatra could be considered less Odia than say, Sitakanta Mahapatra.

As they say, Swadeshe pujyate raja vidwan sarvantra pujyate, so nicely translated by Kabi Jadumani as

Raja sina puja pae apana deshare

Kabi puja pauthae desha videshare

Kharavela and Biju Babu were explicitly rulers. Gopabandhu, though not a ruler, was a political figure and over the years, has become a symbol of pride for Odisha, much the same way as Gandhi. So, whether you are a Leftist or Rightist or regionalist or (yes) a separatist, you swear by his name.  That could also possibly happen with Kharavela but the awareness about him is extremely low. For some reason, historians including Odia historians, have ignored his legacy. He ruled half of India, did a lot of development/welfare work for his subjects, was a great patron of dance and music and was a truly secular ruler, who despite being a Jain respected Brahmins and Buddhists. What else do you need to be called ‘great’? But that is a different story, for another day.

Coming back to the poll, is it bad? Is it good?

Actually, neither. People in most regions (Assam could be an exception) would probably vote in similar fashion. So, there’s nothing surprising about it—especially at a time, when the issue of identity—national, regional, religious—has become so important for people.

There’s one more possibility, however theoretical it may look. It is not about identity and doing something for Odisha/Odia. Maybe, people genuinely feel that statecraft and social service are far more important aspects of society than than literature and art. Quite possible, even though it is the land of excellence in art.

 

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Whither Odia Ghazal?

Recently, I came across this newly-released Odia album titled Ghazal Gajaratie. The album features eight songs written by well-known lyricists of Odisha—the likes of Devdas Chhotray, Mohit Chakraborty and Arun Mantri—set to tune by noted composer Lakshmi Kanta Palit. All the songs have been rendered by Mitali Chinara, one of the most mature voices in contemporary Odia music.

The album is the latest example of a trend in Odia music being seen in the last few years: experimentation by a few musicians who are challenging creative limits without an overtly commercial consideration—combining some of the finest lyrics with matching music, that goes beyond the ‘formula’. I wrote about the trend in this blog more than three years back. A lot has happened since then, though.

Most of the songs in the album, Ghazal Gajaratie, are clearly above the ordinary. The composer’s stubborn refusal to succumb to today’s dominant trend—excessive orchestration—contributes immensely to make the album stand out. Two songs—the title song, Ghazal gajaratiye and Mo gajara mahakigala—are extremely sensuous. Most of the lyrics are not overtly heavy and can appeal to both common listeners and connoisseurs. In short, Ghazal Gajaratie is an excellent addition to the genre of Odia experimental music.

The only issue: it is not a ghazal album. Seven out of the eight songs in the album are not ghazals, the only exception being Katha thila dine,  penned by Devdas Chhotray, the seventh song in the album.

The lyrics are great, the music is superb, rendition is heart touching; the songs would have sounded as good, even if the album was known by any other name. I do not understand what was the incentive to use the word ghazal in the title. Does the word sell more? By ‘sell’, I am not necessarily referring to commercial sales of the album but broadly the perception about the quality/stature of the work. Does it sound more artistic or intellectual?

I guess so.

Some time back, I had come across another Odia album in YouTube, called Ghazal Sandhya, sung by an artiste, Sangram Mishra, who happens to be the sole lyricist in the album. Unlike Ghazal Gajaratie, the music, lyrics and rendering are all below average, to put it mildly.

Yet, there is something that is common between the two albums: the attempt to label non-ghazals as ghazals.

What is so fascinating about calling some songs ghazals, when they are clearly not?

For the uninitiated, ghazal is NOT a form of music; it is a form of poetry with clearly defined rules. Though all poets have not followed all the rules all the times, there are some basic requirements that must be met to call a poem a ghazal.

In short, a ghazal is a collection of sher‘s of equal behr. A sher is a two line poem. Behr is the meter. It must satisfy some rules to be called a ghazal. In a ghazal, there are one/more common words that are repeated in both the lines of the first couplet (sher) and then in the second line of each subsequent couplet. These common word(s) are called radiff. There’s one more requirement. The word preceding the radiff in each couplet must rhyme. This is called kafiya. The first sher is called matla. The last sher usually contains the pen name (taqallus)of the poet. This is called maqta. The shers must independently stand on their own, though some time together they may express one central idea.

Anyone desirous of understanding it with illustration, can refer to this very good explanation here, which uses Ghalib’s famous ghazal Koi umeed bar nahin aati to illustrate. Later in the text, I will illustrate the rules using an Odia ghazal as example.

The above is a very brief description of the basic rules of poetic form. Then, of course, is the theme. Usually, ghazals are pessimistic and are a male expression. This is in contrast to thumris in Indian classical music, which are female expressions, and though often they are complaints against the beloved—as in many Radha-Krishna themed thumris—they are not pessimistic. There’s always a craving for reunion; never hopelessness.

The third element is singing style, ghazal gayaki. That is dependent on culture and while Urdu ghazals have evolved in a particular manner which has impacted its singing style, I feel there is no reason why ghazals in other language should overtly follow that. But that is another debate, for another day. For the present discussion, I will not venture into that territory.

My idea here is to factually present some lesser known facts about Odia ghazal singing, a sort of quick history.

The history of ghazal in Odisha is not too old. And not surprisingly, the experimentation was started by the one name that we associate most experiments in modern Odia music and dance with: Kavichandra Kalicharan Pattnaik. He included a ghazal in one of his plays, way back in 1925. But I will not get too much into ghazal writing here. Some researchers like Mohammed Ayub Kabuli have written extensively on that. The subject has also been dealt with by eminent Odia poet Haraprasad Das.

I will try to keep myself to some info on ghazal singing in Odia, though ghazal writing and singing cannot be completely separated. The person who really consciously pursued writing and singing ghazal in Odia was none other than the king of all experimentation: Akshaya Mohanty. He and some of his accompanying lyricists, most notably Devdas Chhotray, did experiment a lot with ghazal writing. For some strange reasons, Khoka Bhai (as Mohanty was popularly known) recorded only a handful of his own written ghazals. He published a book of ghazals called Geeti in 1968. In 2001, a little before his death, many of his ghazals published in Geeti as well as some new ghazals were published in a book, Madhushala, edited by Dr Renubala Mishra.

But from the 50 ghazals that find a place in Madhushala,  I could locate public recording of only three, two of which I could find in YouTube and have included the links. The link for the third, Maribaku thila, is to Saregama site where one can buy the song, after a short preview. I could not locate it on YouTube.

In addition, this is another one of his own written ghazal, which is not included in Madhushala.

He has recorded a few more for All India Radio, which are not available publicly. Some such ghazals include Tuma pare ki rakhibi bahrasa muhin, Ama duhinka marame dashichhi and Dukha mo rahichhi.

Interestingly, his last recorded album brought out by Sarthak Music, too contained a ghazal, though it was not written by him. The lyricist is Devdas Chhotray. Here is a link

Akshaya Mohanty has rendered quite a few ghazals written by Devdas Chhotray, including a couple of them in movies such as Badhu Nirupama and Papa Punya. Here is one from Papa Punya, which the lyricist wrote as a poem named Umrao Jaan, which was later used by Khoka Bhai in the movie. It is rendered by Haimanti Shukla.

Though Akshaya Mohanty willingly flouted some rules of the ghazal—such as using the radiff in both the lines of the matla or using a rhyming kafiya—he stuck to the basic rules of behr and radiff. I am using his Kalankita ei nayaka akhiru to illustrate. Though in terms of poetic quality, this is not among the best of his 50 ghazals in Madhushala, I have taken this because this is by far the most popular among his ghazals and this, unlike many other, conforms to the basic rules of the ghazal more than many others.

Kalankita ei nayaka

In this, the first sher, Kalankita ei…is the matla. He has not used the same radiff in both the lines. But thereafter, he keeps to the rules, with ‘kari‘ as the radiff and rhyming kafiyas such as papa, gapa, mapa and dipa. Yes, one can repeat a kafiya. The use of maqta is evident. In all his ghazals, he uses his own name Akshaya instead of another taqallus. Interestingly, this is the most commonly flouted rule of ghazal. In filmi ghazals for example, there is little scope for the lyricist to use a maqta. So, usually you do not find maqtas in film ghazals, though someone like Khoka Bhai, with such a high self-esteem has never missed on this element. In many of his ghazals, he does not keep to the kafiya rule; i.e there are no rhyming kafiya but this one clearly has it. The sole ghazal by Devdas Chhotray in the new album Ghazal Gajaratiye that I referred to in the beginning, does not have kafiya.

Beyond the basic poetic construction, Akshaya Mohanty has always kept his ghazals in the true spirit of ghazal. They are always pessimistic, defeatist, hopeless, self-blaming…in the classic tradition of Urdu ghazals.

It is really a pity that most of his ghazals are not available in recorded form. Recordings of some of his private sessions prop up here and there and listening to them convinces one how much he internalized even ghazal gayaki. It is intriguing why he did not record them for public.

After Khoka Bhai, the real good ghazal album that was released for public after long was by Subhash Dash. Simply called Odia Ghazals, this album, based on songs penned by  poet Laxmidhar Nayak, was released by Saregama. Dash sang all the songs that were taken from poet Nayak’s ghazal compilation book, Ghazal Jharna. You can find all the songs here, though because of some technical error in Saregama site, some Sambalpuri songs of Fakir Patnaik are also shown as being part of this album.

The trio of Devdas Chhotray, composer Om Prakash Mohanty and Susmita Das, who have set a trend in Odia experimental music, have their share of contribution to Odia ghazals too. In 2008, they released an album, Hati Saja Kara, which contained two ghazals: Janha achhi aau bijuli bi achhi and Sneha ta bahuta milila jibane. Two years later, they released another album, Nua Luha Puruna Luha, which was, by far, a full-fledged ghazal album, with most songs being ghazals, though many of them did not have kafiya and same radiff, instead setting for a rhyming radiff like many of Akshaya Mohanty’s ghazals. Songs like Mu ki janithili mu nije ete sundari boli, the first song, belongs to that category; but the reason it stands out is that it explicitly refers to the shayar with a feminine adjective, a rarity in ghazal. Other ghazals include Diena sneha tike je, Mu ta bhala thili mora eka eka, Mora thila sabu bhul mu manuchi, Tume luchauchha shaha pare shaha, Chahini magini janini kemiti, Jibaku thila duraku tenu bahana khojinela, Se dinara chhabi sabu, and Dukhara dhari hata

I believe some of the ghazals of Devdas Chhotray have been rendered by other artistes too but I do not find them online anywhere.

Haraprasad Das has written some nice ghazals which, to the best of my knowledge, have not been recorded. The fascination for the word ‘ghazal’ by Odia musicians means there is a perceived value seen in ghazals. Unfortunately, few work consciously towards popularizing the genre.

I am sure there are lots of poets in Odia who have been writing ghazals. A ghazal compilation with the selection from Khoka Bhai’s ghazals as well as others down all these years, recorded in the voices of leading singers of Odisha, would be a great addition to Odia modern music.

Devdas Chhotray, as the most notable living ghazal writer in Odia; the most important personality in this new experimentation wave in Odia music; and above all, the bridge between the generation of Akshaya Mohanty and of today, could arguably be the best person to drive such a project.

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Food Songs in Odia: What they tell us about Odia culture…

“Tell me what you eat and I will tell you who you are,” said French thinker Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, considered by many to be one of the founding fathers of modern gastronomics. English art critic Clive Bell, in his famed essay Civilization, has illustrated the difference between the cultural standards of the French and British through an explicit example of differing standards in taste of food.

Over the ages, food has been one of the most important indicators of a society’s cultural status.

Measured on that account alone—yes, leaving aside all its rich (and now famous) visual and performing arts—Odias would be considered a highly civilized people. Food—and in particular, variety of food—is one of the most important defining factors of Odia culture, as exemplified by the ‘food habits’ of Lord Jagannath, not just the presiding deity of Odias but the most powerful cultural symbol of the Odia identity. Each festival or ritual in the Jagannath temple would have a specific food item in the form of prasad associated with it. Even on the day of Rath Yatra, the biggest festival in Odisha, the big chariot of Lord Jagannath, Nandighosha, actually stops on the way so that the Lord can have His favorite podapitha (a special sweet cake made in Odisha), at  His MousiMaa’s (aunt) place on the way to His destination. And when He is back to the temple after an eight-day sojourn, and the upset wife, Maa Laxmi needs some real placating, the gift that does the trick is a food item; one that you are probably familiar with: yes, the omnipresent Rasagola, which many erroneously think to have originated from Bengal. The offering was made, at least 200 (and most likely more) years before it started selling in Kolkata and was assumed to be a Bengali sweet!

Such is the importance of food in the cultural life of Odias!

It is not surprising, therefore, that food occupies an extremely important place in Odia creative arts, including its music. It is not uncommon to find reference to food in folk music around the world. But in Odisha, food gets a prominent place in not just the folk music, but its classical, semi-classical and modern popular music. Why, even devotional feeling often comes wrapped up with powerful symbols and craving for food/prasad of the Lord! In one of the most popular bhajans,  Jagannathiara SriMahaprasda pagala kala re bhai, the lyricist actually proclaims that it is the love of the Lord’s prasad that made him rush to Puri, without any delay!

While that bhajan is not explicitly about food, there are many that are completely focused on celebration of food.

Here is a look at some of the most popular among such songs. Many other songs would passingly mention food or use it as a metaphor. I have not looked for those ‘mere’ words but kept myself focused on what can really be called songs celebrating food. There are film songs, non-film modern songs, Odissi lyrics and bhajans focused on food.

So, here we go. The links are embedded in the song names.

Abadha Dali Kanika Ho Ananda Bazarre Patara Paka
This bhajan by Arabind Muduli is a celebration of abadha (though pronounced as abhada), the cooked prasad of Shri Jagannath.

Asa Jibana Dhana
The evergreen song written by Kavichandra Kalicharan Pattnaik in the voice of Pandit Balakrushna Dash, the father of modern Odia music, celebrates the most common food of Odias, pakhala.

Asa Kiese Jibare Ama Raja Ghara Khana
This is the Dakhini original from which lyricist Baikunth Nath Mohanty adapted the now popular Asa Kie Khaiba Ho. The song, sung by Gokul Mohanty, is a round-up of all Odia food traditionally associated with specific places in Odisha. So, if the government wants to apply for GI tag of the food items, the basic groundwork is done by the lyricist

Asa Kie Khaiba Ho

This song in the unique voice of Tansen Singh is based on the above song, in a slightly more contemporary style. If you wonder why the lyricist ignored Pahalla Rasagola, you have the answer. In the 30s, it was nowhere in the Rasgola map of Odisha. And so the above song had no reference to it. Lyricist of the song, while taking the idea from above song, failed to add Pahala

Chaka Pari Basitha
This is about another traditional Odia food, chuda chakata, again, in the voice of Pandit Balakrushna Dash. Though chuda or poha is eaten in many places, the way it is eaten in Odisha is fairly unique. And that is exactly what the song celebrates.

 

Kartika Masare Asila Kanji
Kanji is a typical Odia dish made from torani (water taken from Pakhala) or peja  (water taken out after boiling rice) and cooked with vegetables. Some joke that the song made it more popular across all regions of Odisha.

Madaa Daani Dhaana Chaula Muga Nadia Padi
This song in the voice of Arjun Charan Samal, a singer known for his rendition of palligeetis, is a craving and description for traditional food prepared in Odia homes in villages.

Manda Pitha Gol Gol
A round up of all Odia pithas (indigenous cakes) and their shapes, it is not fully about food or anything. The inimitable style of Akshaya Mohanty just uses some rhyming words to appeal to the average man on the street. While the lyrics is not exactly world class, most of the words are colloquial Odia words and connect immediately.

Mudhi Nadia
This celebration of eating mudhi (or moori, as some write it as) in the Odia style completes the triology of food songs by Pandit Balakrushna Dash. Though not as popular as the pakhala song, this one explicitly makes a claim: that only an Odia recognizes the pleasure of eating mudhi with nadia (coconut) and then goes on to describe the right setting and the preparation to maximize the pleasure!

Radhika Boile Duti Go
In this Odisssi lyrics, rendered by great Odia singer and composer, Prafulla Kar, Radha craves for diet, all of which bear the name of Krishna.

There are many more. These are just some of the more popular Odia songs celebrating food.

As Odias are all set to celebrate the 1st Rasagola Dibasa on 30th July, let’s have plenty of music, food and music about food.

[Anyone, who needs a quick primer on Odia food associated with places, can go through the third one in the list, Asa kie khaiba ho. Apart from Pahala Rasagola, what are the other such local food that the song does not mention?]

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Pandit Balakrushna Dash: The Father of Modern Odia Music

My blog describes itself as celebrating excellence in the less discussed. I have usually discussed comparatively unsung heroes such as Madhukar Rajasthani or Lucila Pacheco or highlighted the unsung works (Utkala Bhramanam) of famous creative geniuses or comparatively lesser discussed aspects of some of them (Kavichandra or Ravi).

Sangeeta Sudhakar Balakrushna Dash does not quite belong to any of those categories. Not only is he popular across Odisha; unlike, say, Kavichandra, his work and his contribution is well-acknowledged by people from Shyamamani Devi to Lopita Mishra. He is everyone’s Sir.

Yet, on his birthday, there is little news about any celebration.Media has almost no coverage except that of the awards announced in his honour by a Foundation named after him. However, that itself is not surprising about Odisha and Odias. And I do not want to go into that aspect in this post. I have already done enough of that in my post on Kavichandra.

What I wanted to highlight, on the other hand, is this: despite all the acknowledgement about his contribution to Odia music and despite the huge respect for him as an artist and an individual, we (that is most common Odias), still know very little about the immense talent (ପ୍ରଚଣ୍ଡ ପ୍ରତିଭା) that Pandit Balakrushna Dash possessed. The same is true about about many of his direct and indirect contribution to Odia music.

This post is not about measuring/analyzing his entire contribution. It will be a presumption on my part to even try doing that. All I will do here is to highlight a couple of lesser discussed/known aspects of his numerous contributions, without any claim whatsoever about the importance of these aspects vis-a-vis other known/unknown and acknowledged/unrecognized aspects of his music. I must admit that the headline is not quite apt for the post; a better suggestion is more than welcome.

First, let’s attempt to understand his music a little better. What kind of music is Pandit Balakrushna Dash’s music? Especially if he is so many things to so many people: a great performing virtuoso himself; a popular composer of the masses; a leading innovator; and a revered guru.

We all know that it is Pandit Dash who shaped/established what has come to be known as the Kataki style/school of Odissi singing, known for the importance that it attaches to bhava (mood), as compared to the dominance of layakari in the Puri school led by Simhari Shyamsundar Kar and the gamak-pradhan style of Dakhini school (of Tarini Charan Patra and others) ostensibly influenced by the Carnatic style.

Apart from the subtle musical differences, what does it translate to, practically? That becomes clear if we look at the repertoire of the songs that Pandit Balakrushna Dash is famous for. Despite singing traditional Odissi, Champu and Bhajans written by the medieval poets, his signature tunes are not those but a Bitilata jamini; a Nayana sunayanare;  maybe, to a lesser extent Aakula rajani pahi jae... All these are in modern Odia language, written by modern Odia poets. The first two are by Kavichandra Kalicharan Pattnaik while the last one is by Narayan Prasad Singh.

Listen to Bitilata jaimini carefully and you are bound to notice the influence of Ka karoon sajni, one of the most well-known thumris of Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, who was Pandit Dash’s guru. While the influence of his training in Hindustani music (and thumri in particular) is clearly visible, a discerning listener of thumris and Odia music would notice that Pandit Balakrushna Dash’s own singing had little similarity with the Punjab ang (full throated, faster tempo) thumri style sung by Khan Saheb. In fact, I often feel traces of  Purab ang thumri when I am listening to him, though the uniqueness of his Odissi style is clear. It must be said that the bhava in Odissi music is more about the stress on the mood of the entire lyric rather than a lot of emphasis on a few words. So, Odissi compositions are full length songs and not just three-four lines for music to ride on, unlike in most of thumris.

Pandit Balakrushna Dash’s evolution could be compared more with his mentor R C Boral, whom he assisted for some time in Kolkata and who, despite having strong background in classical music, is today identified as one of the founding fathers of Bengali (and even Hindi) film music. Pandit Balakrushna Dash, surely, is one of the two founding fathers of Odia film music in particular and modern Odia music in general (the other, of course, is  Pandit Bhubaneswar Mishra, with whom he scored music for the 1954 Odia film, Kedar Gouri and 1957 movie Bhai Bhai, before going solo in Sri Loknath in 1960). And like Boral and Sachin Dev Burman, Pandit Balakrushna Dash himself rarely sang in movies despite being the most prolific composer of Odia film music in the 1960s. He sang less than ten songs in films in the entire two decades of 50s and 60s.

In short, not only was Pandit Ballakrushna Dash doing his experimentation, he was very clear about what exactly he was trying to achieve. That becomes even clearer when we carefully examine his selection of songs. While others kept to Upendra Bhanja, Gopalakrushna, Kavisurya, Abhimanyu Samant Singhar, Dinakrushna and Banamali; Pandit Balakrushna Dash was the principal voice for the songs of Kavichandra, who himself was a great experimentalist and to whom goes the credit of ushering in modernity in Odia music and theater. Just listen to these songs — Bitilata jamini, Nayana sunayanarePatha anai jhuri, Tore jhuri sangataand you will appreciate what I am saying. They were all songs that carefully transformed us to modernity while keeping the base of our tradition.

And with what superb elan, Pandit Balakrushna Dash composed and sang them? The idea here is not to rake up a controversy. But just listen to Nayana Sunayanare  and listen to Abhi na jao chhodkar, scored by Jayadev for Hum Dono, more than a decade later…and you will never ever say Bollywood never got its inspiration from Odia music!

Though I am not sure about the fact, apparently Bimal Roy had offered Pandit Balakrushna Dash to score music for his films. But Pandit Dash did not like leaving Odisha and settling in Bombay. If that is true, that opens up yet another aspect of this great individual.

Another aspect of him that needs a mention is that while he was singing/teaching Odissi and composing for films, he never forgot the palligeeti. In fact, he popularized it.  His Asa jibana dhana mora pakhala kansa is an anthem; probably as popular as a Bitilata Jamini. Here too, combination of his music with Kavichandra’s lyrics was a winner. Another such combination, Chaiiti ratile mahula katire was also very popular. In fact, Asa jibana dhana, along with Mudhi nadia and Chaka pari basi tha—the trilogy of songs celebrating traditional Odia food—are today seeing renewed interest among Odias, as many, especially those leaving outside crave for the food.

Among his lesser known works is a beautiful album called Geeta Bhratruhari, released by Saregama in the 90s, in which he set into tune a selection of songs from the Odia translation of Bhratruhari’s Shatakatrayi, in traditional Odissi style. He himself sang a beautiful song, Naba jaubani e, one of the most explicit in the album, from the Shrungara Shataka. The translation was by late Janaki Ballav Pattnaik.

The contribution of Pandit Balakrushna Dash cannot be emphasized enough in a post like this. I promised not to get into this but it is difficult to resist asking this question: when will we learn to respect our talent? On one hand, all of us are very sensitized to the demand of Odissi music being accorded classical status. On the other, we do not even care for stopping for a moment and pay our tribute to the greatest name in Odissi music in modern times. And we blame everyone other than ourselves for our problems!

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A Tribute to Pakhala

Today is World Pakhala Day.  I do not know who decided on this and what was the basis of choosing this date, though I wholeheartedly welcome a day to celebrate the most staple diet of traditional Odia household. Considering that this is being celebrated on March 20 and not in the peak summer of May/June, this seems like more of welcoming the summer than celebrating it.

Pakahala is mother’s milk for Odias. This cooked rice soaked in water (and slightly fermented) is eaten throughout Eastern India. But in Odisha, it is more than a food; it is part of the culture. Why, it is the culture itself. Arguably, only Lord Jagannath is more  ingrained in Odia culture than pakhala, such is its status.

[BTW, for the uninitiated, here is the link to Wikipedia entry on pakhala]

Apart from it being a regular and ubiquitous food, pakhala always has had a special place in the socio-cultural life of Odisha. It in a pakhala bowl with saag floating in it that Bhakta Dasia (a great devotee of Lord Jagannath) could “see” the face of the Lord. By the way, it is part of the Lord’s diet plan itself, in the Puri temple. In many regions of Odisha, it is an essential part of the marriage rituals. The groom is served with pakhala after the marriage by the sisters-in-law.  Dahi pakhala,  or a special pakhala made with curd, is a  ceremonial dish eaten together after the bisarjan (immersion) of idols in Durga Puja. The list is long.

Celebrating pakhala is thus celebrating our roots; celebrating Odia culture. On this day, I present here a song that beautifully articulates the emotion that Odias have towards pakhala. The song, with versions sung by Pandita Balakrushna Dash and Srimati Shyamamani Pattnaik was written by Kavichandra Kalicharan Pattnaik.

Kavichandra who is known both for bringing in modernism into Odia songs and theater as well as for establishing the classical nature of Odissi,  shows here his third side: capturing both the pakhala culture and the affinity of Odias towards pakhala.  Here is the full lyrics in English script. If you want it in Odia script, you can download the pdf here.

Asa jibana dhana mora pakhala kansa

Asa jibana dhana

Sajanire to bihuna udila hamsa

Asa jibana dhana mora pakhala kansa

Asa jibana dhana…

Bahilani ana sakhi jhanja pavana

Athamari gala tunda jae jibana

To bina pakhala go 

Phatila kapala go

Torani sangare mishi hara mo trusha

Asa jibana dhana mora pakhala kansa

Asa jibana dhana…

Sanga thakurani pita sukhua rani

To lagi niaan re sati jhasa deleni

Piaja khari dare

Chhala chhindai mare

Maricha kahuchi mote to tule misha

Asa jibana dhana mora pakhala kansa

Asa jibana dhana…

Odia jibana dhua saga pakhala

Jagannatha rasithae mane tu bhala

Chakhi nahin je thare

Dhika ta janamare

Manisha bhitare se ta anapurusha

Asa jibana dhana mora pakhala kansa

Asa jibana dhana…

Here is the version sung by Pandita Balakrushna Dash

And here is the version sung by Smt Shyamamani Pattnaik

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Whom Should We Blame?

In August 1995, I and one of my friends, still fairly new in Delhi, rented a two-room flat in South Delhi. Both of us had just started working. As we moved to the flat, I found a full sheet of newspaper—if I remember correctly, it was Times of India—pasted on the wall of what would be my room. The previous tenants—young bachelors like us—had most likely used it to protect the hanged clothes from the paint of the wall.

What caught our attention was a headline in bold font, of an interview of dancer Indrani Rahman: Oriyas are so parochial. My friend, whose parents hailed from Varanasi but who was born and brought up in Odisha, took a strong offence to this. He would—like many non-Odias who have stayed in Odisha for long do—always defend Odisha and Odia whenever anyone said anything against the state and its people.

“Calm down,” I said, “I fully agree with her observations.” By that time, I had read the entire piece.

“It is just that she has drawn a completely wrong conclusion from those observations,” I told him. Odias are often described as lazy, non-enterprising, and even conservative by some; but rarely are they labeled parochial or xenophobic.

It is important to understand what made Rahman make such a drastic conclusion. She had complained fairly bitterly that her contribution to popularization of Odissi dance and its recognition as a classical dance form had not been recognized enough by the people and government of Odisha.

It was not untrue at all. One can well understand the anguish.

Not only was Indrani Rahman the first well-known classical dancer to demonstrate the beauty of Odissi before a Delhi audience way back in 1958, she actively worked in the background to facilitate the meetings and demonstrations of the form which ultimately led to the recognition of the dance form as classical by Sangeet Natak Akademi.

The only point where she erred is that she assumed the lack of her recognition in Odisha was because of her not being an Odia. In other words, she assumed that those who belonged to the state must have been very well recognized and honored.

Alas! If only it was remotely true!

Rahman was surely one of the top 5-6 individuals whose efforts should be acknowledged and hailed for the recognition of Odissi. But what about honoring the person who played the single most important role in that? Unfortunately, there is hardly anything that the state has done to acknowledge his contribution to Odissi. And that man, unlike Rahman, was a full-blooded Odia.

The Apathy
We Odias never get tired of boasting about the ancientness of our culture, our language, our dance, our music and of course our architecture, often resorting to a direct comparison with those of Bengal, our neighbor.

Many of us like to believe that the better recognition of Bengali language, music and culture—as well as the reputation of Bengalis as a people of refined taste—is entirely due to consistent lobbying and distortion of facts. Our logic rests on the argument that even though Odia music and language are far older than Bengali music and language, if Bengali enjoys far better recognition today, it must be due to propaganda!

This is strange logic. As it is now being widely accepted, Odisha’s music indeed is far older than Bengal’s music. Odia’s recognition as a classical language puts to rest any doubt that anyone might have about Odia being an older language, than not just Bengali but most Indo-Aryan languages in existence today.

But what has that got to do with how it is perceived today?

A language or a culture is not a static thing. The current vibrancy of a language, a music or art is not dependent on how old it is but how the current generation and the past generations have preserved, enriched and patronized it. If Bengali music is far better recognized outside Bengal, it is because of the contribution of creators and patrons of that music over the years, not because of when the tradition started.

Of course, the deep resentment against Bengali in Odisha has its own reason. It comes largely because of the unsuccessful but vigorous attempt by a section of Bengalis serving in Odisha during the British period to push Odia into oblivion, by trying to establish that Odia was not a separate language.

But the image of Bengali as a rich and sophisticated language or Bengalis as a community with refined taste today is not because of such narrow-minded people; rather it is because of the sincerity and hard work done by a few great souls. It is also because of how the society in general contributed towards it and cooperated with these cultural leaders.

The most important of such personalities, of course, is Gurudev Ranbindranath Tagore—an extra ordinary individual who combined creativity and sensitivity with great vision. A genius, Tagore not just created great poetry and music, but built and nurtured an environment which encouraged people to indulge in creative pursuance, in an open environment. He also challenged the conservative tradition and encouraged Begalis to continuously interact with outside traditions in art and culture as well as with creative people outside. This not just helped enrich Bengali culture; it exposed outsiders to it. This experimentation arguably contributed most significantly to the rise in esteem of Bengali art and culture, in the eyes of the outsiders.

Bengalis never fail to acknowledge this great contribution by Tagore. In fact, Robi Thakur, as he is called in Bengal, is part of the collective psyche and culture, as much as Durga Puja and fish curry.

Odisha’s is a case study in contrast. Take Odissi itself. All of us are so proud of it. Yet, few know the contribution of people who shaped it in the early days and established it in the world stage.

Well, the lobbying with Sangeet Natak Akademi was spearheaded by many Odias and non-Odias (like Rahman) in Delhi but most of the core research for this was led by one individual, whose powerful lecture accompanied by a demonstration convinced the learned audience about its classicism.

That person was Kavichandra Kalicharan Patnaik.

Kavichandra who? I was actually asked by someone of my generation (born in the 70s). And you can well imagine about today’s generation. While many have heard his name, they are not sure what he has done (“kavichandra, must be a poet”).

Kavichandra may or may not be as creative as Tagore. But arguably, he has contributed to more aspects of Odia culture than probably even Tagore has done in Bengal. The idea is not to compare the two individuals but to show the way they have been treated by their respective communities.

I do not mind saying, without the fear of any exaggeration watsoever that no one in modern Odisha has contributed to so many facets of Odia culture—Odissi dance and music, Odia literature, Odia theater, Odia modern music and Odia cinema—as Kavichandra has done. And his involvement with all these areas have been in various roles—a creative composer/creator, a performer, a professional entrepreneur, a researcher and above all as a teacher/trainer.

Without getting into too much of details, here is a brief overview of his contribution.

  • He worked with various groups to create the standard postures and rules of modern Odissi dance
  • He visited different conferences to establish that Odissi, as a music, is not just classical but is very different from both Hindustani and Carnatic music.
  • He named Odissi. David Denen, an American scholar, who has done extensive research on naming of Odissi, has concluded, after referring to half a dozen scholars, that it was Kalibabu who named Odissi. And the name itself was a master stroke. Not only did it secure its Odia connection forever, but it also created a classical aura for it, which would not have been in a generic adjective like Odia.
  • It is his powerful lecture, accompanied by demo, that convinced everyone including famous Indologist and dance critic, Dr Charles Fabri that Odissi is a classical dance form. Indrani Rahman worked closely with him and was trained by his disciple Guru Deba Prasad Das.
  • He established the modern theater culture in Odisha. His Odisha Theaters was the first professional theater group in Odisha.
  • He was the first to experiment with modern themes in theater and music. A playwright and lyricist par excellence, he wrote on traditional themes as well as contemporary social themes and popularized them.
  • He was a pioneer in modern recorded music from Odisha. He himself and his protégé Sumati Devi recorded a number of songs for HMV
  • His association with early Odia films is a subject by itself. He not just wrote lyrics for many early movies such as Lalita, Rolls-28, Kedar Gouri and Dasyu Ratnakar, he scored music too in one movie, Naari. His association with Odia cinema continued well into the 60s, when he wrote for movies such as Manika Jodi, Ghara Bahuda and Kie Kahara, the second movie for Akshaya Mohanty as a composer. He wrote  the story for Rolls-28, script for Jayadeba and co-directed and acted in Nari
  • Some of the songs written by him such as Asa jibana dhana mora pakhala kansaa (sung by both Balakrushna Dash and Shyamamani Devi) are milestones in popularity of Odia palligeeti. Here are some of the recorded songs written by him that are available online.
  • He even dabbled with recording in Odisha by establishing a recording company in Cuttack.
  • He tried his hand at publishing a full-fledged music journal, probably the only such journal to be published in Odia ever.
  • His direct disciples and proteges—Sumati Devi and Angurbala in music, Deba Prasad Das and Indrani Rahman in dance and actors like Samuel Sahu (Babi), Priyanath Mishra (Pira) and Gloria Mohanty who excelled in theater and cinema—too contributed immensely to their respective fields.

In short, whatever could be imagined in all these areas, Kavichandra has done that. While there have been great poets or dramatists, singers or composer, researchers or gurus, there is no one in modern Odisha who has contributed so much to such a diverse set of areas in Odia culture.

Yet, his contribution has gone largely unrecognized. Believe it or not, the following statements are true. I will be more than happy to be proven wrong.

  1. There is no Odissi institution named after him.
  2. There is no major award in Odissi music or dance which is presented in his honor.
  3. There is no major institution or award in his name in the entire gamut of creative fields he was active in, some of which I have discussed above.
  4. If this write-up is to be believed, then there is conscious effort to erase his name from the history of Odissi music.
Kavichandra Memorial at Cuttack. This is where he lived for a good part of his life. (I am indebted to media person and community radio pioneer in Odisha, Viraj Shukla for the visit)

Kavichandra Kalicharan memorial at Cuttack. This is where he lived a good part of his life

DSC04975

The entrance to the house.

I have deliberately not talked of his financial condition etc. In many places across the world, great artists and creative people often die in penury but after their death, they are recognized and honored. That is not the case with Kalibabu.

Compare what Tagore has done for Bengal and Kavichandra has done for Odisha. And then, see what Bengalis have done to Tagore and what Odias have done to Kavichandra. And you will probably never again complain about Odia not getting enough recognition outside.

If we do not honor our own tradition and people, how can we expect others to do that for us?

What Indrani Rahman inferred about Odias may not be correct per se but the reality is not far more encouraging than that.

As for myself, while I never really blamed Rahman for her conclusion, the Odia in me was too sensitive to allow that paper to remain there after my leaving. Though it remained there for all the four years that I stayed there—just to keep reminding me of the bitter truth—I could not resist tearing it off when I moved out.

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