Danseuse steps in to revive Mahari

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By NAMITA PANDA
  • Published 19.05.11
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(Top and above) Rupashree Mohapatra teaches Mahari to her students at Rupashree Kalamandir and (right) performs at a function in Bhubaneswar. Telegraph pictures

Bhubaneswar, May 18: Mahari dance has contributed immensely to the cultural heritage of the state.

From originating in the temples of Orissa to becoming the mother of the classical dance style of Odissi, Mahari has come a long way. But now its very existence has come under threat.

However, danseuse Rupashree Mohapatra has stepped in to save this unique and charming temple dance form.

Apart from propagating this dance form through her stage performances, she is also imparting the skill to a number of students at her school Rupashree Kalamandir — the only school of Mahari dance in the state. This school trains young girls in Mahari as well as Odissi.

“Mahari is one of the most divine forms of dance, where the dancer performs only in front of Lord Jagannath. But since it has been done away with at the Jagannath temple, it is slowly fading away,” says Rupashree.

She had learnt the dance from Guru Pankaj Charan Das, one of the first founder gurus of Odissi.

She also picked the nuances of Mahari from the Mahari Devadasi Haripriya Debi.

“The style of wearing sari, jewellery as well as the make-up of the dancer is done in a typical way, as prescribed for the Devadasis, since they had to appease the lord. However, the main accessory used for dressing up were flowers, which were adorned all over the body,” says Rupashree.

“Although the tradition is lost, I’m trying to revive the dance form,” she adds.

An excellent Odissi dancer, with many gold medals and awards to her name, including the coveted Mahari dance award for her contribution to Odissi in 1996, Rupashree has established herself as a teacher too.

She has trained over 30 girls in Puri at her nine-year old centre there and now has over 20 students at the Bhubaneswar centre that opened a few months ago.

She starts teaching the basic structures and mudras of Mahari as well as Odissi first, which are similar in almost all respects. But later, the choreography and compositions of Mahari and Odissi differ.

“Mahari comes from the word Mahaan Naari (divine woman). It is considered the mother of Odissi dance. But Mahari is performed only on songs related to Jagannath temple festivals and occasions. Each form of serving 7the lord becomes a different composition of Mahari,” she says.

The tiny tots at her Bhubaneswar centre dance to songs such as ‘Kuru Jadunandana’, ‘Juda bandhina jhara kathi nahin’ and ‘Ehi kathare mo mana mahaprabhu’.

“I enjoy learning and dancing Mahari. It has very interesting mudras,” says Labanya, a 10-year old student.

“This dance form has divinity and spirituality blended with it. I’m glad my daughter is learning such a pure form of dance that was a part of the temple rituals for hundreds of years,” says Smita Mohanty, one of the parents.