My Odissi Journey: A Tribute to My Gurus

In gratitude and as a tribute to my teachers, I would like to share a little story about the beginning of my path in Odissi. This journey began not that long ago when India sent whispering winds from her eastern coastline along the Sea of Bengal. Her desire was to spark a memory…. the memories of an ancient art-form, an expression of devotion, love and communion with The Divine.

She said,

There was an ancient time awakened – when a dancers call was never mistaken. It was the call to live and lead a spiritual life of devotional heed. A respected call by all in the land – dancers were part of a great divine planRemember the time when dancers danced in holy temples for God alone… when you arrive – you’ll find them carved in stone.

There was a time, not long ago when the dancing winds of eastern shores had me possessed and wanting more... DANCE.

Odisha is a historic land covered by many ancient temples including the glorified Sun Temple of Konark, the famous Lord Jagannath Temple of Puri and for me above all else, Odisha is the land of the great Indian Classical Dance known as Odissi. It is the primal power and transcendent wisdom felt within these temple structures; where immortal dancers and musicians have been carved out of stone, personifying an ideal form, beauty and grace that was the main source of attraction inspiring me to study this dance in its birthplace. These magnificent sculptures reveal to me not only a history behind Odissi dance, but I believed this art form to be a mysterious spiritual path; a refined and codified yogic system that invited the dancer’s discovery of her Self as well.

I sensed that this discovery could only lead the devoted dancer deeper into the sacred mysteries and inevitable realization of her own divinity, her true Self.

My journey to Odisha started from Pushkar in Rajasthan, India (I believe it was 2014/15), where my first Odissi Guru Shri Padma Charan Dehury held regular Odissi dance intensives for both local and abroad students. Through his intensive course I became familiar with the techniques, grammar and variety known to Odissi dance. I continued my personal practice in Canada until 6 months later (September 2015) I landed up in Bhubaneswar to continue my studies under Guru-ji and his son; Guru Shri Nirod Kumar who worked alongside his father at their dance school, Omkar Kalashram in Bhubaneswar.

During my intensive training with them in Bhubaneswar (September – December 2015 inclusive), Guru-ji and Nirod Sir deepened and enriched my understanding of the basic grammars and techniques of Odissi dance, rhythm and music.

OMKAR KALASHRAM

To date, I have been blessed with the opportunity to travel to India twice to study Odissi dance. After my first experience, I wanted desperately to immerse myself in the culture, history, theory, music and physical practice of Odissi as spiritual art and a Bhakti (devotional) form of yoga. I wanted all the basic Odissi dance steps (techniques and grammar), I wanted a better understanding for properly executing them and a daily discipline, a very sweaty practice under the instruction of my ‘military’ Gruru. I craved the structure, the challenge and the dedication required to learn something dance as a new language, a dance that was over 2000 years old.

Total immersion, determination, deeper understanding, self-discipline and physical strength is what I was seeking to acquire during my second sojourn to India for dance. I cannot say that I felt all of these things while I was in India as those four months proved to be very challenging at times, even hellish I would say – with a smile, but only now. Many things were not as I expected them to be however, I can say that the dancer in me has been well guided, nurtured and strengthened by the experience. Today, I notice that as my devotion to the art form continues to grow with love, so do all the good things in life grow too… the divine qualities within and outside of me seem to keep on growing. This seems to by a natural byproduct or effect of the dance and a dedicated practice.

The experiences I had at the dance school helped me in establishing self-confidence while affirming a strong foundation in Odissi dance so that I could happily share, perform and teach when I arrived back to Canada. All dance theory involved with and relevant to my training thus far was also included in my studies at Omkar.

Learning and achieving three complete Odissi dance items / choreographies was the culmination of these two very intentional trips to India. I am so grateful for the direction, and inspired tutelage of my teachers. It was in learning about the Hindu mythological stories behind the devotional dance dramas (choreographies) that I came to truly love and adore. It adds a whole other dimension to the art-form that is transcendent.

Being able to share Odissi dance with others has been and still feels like a great honour and blessing in my life. Padma encouraged me to practice, perform and teach in Canada between trips to India and so I have done just that. “Now, it is what you do with your dance that is important and will make you good dancer.” (he said). I am thankful for his support and encouragement from across the world.

dance-guruji

Guru Padma Charan Dehury is an expert of his art, teaching with perfect mastery in assimilating both theory and practice in the performing arts of Odissi dance. He composes a lot of his own Odissi music for his choreographies, guiding his fellow musicians to put their best forward with suitable adaptations of Odissi music. His ability to maintain the purity of Odissi dance and music while composing and improvising new inspirations is a testimony of his ability to clearly channel the creativity that now comes through him as a result of his lifelong dedication and devotion to this art.

I have had the pleasure of seeing his dance dramas that are rooted in Indian mythology and folklore. He has been conceptualizing, directing and performing these dance dramas in Odissi dance traditions his whole life throughout India and abroad.

Repertoire of performance items to date, prescribed to me by Padma Charan Dehury:

  • Guru Mangalacharan Invocation Item – Choreography by Guru Padma Charan Dehury
  • Ganesha Mangalacharan Invocation Item – Choreography by Guru Nirod Kumar
  • Sthai Pure Dance Item – Choreography by Guru Padma Charan Dehury

There is a traditional systematic order, a repertoire of Odissi dance items that the Guru will prescribe in order of presentation to their students. The Guru chooses to teach specific items within each category of the dance repertoire based on the unique body-mind constitution of the student as an individual. The Guru does this by understanding the students most natural ways of being, his or her temperament and character.

About Mangalacharan: This is the first dance a student of Odissi will learn. It is an invocation to God for seeking blessings. The dancer enters the stage with flowers in hands then advances with graceful steps to the front of the stage offering the flowers to the Divine. The dancer then touches Mother Earth as a mark of respect where after the hands move over the eyes, forehead and finally over the head. Then, the next portion of the dance is a salutation to God, teachers and audience.

About Sthai: This is the second dance in order of presentation. Sthai is known as pure dance Nritta. It is a rhythm based item exhibiting difficult body movements in a graceful manner. Being a pure dance, there is no Abhinay (feeling sentiment) or Bhava (feeling mind / mood) components in this item.

This is only a glimpse, a refection of my initiation as a beginner in Odissi dance. I sense that the journey must continue steadily and for several years before I might grasp a similar understanding, grace and beauty that I see and admire in my Odissi dance Gurus. Experiencing the land of Odisha has me meditating more and more on the ancient glories and civilization of India, particularly the cultural diversity of Odisha. Learning from great Gurus like Padma Charan Dehury and Nirod Sir gives me confidence and satisfaction that my journey in Odissi dance will always be transformational and of everlasting benefit to all, as it so naturally invokes feelings of love and joy in my heart.

As I mentioned earlier, my wish is to popularize this dance form through humble and modest efforts. I sincerely hope my feelings are shared by many new classical dance learners who have been coming (or have yet to come) to India to get the understanding and the knowledge of this dance as the upcoming performers.

My thanks goes out to all who have made my experience in Odissi dance possible and fruitful. Deep bows of respect and gratitude go to my teachers, my Odissi dance Gurus, for under whose guidance I began to blossom as a performing artist and teacher of this magnificent and complex art form… this mysteriously transcending, spiritually charged -ancient temple dance of the devotional, arising East…

Listen for the whispers of heart.

Om Shanti.

. . . So, I had done as India requested of me, I went to the temple by the Sea. I felt, I saw and experienced all the things that were meant to be -and her final ethereal message was this,

There was a time when this dance was revered as an intelligent path leading one to the final stage of salvation, Moksha. It was believed and therefore achieved, that the day would come when the dancer would reach that unified state of becoming. She would dissolve any distinction she had between herself and the world around her. She and the dance she performed for God would merge, allowing her to become THAT which she concentrated all her devotion and LOVE. Her desire for God would be made absolutely pure through the alchemy of the Great Dance between the Divine Masculine and Feminine within her. It would then be granted that the Lover and Beloved become One in a moment of final surrender to the peaceful, ecstatic and harmonious bliss of God’s Eternal Love.

Jai Sat Chit Ananda Dear Dancer (she said), the Awareness of the Eternal is Bliss.       

Thank-you to all my teachers in dance,

Sheena

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"In our millennium we are seeing the start of a new and splendid co-creation, where the air will be pure and there will be living water and fragrant gardens growing all over the Earth." - Vladimir Megre

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