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.

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

Importance of The Dance Tradition in Society

35052173_1766199270165412_5152165939906609152_o

Spirituality is the core of Indian Art.

This photo is from our June 7th, 2018 Show in Saskatoon – A collaboration piece by Utpalapalo performance group that combined Odissi Indian Classical Dance & Flamenco. Our attempt was to depict a cultural music and dance migration story, honour universal patterns found through dance, explore roots and parallels, delve deep within our own hearts to achieve a higher conscious connection and understanding of the divine relationship between land (the earth) and her children, the people. The soul will always desire to express itself through creation.

This item reflects a unique LOVE STORY between Mother India and Spain, the kind of love that is akin to a mother’s love and wishes for her beloved daughters soul to soar.

Evolved out of spiritual passions, art in India is considered a extremely valuable and worthy path of devotion to the Divine that not only serves the spiritual aspirant/artist but the family and society as well. Be it sculpture, architecture, painting, dance or music, the theme of the artist is rooted in spirituality, devotion to the Creator and the spirit of creation; the urge is as much spiritual as it is aesthetic. Spirituality is the divine experience of communion with God. All the Indian art-forms have been attuned to this ideal.

Vedic art is an ancient development that still holds much appreciation in modern times. Art in the Vedic tradition was never just a representation of an artist’s imagination. It was always a vehicle to convey higher truths and principles, levels of reality that may exist beyond our sense perception. It was always used to bring us to a higher purpose of existence and awareness. Today it is still used to allow others to enter into a transcendental experience.

Vedic symbols (like mudras used in classical Indian dance) are unique in that they can deliver the same spiritual energy, vibration and insight that it represents. In other words, through the meditation and devotional mood of the artist, the art becomes a manifestation of the higher reality. In this way, the symbolism represented in the art form becomes a doorway to the spiritual essence contained within it. These symbols are like windows into the spiritual world. Through that window we can have the experience of darshan of the Divine or divinities, God or His associates. Darshan is not merely seeing the Divine but it is also entering into the exchange of seeing and being seen by the Divine.

Thus Vedic art is beyond mundane principles or ingredients, such as paint, paper, stone or metal with which it may be made, but it becomes completely spiritual through which the very essence of the subject of meditation is revealed, affecting consciousness. The truth of spiritual reality can pierce through the darkness of the material energy, enter our mind and illuminate our consciousness.

In Odissi, to convey these higher realities, everything has a meaning. The postures, gestures, costume, music and steps, everything conveys a principle or purpose, which often must be explained to those who lack understanding. Thus, knowing the inner meaning of a particular item / choreography for example, increases its depth for those who can perceive it, which makes it worthy of further meditation and contemplation.

As with art, DANCE in India was not merely an expression of an artist’s emotional mindset or imagination, but was meant to be an interpretation or conveyance of higher spiritual principles or pastimes of the Divine. In fact, in the Vedic pantheon Shiva is known as Nataraja, the king of dancers. Shiva’s dance was also not without a more significant purpose. His dance was based on the rhythm of cosmic energy that pervades the universe, and the destruction of the illusory energy by which all souls are given the opportunity for release from the illusion to attain liberation, moksha.

In this way, traditional Indian dance is highly spiritual and often accompanies important religious rituals, holy days and festivals. Vedic dance goes back to prehistoric times. Bharata Muni wrote his NatyaShastra, science of drama and dance, over 2000 years ago. In it he explains that it was Lord Brahma, the secondary engineer of the universal creation, who brought dance (natya) and drama to the people of Earth millions of years ago, shortly after the Earth was created.

Now dance has evolved into a tradition involving various schools and styles but with strict discipline. It is not uncommon that Indian families will have their daughters spend at least several years or more in such study and practice. There is a precise method of postures, facial and hand gestures (mudras), and movements, along with footwork that must be learned and synchronized to the beat and music in order to convey specific meanings, moods and stories to the audience.

When the dance is performed according to the spiritual standards, which some view as similar to the practice of yoga, even the dancers can invoke a high degree of spirituality in their own consciousness and bring unity between their inner selves and God. Then the transcendental atmosphere can manifest and draw the Divine to appear in the performers on stage. Thus, the environment becomes transformed and the audience may also experience darshan of the Divine and experience an inspiring upliftment in their own consciousness. In this way, the dance is divine beauty in motion. Or it is a way of invoking the spiritual dimension into our midst. Few other forms of dance attempt to do this.

Indian Classical Dance is an expression of devotion for the “Higher Being”. Along with religious trends, dance trends followed suite. From a very early time (as mentioned) the dance found its spiritual home in the holy caves, temples and religious institutions as an essential religious practice. While religions sprang up with organized divine services, Indian dance too became more organized and refined into the art-forms practiced today.

Throughout the centuries, again as mentioned earlier – it became an important part of any celebration by the people who considered art to be the most pleasing item for the Gods and Goddesses. It is felt that no festival or ceremony is accepted as even being COMPLETE without a performance of dance and music.

Various schools of dance include Bharata Natyam, Kathakali, Manipuri, Odissi, Kathak, Mohini Atam, Krishna Atam, Bhagavata Mela, etc. Thus, we may have many dances that convey stories from the Ramayanaand Mahabharata, or Krishna-lila from the Bhagavata Purana. Nowadays this ancient art of Indian dance is enjoying a wide audience and a prominent place on the international stage.

The arts have always been regarded by ancient civilizations as sacred tools / pathways that are provided in order for humanity to reach its fullest potentials, both as individuals who are searching for their own fulfillment and spiritual awakening, and as a society that can function in harmony with nature and cooperation amongst themselves.

– Source of inserted bits of this article are lost, I am currently searching for it.

It is time that our western society starts to honour and recognize the tremendous value of the arts. It is time that our artists start believing in themselves so much so, that they begin to KNOW without a shadow of a doubt, with unshakable confidence… their worthiness and importance in society. May all artists realize from the depths of their being, their worth; their essential place and part in the world.

For without art… what kind of a life and world would it be for anyone?

We were created

as channels for the spontaneous Creative Life force,

To co-create with God,

a world in His image and likeness.

And as His children, we inherited a spark of the Original Creator.

So it must be true that He lives inside all hearts…

This spark of The Divine

desires nothing more

than to inspire His children.

When you feel inspired my daughter… (He says)

This is my Word made manifest as your thoughts and feelings.

Please do not ignore your Soul’s enthusiasm…

For the expression of your divine beauty,

and everything you create from this well spring ~

Communicates your love for Me.

– Sheena Oliphant

Thank-you to my teachers, beautiful dancing sisters and to Robert for inspiring me and reflecting the Divine through your steadiness and ease of being, wise council, compassionate love, healing confirmation, kind guidance, imagination, creativity, passion, enthusiasm, joy, playfulness and devotion to your art/co-creating from your hearts. Thank-you so much.

Namaste.

Lord of Dance

shiva-statue-4K-wallpaper

Prayer to Lord Shiva

Divine dancers sing / chant this prayer at the start of every Odissi dance practice. It is felt within the heart and meditated upon. Please enjoy.

Angikam bhuvanam yasya

Vachikam sarva vangmayam

Aharyam chandra taradi tam

Namah satvikam sivam.

Lord Shiva, Whose limbs are the world, Whose song and poetry are the essence of all language, Whose costume is the moon and the stars… we bow to Him the benevolent One.

The world is same as Shiva’s body. He understands every word and language, His language is Universal. He is adorned by the moon and stars, they are His ornaments. I pray to Lord Shiva and recognize Him as myself with hope for attaining Truth, Consciousness and Bliss.

My body is the world, and it is my temple. I use my pure body, speech and mind for peace (shanti) and harmony. My words can also be like the words of the Divine; sweet, good and true. I am made of the stars and constellations, the entire universe is within me!

I AM a spark of the Divine One, the Creator resides in my heart.

 


 

An Introduction to Odissi Terminology for Dancer to Learn

Angika (Limbs) – This is movement of limbs and body postures through coded gestures. Angika acting are of three kinds i.e. of body, of facial expressions and innovative. Head, hand, waist, chest, heels and feet are the six types in Angika. Nrutya consists of rhythm in body which establishes the characteristic sentiment and the situation guides the movement of the body.

Vachika (Spoken Words) – Spoken words are used to convey the meaning of the song or dialogue, that interprets the situation and content.

Aharya (Costumes and Make-up) – Appropriate get up, ornaments, costumes, apparel and decorative high lights are known as Aharya. This makes the dance more communicative and attractive.

Sattwika – This is to express the Bhava or State of Mind, i.e. temperament. This is an essential component.

Receptivity

Beautiful-Jasmine-with-Water-Drops

Being a great dancer is not just a matter of technique; it is not just being impeccable in your movement. It is understanding that the dance is the extension of your own limbs, your own body, mind and spirit.

Inspired by Lynn Andrews teachings about what it means to be a great warrior, a great swordsman. Odissi devotional dance is the way of the Warrior Goddess. It is akin in likeness and relation to any martial art form that creates balance and harmony between the masculine and feminine, within and without, above and below.

In order to find the balance now days, often times the dancer is learning to honour her female side. She is learning to build her integrity, her wisdom, and her strength.This can only be done with receptivity to the earth’s power.

Receptivity allows one to set aside their thinking and go swiftly to the heart of the aim, goal, mark or intention. Power is always the same, as truth is always the same, and the source is always female.If the {dancer} does not understand her power as a woman, the power of the female, the receptivity of life, the womb… that {dancer} will not be very powerful.

So, part of being a divine dancer, a devoted warrior goddess on the planet… is to become receptive to the aim, goal and intent. When she has an important goal or mark, whether it be personal, other or society focused (all same thing), or simply a state of being* ~ she must make a place for that, whatever THAT is to live within her own body. She must know where it lives in her body.

These things are important, because if there is no place for the goal, the state of being, or the desired outcome to live within her, she will be unsuccessful in her efforts to achieve the very thing(s) that is important to her.

We speak of {healing, love, joy} peace. This is comfortable and easy to do. It is comfortable and easy to talk about making peace, making love, giving love, giving action out into the world. That is where the mind is comfortable, and the ego is very comfortable with that idea, because in fact ego is mind. It is a much more difficult thing to put oneself into a humble stance and receive that love, receive peace into one’s own heart and being.

From SHAKKAI – Woman of the Sacred Garden by Lynn V. AndrewsI have applied the teaching to dance as the mode (inserted bits) and the “Women of the Sacred Dance, Odissi”.