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Konark Natya Mandap Strives To Keep Alive Guru Gangadhar Pradhan’s Legacy
When we talk about Konark Natya Mandap (KNM) and Konark Dance and Music Festival, the first person who comes to mind is Guru Gangadhar Pradhan. The late Odissi dance guru spent his life in the promotion of the dance form and also showcasing the rich cultural heritage of Odisha to people visiting the small town of Konark. He received the Padma Shri in 2008 and many other awards and accolades.
This year KNM hosted the 35th annual Konark Dance and Music Festival in February, which was a one-day affair due to the pandemic. The festival dates back to 1986, the same year as the establishment of KNM by Gangadhar Pradhan on the day of Shivratri. The Natya Mandap is a miniature of Konark Sun Temple’s ‘natyashala’.
The objectives of KNM are to preserve, promote and project the rich cultural heritage of Odisha. Besides, all round the year festivals are held in the premises of KNM that infuses cultural awareness in the minds of people.
The Natya Mandap with its open air auditorium and the replica of the Sun Temple as the backdrop provides the perfect setting for the dancers from all over the world to perform dances like Odissi, Bharatnatyam, Manipuri, Kathak and Chau tribal dance. During the festival, it transforms into what Pradhan called a ‘Living Konark’.
“This festival has been striving to provide a platform for music and dance performances of a high order for the 24 years continuously and successfully. It has put Konark on the world cultural map,” said Gangadhar Pradhan in an earlier interview with the reporter in 2010.
According to him the festival doesn’t only serve the purpose of entertainment but also educates people. “It aims to harmoniously blend the classical, spiritual, tribal and folk aspects of the glorious cultural traditions,” the founder-director of KNM remarked.
“The seeds of the festival were sown in my mind when I had gone to the Swedish embassy and saw posters of the Khajuraho Festival there. That’s how the idea of the Konark Dance and Music Festival took shape in my mind,” Pradhan added.
He is the brain behind the festival, and had a dream and vision to transform KNM into a festival venue 365 days a year. “Traditional art forms like Sankirtan, Paika Akhada, Pala, Daskathia, Ramlila, and many more are also performed at the Natya Mandap.
“Festivals like Vasant Panchami, Ram Navami, Kumar Purnima, Raja Utsav, Akshaya Tritiya, Holi, Shivratri, Janmastami, Saraswati puja, Jhulan Purnima, etc are celebrated in our premises,” said Gurupada Baliarsingh, joint secretary of KNM.
The Natya Mandap is a centre of learning and follows the guru-shishya tradition in imparting classes in dance, music and yoga. Classes on Odissi dance, Gotipua dance, Chhau dance, Mardala, Tabla, Odissi vocal and many others are conducted in its premises. Baliarsingh added that around 14 to 15 students are currently learning dance and music at KNM.
In 2003, Pradhan became the first artist from Odisha to teach for a semester at the Cornell University, US. After the death of Gangadhar Pradhan in October 2010, KNM is striving to uphold the legacy of the Odissi guru. However, it remains to be seen whether his vision and KNM’s past glory is restored.
-- Barnali Pal Sinha
(The writer is a Mumbai-based journalist)