Reflections .. Memoirs

The Paramount Quintessence

Odissi, one of the oldest classical dance forms of India is how it is known to all. But for me, Odissi means the turning point of my life. I remember the radiating eyes, engaging smile, perpendicular bindi invoking a sense of legacy, long black hair with a tint of golden shimmer dancing to the tune of her amble impressed me, mesmerized me and instinctively inspired me to take up Odissi even though I had previously in my childhood years learnt Kathak (from a different place altogether). Little did I know that I was being introduced by her not only to a graceful, traditional, oldest, rich and powerful dance form Odissi, but also to a new world, novel life completely different, atypical, astounding and full of discoveries, imagination, creativity with no restraining boundaries. Yes, I had found my Guru; my esteemed Guru Parwati Dutta; my beloved Didi. Apparently she teaches dance forms however lateral, thinking is the essence. Teaching a practiced movement is easy but to unfold the origination, reasoning, perception, sensitivity behind each movement and the dexterity to capture it, block it and see beyond the mere obvious image is what she decants in the mental state. Under her guidance, dance never remained a mere physical activity. People read books to increase their willpower but we, in factual sense, were practicing and experiencing the tremendous energy of mind and will and its unanticipated prevalence over physical limitations and blatant painful twinges. This rule of leaping beyond the line has helped me push myself more than I thought I can in every facet and at every single juncture of my life. Only because of such orientation and her secure support I was able to knit my practice of Odissi for eight hours plus study law for eight hours together in one weave especially during the preparation of performance in Ellora Festival as my exams were all set to explode. Even today as a professional, strive to go to the root level of any subject matter and comprehend its density and origination has become a tendency because of her preaching. It has enhanced my credence to work hard with perseverance. She provided us with a unique library with various books of peculiar nature written on dance, culture, philosophy, art, costumes, literature which fertilized our thinking, enhanced ingenuity and aided in breaking the conventional boxes of vision. Apart from Odissi and Kathak, Didi gave us a refined exposure to many other dance forms like Bharatnatyam, Manipuri, Kuchipudi, Chao, Kathakali and many more through performances of renowned artists, dance festivals, treasured video clippings which allowed us to analyze, recognize and imbibe the core of creation. By way of SADHANA Intensive Training Workshop she opened an altogether curious and motivating arena consisting of musical instruments like Mardala, Sitar, Tabla, Pakahwaj, vocals like Dhrupad, Carnatic music, Hindustani music etc. Only in the process of learning the basics and experiencing the feel of playing and singing that we understood the importance of general knowledge for attaining the objective of dance with much more significance and thoughtfulness. Exploration of unusual options like Yoga, Pottery, Warli painting, Weaving, Calligraphy, Sculpture pulled out entirely new unknown skills within us and ploughed a seed of inquisitiveness which has aptly involved me into a habit of exhuming things around me. The opportunity to organize events, arrange lights, systematize décor according to the architecture of stage, which adds magnitude in the performance, opened a new door of insight towards choreography and arrangements. Veneration towards Ghoongru, Dance Practice Sari, Mahashivratri, versatile Krishna, Costumes, Guru Poornima made me realize how fundamental is expression and devotion in life. Due to her encouragement and the skill she had dropped into my eyes, brain and heart to feel and perceive the things around me in my own way, I was able to track 'Painting-the earth of colors' as an output of my creativity, indulgence and comportment. Painting my heart out is one of the passions I carry with me and feel pleased that I am able to create something original, very me and celebrate my imagination in a diverse way than others. Didi has massively influenced my teenage years which are the most important and true constructive years to craft one's disposition and individuality. She has played a very prominent role to craft moral fiber and build grit within me to face the endeavors of life. She taught me the true meaning of self-dependence, discipline, sharing, and brotherhood. I have not only experienced a guru-shishya relationship with her but also found a friend in her with whom I share my joys, upheavals, achievements, failures, not limited to dance, but wholly in every phase of life. She has always been the moral pillar supporting me in every segment of my life. Didi has entrenched within me and many others like me the distilled cultural perception towards art. She taught us to think, to unearth mind, to introspect, to seek, to liberalize senses. She has taught us to follow our own moral obligations, to develop independent ideology, to observe minuscule details. She is the sole reason that I am deeply connected with the art forms and have the magnetic inclination to continue being part of these propitious and pure traditions. She is stern not harsh; she is uncompromising not inconsiderate. She is so, to mould the dancer along with the spirit, perfect the error to elevate excellence, to carve vitality for nurturing qualities, to formulate the artiste in concert with the soul, to sculpt the true characteristics of an individual in turn fabricating the final product of a supreme genre. A proficient artiste endowed with assortment of tranquil poise, regal grace and significant elegance with a dash of vim and vigour. Didi is not only an epitome of art but the essence of inherent benevolence in her soul and golden heart makes her special and distinct. A persona supremely dignified with massive courage and luminous intellect. Didi has been a gratifying gift to the field of art especially to Aurangabad. She has turned an ignorant city into a culturally awakened land. A true shining star, who introduced, propagated and established Kathak and Odissi as mainstream art forms in Marathwada. She has visibly created MAHAGAMI GURUKUL as a landmark of the city. She has been a path breaker artist and guiding light for art learners. Today she is evidently a strong plinth of the cultural Marathwada and one of the strongest roots holding the enriching globe of art. A million 'thankyous' shall also fall short to convey my reverence to her. My parents are also thankful to her from the bottom of their hearts for accepting me as her shishya and endowing me with precious pearls of dance, traditions, morals and values shining and decorating every season my life. I consider myself blessed to have her in my life as my Guru. She is my inspiration. She is the pathway to my brainwaves. She is my Hero.

Swati Shinde
(Odissi Shishya and Advocate)

Witnessing a dream unfold…

They may be off the beaten track, they may be off the professional itinerary, but there are always a few places which are forever etched in memory. Aurangabad is one such place for me and it continues to be special on many counts. It seems like yesterday that I and my father, Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra, found ourselves in Aurangabad on the invitation of Guru Parwati Dutta. Guruji was conducting a workshop there and I had the privilege of spending more than a fortnight in the excellent ethos of the Mahagami institute headed by Parwati-ji. It was heart-warming to see the valued principles of the Guru Shishya Parampara maintained in such a natural and graceful way. While applying the rigor of teaching classical dance, Parwati ji has also created a value system in the best traditions of cultural Parampara: her success in this is rare in today's world and is to be endlessly applauded. MAHAGAMI has grown from strength to strength. My next opportunity of visiting Mahagami was in October 2009; the undulating landscape, the unobtrusiveness of the architecture and many other small features speak well of the care that has been taken in grooming this institution. A leading member of Srjan's repertory group Smt. Rajashri Praharaj had been invited for an Odissi recital for the Tapapoorti festival organized by her students. The interest and enthusiasm of the knowledgeable audience gathered there to honor Parwati ji was a reminder of the success that she has achieved in keeping the local interest in the classical arts at such a high level, and unflagging for so many years! For us as artistes this was truly a great reward. At the end of the performance, Parwati ji invited me onstage and introduced me to the audience as her Guru bhai. Her words moved me in more ways than one, and I will always cherish this sentiment as something of great and immeasurable value. Parwati ji may continue to “dare to dream”; all her dreams are coming true!

Guru Ratikant Mohapatra
Director - SRJAN (Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra Odissi Nrityabasa), Bhubaneshwar

Talking about Parwati Dutta is one of the most pleasant things for me. She is one of my favorite artists and a genuinely sincere person. I know her since more than 2 decades and have found her as an extremely talented, devoted and humble dancer. I used to see her almost 4-5 times in a year during Kathak festivals or seminars when she was studying in Delhi. I was rather charmed at her versatility as a brilliant dancer and composer. As a student at Kathak Kendra, New Delhi; she would be busy training other students, composing for them and even conducting their recitals in addition to her own 'riyaz' and 'taleem'. I especially liked her 'padhant', her melodic 'tatkaar', her dignity of form and some of her new compositions like a 'Surya vandana' composed for the performance of a disciple of Gitanjali Lal. Those days, invocations on the Gods and Goddesses were in vogue; but she thought of concepts or natural forces as deities which seemed unconventional yet traditional at the same time. One of her solos was focused on the concept of darkness (Krishna) which I thought was very thought-provoking and satisfying.

I was rather surprised and impressed at her decision to leave Delhi and work in Aurangabad. At the same time, it reminded me how my journey through 'Nritya-bharati', Pune started in 1947. Sowing a seed and nurturing it requires a lot of strength and tenacity and I was sure she would achieve it with her hard-work and will-power. I have been a witness to many challenges faced by her during her pioneering work to introduce Kathak and Odissi in this region. I would visit MAHAGAMI for seminars, concerts and other projects and greatly appreciated her efforts to bridge the wide cultural gap. I was happy to see her growing interest in other related subjects like Dhrupad and Pakhawaj. She worked almost single-handedly to make their Pakhawaj Documentation Project the most exhaustive collection on the tradition. In the following years, I saw her growth as a Guru and an efficient administrator. She inspired quite a few disciples to learn and focus their future on their development as budding artists. I was pained to see how this bright girl continued facing challenges and ungratefulness of some disciples, but was reassured to see her eternal optimism towards her work and vision. May my prayers dispel her obstacles and shower her with many achievements and realizations. I am happy to see her faith in continuing her service in Aurangabad and hope the city blooms as a vibrant center of academic excellence with respect to Indian dance in coming years.

Guru Rohini Bhate
Kathak Guru, Fellow- Sangeet Natak Akademi
(Message written in 2008)

Parwati's dance has a unique quality as it lingers in the mind for a long time. I still remember her final year solo performance in Delhi when her soulful rendition created waves of 'anand' amongst the audience including the examiners and gurus. The intense experience would remain in my memory for days for which I expressed my sincere appreciation and blessed her to continue to dwell towards this aspect of dance. I would often spot her at Kathak Kendra, Delhi premises loaded with a bag of ghugroos, piles of books and few necessities running from one 'riyaz' to another rehearsal and happily skipping her meals. I would teasingly call her 'banjaaran' (a dweller). And with course of time, realized the internalized strength of this dancer due to her spiritual dwellings.

After a long period, I saw her evolved work in a Festival in Mumbai. One of her creations on chanting of a 'pada' in Dhrupad style was mesmerizing. I had never seen such an approach in Kathak all my life. Then discovered about her keen interest in Dhrupad and Pakhawaj forms. Her dance speaks volumes about her research, analysis and co-relation of all these with the practicing form. I think, she is a pioneer in this kind of rendition and I have a lot of hope for her future growth as an artist. I greatly appreciate her efforts to take a decision to run a Gurukul at a young age. I am confident that with her hard work and perseverance, she will explore new heights of expression. My blessings and affection to her Gurukul and all disiples.

Guru Reba Vidyarthi


Mere walls and roofs do not make an institution. Like individuals, they too have a soul of their own. Unless you understand that soul, you can never be soul mate of that institution. Again, that institution also needs to accept you as a friend; only then can you form a strong bond of kinship with that institution. That's what I discovered in my encounters with “MAHAGAMI” Mahatma Gandhi Mission Sangeet Academy. The first time I came in these premises, was for a program of Pt. Birju Maharaj, organised by academy. I reached very late ----a few minutes before the program was to begin. Had a wash in one of the laboratories of the medical college and went straight to the stage. I couldn't even get a glimpse of the academy.

The next time I came, I reached Aurangabad at noon. The auto rickshaw driver left me at the other gate. I had to walk, with my luggage in hand, in the scorching heat, through an open ground, sweating and coating myself with the fine dust that was blowing with the hot wind. I was almost cursing myself for having accepted the invitation. However, my worries wear to be over in a few minutes. A few hundred meters down the ground, and my eyes came across a small bungalow like structure, standing against the back-drop of think greenery. I entered the academy and was pleased with the wonderful peace that prevailed in that atmosphere. I was received with courtesy and directed to one of the rooms. I wondered at the layout-small and cozy honey comb like structures, which I was soon to realize as a beehive of activities. The room was plain and simple, furnished with all the necessities; yet nothing had the dazzle of what we term as the filthy richness. I also had a look at the classrooms, dance floors, the library, the small open-air theatre and so on. Each enclosed space had a separation of its own but everything appeared to be united at the core. The Warli paintings on the lintel like band outside reminded one of our rich folk heritages. The trees on the premises were more like bushes or shrubs; today they have developed a rich green crown of foliage. In short, it was an ideal setting for one who wants to pursue any art.

Since then, I have been visiting these premises time and again. I have found the morning here most cheerful. The backdrop of the bird-calls, students doing their Riyaz of a serene Dhrupad, the robust and serene tone of the Pakhawaj, some students practicing their dance steps to the beats of the Tabla, the jingling of their 'ghungroos' and so on. The ambience of all these tones was as inspiring as the drone of the tanpura that induces an artiste to sing. One could not be remaining idle in that atmosphere. Over the next few years, I noticed wonderful things. The growing level of enthusiasm and artistic development of the students particularly impressed me. Aurangabad has no significant history of Kathak or Odissi dance. It had been dry and barren in that respect, yet a considerable number of students acquired commendable proficiency in their chosen art forms. This is evident from their inclusion in the famous Ellora and Aurangabad festivals arranged by the MTDC every year and also many other prestigious festivals in the country. I cannot complete my writing without saying something about Parwati Dutta, the Director of Mahagami and a foresighted Guru of Kathak and Odissi.

Her scholarship has widened her horizons. She has not tried to restrict her students in any type of Chauvinism for a particular form. Right from the inception of MAHAGAMI, she has been organizing special workshops, or seminars inviting stalwarts like Kelucharanji, Pt. Suresh Talwalkar, Pandita Rohini Bhate, etc. Similarly special workshops on instruments like Odissi Pakhwaj (Mardal) have also been arranged. These give the students an exposure with the accomplished artistes. It is not only enriching, inspiring as well! A number of programmes based on special themes have been presented here 'Gunjad-Venu' (a programme based on the flute of Lord Krishna), In Search of Devi (Exploring the concept of divinity in the female form, across different periods of time), programmes based on `Meghadoot` and `Ritusamhar` of Kalidasa, and many others in which I had the opportunity to accompany as a flutist. Trying to explore newer horizons through the media of dance is the specialty here. In all such programmes, it is not just Parwati`s idea followed by the students. The students are also allowed to develop thinking of their own. I have observed one such percolation of ideas. I found a student trying to gather information of 'Anaya' -Husband of the legendary Radha after being encouraged by Parwati-ji to explore the unexplored topics. We find the mention of his name in several contexts, but get very little information on him.

Delegation of responsibilities is another advantage of the students. For each programme, students are allowed to try their hands on different jobs. This might include everything from designing the choreography to the designing of costumes or lights. I have even seen girls climb to the top of the wall behind the stage, fixing lights for the programme. I have seen them handling the background sound recordings, handling lights, decorating stage, even planning menus for the inmates of the yearly intensive training Gurukul camp - SADHANA. These training camps have become a regular feature here. The students have to stay on the campus for the entire duration of the camp. The day which is full of activities begins early in the morning and continues till 9.00 p.m. at night. Apart from intensive practice of one's chosen art form, it also includes training in Yogic exercises, Sanskrit; Medical Check-up, Special diets that are tasty and nutritious, lectures on interesting subjects pottery, wall-painting, weaving… the variety is enormous. What is most interesting is that zeal and zest of the students is not found to have dwindled at the end of the day. Such workshops or camps are open to students of all ages. I have seen a girl not prepared to go home and stay with her family, even when she was running a high fever.

I feel, there lays the success of the institution; teaching of a curriculum is a simple matter relatively. Charging the students with a new vigor and vitality, developing their interest in life in general, and Art in particular, is a difficult task. Parwati Dutta has achieved that successfully. She herself has an unending fund of energy for that. Students call her 'didi'; they respect her, they love her and they fear her as well ! Her way of teaching has an amazing personal touch. From the basic lessons, the students evolved to the more complex pieces and she showered her unconditional affection and 'taleem' to all. In a span of only 2 years, she gave them a precious gift a workshop by Pt. Birju Maharaj at MAHAGAMI! The students had many opportunities to learn, observe and understand the concepts and thoughts of many revered Gurus because of her efforts. Since, she strongly believes in the Gurukul tradition, sometimes even sponsored their participation in other workshops and performances. She has truly been like a parent to all of them and has gone out of the way to help them in their artistic ventures and also during their personal crisis.

That reminds me of an occasion when a beginner student from financially challenged background lost his father. Parwati persuaded MGM Management to grant him a scholarship with immediate effect. She would silently pay for musicians, costumes and many logistical things of such students. Once, I was in Aurangabad to accompany with 2 of her students who were to perform in Ellora festival. One of the student's mother was hospitalized after a cardiac attack. The same morning, Parwati's cottage in Gurukul was burgled leaving practically nothing. Even in that state of mind, she had the balance and generosity to ask if she could do anything. Knowing that the student is from financially deprived background, she decided to take a loan and within 2 days after the theft, she managed to pay a major part of the treatment expense. This kind of strength has been the guiding force in the evolution of MAHAGAMI.

A sapling has taken firm roots on a barren soil and is showing a healthy growth. I am confident; the coming years would show manifold blossoms of its healthy, progressive life.

Shri Ajit Soman
Senior musician, scholar and copywriter, Pune
(written in 2008)