February 25, 2013

Interview with Kumkum Lal - Part Two

Kumkum: So Guru Harekrushna Behera who is commonly known as Harebabu. He was one of Guruji's favourite students because he was so sincere. He had come from Balasore to learn from him. He was very meticulous; he used to write down everything that he learned. And whenever we used to forget anything, we would go to him because we had it all written down.

But, lately, when I went to him, he said that there was a time when there was some rain and flood in his house and everything got spoiled. He used to come home three times a week - the room that had removable beds, that's where he used to play the tabla in the house. And Odissi - I loved it, because it was so graceful - in those days, the mudras were also not fixed. Like when we do this thing (a stance in mayura). In those days, we would just do it like this (katakamukha to alapadma).

All this was done in the early 60s or mid 60s when Guruji started polishing the style. In that time, we used to do mangalacharan and do batu in the same item. We would do mangalacharan - the bhumi pranam, and then we went to touch all the instruments - on the stage during the performance, and then we did batu, which was much shorter, much simpler, more charming. Just now, it is a proper exercise to do it, very tough. But at that time it was not like that.

And, as you know, the system of teaching, the methodology of teaching, was different from what it is today. The steppings are ten in chowka and ten in tribhanga. Earlier, we had six groups of steppings, four in each, so twenty-four steps. But they were mixed-up. Some of the steps now look very antiquated, or in many ways, new. Because nobody does those steppings now. But I think that they are very useful and it is also like a lexicon of steppings, because you always refer to - do the second step of the fourth group, and so on. So it is also like a reference point.

Whereas today's steppings are very good for exercise and for learning. These steppings also, I may tell you, were created by Guruji because when he started teaching outside Orissa and he could not teach for a longish period of time; he had to teach then in a short time. And they were already dancers. Then through these steppings, they could get into the mould of Odissi. And then, straightaway, an item was taught to them.
So, within a restricted period of one or two months, he could train a dancer, and it would be very intensive. Because it would be every day. And at that time, he realised he couldn't teach all the twenty-four steps. So he created this. Initially it used to be only till 6. I remember; I think it was about the time he started going to Bombay, which was when I moved there, from 1980, when these chowka-tribhangi steppings came up. And uptil then, when he was teaching us - all of us were already dancers and he didn't need to teach steppings when he would come to Delhi for his workshops.

Anyway, this is about stepping. As far as I am concerned, Guru Harekrushna Behera taught me very regularly and very meticulously everything that Guruji had learnt. And then in the summers he would come back to Orissa and pick up whatever Guruji had done during the rest of the year and then come back and teach me. And then around 1963-64, Guruji changed the batu, the mangalacharan and the moksha. In fact, for one or two years, it was in a state of flux. And I found some things which I had learnt in mangalacharan had gone to the moksha and what was in the moksha had come here - till it completely settled down to what it was - today.

The other thing that Guruji did at that time was that he became true to the bols, and he tried to make the tala interpretation more perfect. And the extreme example of that is batu, where every syllable is brought out by the foot. You can't do kada-taka, you have to do ka-da-ta-ka. So that was something he did with the batu - it's an exercise over there. This happened in the early 60s. He was in a very creative mood and he redid whatever he had - older items which he himself had created - he polished it and made them like this.
I have learnt the old batu as well; some of it I still remember. I know how simple it used to be. I have performed that batu and then subsequently this new batu come. And the repertoire was also built up - the mangalacharan and batu became separate, the touching of the instruments vanished.

Ranjana: Were there pallavis already being composed?

Kumkum: There were two pallavis - Kalyan and Vasant. These were the only two pallavis that were being done in those days, in the early days. Then, in the early 60s, it was a creative period of his - he created Shankarabharanam with Kumkum (Mohanty), Saveri - maybe with Sonal, I am not sure, and Mohana. These three were the mixed group of pallavis created by him. And also the Vasant Pallavi underwent some change. 

Ranjana: Did all the initial pallavis have a sloka to go with them?

Kumkum: No, the most initial ones - Kalyan and Vasant had them. And we always performed them with the sloka.

Ranjana: And what was the logic of the sloka - it was a sloka about the raga?

Kumkum: Yes, absolutely. You know that in music, they have visualised every raga. And the visualisation of the raga has nothing to do with any god and goddess. And it is just the visualisation of the ambience that the raga creates. It was like that. The Kalyan raga has got a more energetic spirit, so there was a warrior involved in that. And Vasant raga is a more free-spirited raga, so it has this very 'mast' person with peacock feathers in his hair. Actually, people think it is Krishna but it is not Krishna.
But at some stage, Guruji decided to do away with that. So then people started performing Kalyan and Vasant without the sloka. And subsequent pallavis never had any sloka. But they had - you see, Guruji and Bhubaneswar Mishra became a team around that time. And a lot of Gita Govinda songs...Guruji's intellectual guide was Kalicharan Pattnaik. So for every song, he would get his meanings very clear from him, and the music was done by Bhubaneswar Mishra, who was such a nice man and so kind and he was so generous with his giving. We owe so much to him but I think the world never gave him back anything. He was just...

Ranjana: Can you say more about how they composed...as a team?

Kumkum:Well, at that time I was a very young person. Later on, I can jump then, because...

Ranjana: No, don't jump, you can come to it later.

Kumkum: When I was learning from Harekrushna Behera, he had opened a little school called Nritya Niketan in this marketplace called Bhagat Singh Market, which is near Gol Market in Delhi. And so in the first floor flat, of one Mr. Khosla - Mr. Khosla's daughter used to learn and his granddaughter used to learn, and he was a widower, so he just gave his flat and in his drawing room was the so-called school and when Guruji started coming he would be given one bedroom. We used to go there...Guruji started coming, Harekrushna Behera first got Surendranath Jena to help him.

Then, Harekrushna Behera brought Mayadhar Rout, who was very well-known for his abhinaya. His abhinaya was very good. And he had been to Kalakshetra - I mean, there were many people who had been to Kalakshetra. So the viniyogas and all have all come from there. He did some abhinayas, he taught us - I also learnt from him. We were learning from both the gurus. But then he also separated and he went off to Bharatiya Kala Kendra. And then, finally, Guruji came.

Guruji came - he used to stay for two to three months. We used to all go for class. We used to have one-to-one classes in those days. I mean, I have learnt yahi madhava and all that...there was one other girl with me; she was a professional dancer from Bharatiya Kala Kendra. And she found Guruji's teaching very slow, because he used to enjoy himself. He would explain everything very well. Something that was later on not done at all. Each word, each thing, each sanchari was...he used to take time.

One week passed, but we would still be on the first stanza. She left in the middle, because she said - this guru takes too long to teach. But I remember his words - how he taught Yahi madhava. Each of the comparisons that he gave.

He also did a ballet. Dance drama. He did Kanchi Vijay (Kanchi Abhijan). In that, the heroine was Sonal Mansingh. Sonal was also learning. At that time, Rani Karnaa was also coming there regularly. These people were proper students of Guruji's. And Yamini also came to learn a few items, so she would also come there. And then any other person; Kumkum (Mohanty) would come when she came to Delhi. So that little flat in Bhagat Singh market had all these luminaries coming to learn from Guruji.

Kanchi Vijay - the raja was Harekrushna Behera and Sonal was the Padmavati. And Rani Karnaa was the curd seller. I was doing Krishna's role or something like that. I was a kid at that time - not kid, but a younger dancer. So, in that Kanchi Vijay - for the dance drama, Guruji had composed Harir iha mugdha vadhunikare. It was part of that. The music had been composed by...just now, my memory is not working too well, but I can let you know.

Harir iha was composed as a puja dance. I remember we used to all enter with a thali and do the puja - ringing the temple bells and all that, and then harir iha directly to the idol. Then, Dasavatara was also part of it but Guruji composed vedanudharate, which is a sloka before the Dasavatara, in which all the avatars are listed. Beautiful music - Bhubaneswar Mishra's music. It was a lovely piece. I have unfortunately not performed it. It can easily be done as a mangalacharan.

And then there were many other songs which were there. So Guruji started coming and we were introduced to him. I had seen Guruji for the first time when he got the award - the SNA award. In those days, we were very enamoured of Indrani Rahman, so when I saw him - you know, he has a small face and he was playing the pakhawaj, and Balakrishna Dash was sitting imposingly, so I thought he must be Kelucharan Mohapatra. Guruji's face was pockmarked and his hair was receding. That was my first introduction to him. After that, he mesmerised all of us with his personality and his dance.

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