MANCHA PRABESH: ODISSI DANCE RECITAL
Nearly 250 friends, family members, teachers, and admirers of
Moumita Das, daughter of Dipankar and Madhumita Das gathered to
witness, enjoy, and bless Moumita’s Mancha Prabesh. The
setting was the intimate auditorium of Orchard School in Indianapolis.
The word Mancha Prabesh literally means entry on stage for a dance
student to demonstrate her classical dancing skills following
years of rigorous training under an accomplished dance teacher.
Moumita’s dance Guru, Sagoree Chatterjee, now of Cincinnati,
Ohio, was present and beaming with pride at the performance of
her accomplished student.
Moumita’s Mancha Prabesh dance graduation ceremony beautifully
demonstrated the range and versatility of classical Odissi dancing
skills that Moumita had learned and mastered through her formal
training. From the various degrees of complexities of her seven
dances, it was easy to see that she has a deep love for Indian
classical dance and music and sees dance as a universal language
of heart and spirit and a bridge to connect people and cultures.
There were many young classmates of Moumita and their parents
in the audience, and many of them were introduced to the Odissi
style of classical Indian dancing for the first time. We came
away greatly impressed by Moumita’s special accomplishment.
There were glowing tributes for Mrs. Sagoree Chatterjee, the dance
Guru, for her special gift to future generations and for Moumita
by proud teachers, parents, and other critical hands who had worked
hard to make this memorable experience possible.
There were classical and sacred vocal music and flute interludes
during and a dinner at the end of performance. The highlight of
the evening was the seven solo dances by Moumita, all successfully
executed with several changes of elegant dance costumes.
The Mancha Prabesh began with Mangalacharan, always the beginning
of Odissi dance recital where the dancer pays homage to Mother
Earth and offers obeisance to the chosen diety, in this case to
Lord Jagannath. Then followed Batu Nrtya, a basic form of pure
dance. “In this dance, the interrelationship between sculptural
art and Odissi dance is established with an array of sculpture-like
poses taken directly from the innumerable dancing sculptures adorning
the temples of Orissa. The poses are stringed together with steps
in different rhythms.”
Abhinya, or the art of story telling through dance was the next
offering. This classical dance highlights delicate movements of
hands and intricate mudras, facial expressions, torso movements,
and “the dancer depicts a song or poem by interpreting the
words in a variety of ways within a single dance composition.”
The fourth dance number before intermission, Pallavi, literally
meaning a new leaf, is “Nrtya or pure dance based on the
musical aspects of dance than lyrics as in Batu. “Pallavi
is interwoven with a series of lyrical movements bringing out
the elaborate grace and charm of Odissi” and set to raga
True to its title, Oriya Folksong, this dance centers on the
“story of universal loved Krishna” and the “Gopis
who are mesmerized by his flute and peacock feather on his head.”
The dance is very expressive, joyous, and sensuous in nature and
spirit and is set to hauntingly beautiful Indian flute music.
Then followed Dasha Avtar, the dance of ten incarnations of Lord
Vishnu in which God descends to earth as a person to save it from
destruction. This was a spiritually uplifting and devotional dance.
Beside the flute, this dance had a series of vocal sound-beats,
songs, Indian drums, and other exotic musical instruments. This
was the dance in which Moumita offered the best and the greatest
range of her skills as a dancer as she interpreted this dance.
The last Dance of her Mancha Prabesh was Moksha “which
in Sanskrit means liberation within Hinduism or as Nirvana in
Buddhism.” Here “the dancer attempts to attain salvation
in the ultimate surrender to God through dance” and unity
with the Supreme Realty. This was a dance of devotion, spiritual
ecstasy, and perfect harmony where “the dance and the dancer
combine into one soul” and transported our imagination along.
What stood out throughout the recital was the great emphasis
on highlighting feminine form, charm, and grace – the feminine
curvature, movements of head, eyes, and torso; intricate hand
mudras to narrate the art of devotion and story telling through
body language and the vocal and instrumental musical orchestration
that set the rhythms and tempos of dance. The Odissi is considered
the oldest, over 2000 years old, and one of the most graceful
and complex dance styles among Indian classical dances. As I sat
through over two hours of Moumita’s dance performance, I
wondered what devotion it must take to master the intricacies
of a classical dance - each body movement, footwork, intriguing
mudras, facial expressions, all elements seamlessly interfacing
with the musical arrangement and choreography to narrate and illustrate
the story and transforming spiritual message enshrined in the
classical Indian dance.
I was thankful as I wondered what patience, skills, devotion,
and discipline one must possess to be an accomplished dancer and
teacher like Ms. Chatterjee and be dedicated to share such a gift
with the new generations so far away from the origin of these
traditions. I came away from this special evening thinking that
the arts alone have the power to connect us with the temporal
richness on one hand and with Divine on the other hand.
I am hopeful that the arts will continue to flourish as long
as there are students and teachers devoted and passionate enough
to the cause that all arts, sacred arts not only must survive,
but they will be considered as humanity’s priceless treasure
and continue to link humanity through their power, richness, beauty,
and all-embracing spirit. At several points in the evening, I
felt a tug and pull deep within my soul as if I was reliving something
that my spirit is carrying from generations and lifetimes past.
I hope and pray that many will be inspired to enjoy such cultural
offerings that bridge cultures and humanity to its earliest art
forms and the continuing evolution of human spirituality.
Kanwal Prakash “KP” Singh
Indianapolis, Indiana USA
* Source of all quotes in the article is the printed Mancha Prabesh