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Dancing at the foothills of Dhauli

The Dhauli-Kalinga Mahotsav brings martial arts and classical dance forms on the same platform

The Dhauli-Kalinga Mahotsav brings martial arts and classical dance forms on the same platform

The pristine white Peace Pagoda (Shanthi Stupa), atop the historic Dhauli hills, near Bhubaneswar, serves as a befitting backdrop for the 18th Dhauli-Kalinga Mahotsav. Launched in 2003 as two separate festivals, they were merged in 2013 to be conducted as a three-day event to celebrate peace and harmony through music and dance.

The open-air stage at Shanti Vihar, at the foothills of Dhauli, is surrounded by sprawling paddy fields and lush green trees along the banks of river Daya. The otherwise calm place, comes alive during the festival, with tourists from across the globe and art lovers from nearby villages and towns thronging the venue.

Organised jointly by Odisha Tourism Development Corporation and Orissa Dance Academy, the festival has been carrying forward founder and legendary Odissi guru Gangadhar Pradhan’s vision of bringing together heritage and art. The 36-year-old Konark Dance and Music Festival is also his brainchild. Guru Gangadhar was keen to take dance and music back to where they belonged — ancient monuments.

From the Dhauli-Kalinga Festival, 2022
| Photo Credit: Odisha Tourism

Son of a poor farmer, at the age of five, he was offered to a village temple to serve as a Gotipua dancer for 10 years. His passion and hard work made him one of the most sought-after gurus. At the age of 25, he started the Orissa Dance Academy in Bhubaneshwar. Five years later, he established the Konark Natya Mandap, near the Sun Temple, where, in 1986, he began hosting the annual Konark Dance and Music Festival. It prompted the Odisha government to launch its own Konark dance festival three years later.

From the Dhauli-Kalinga Festival, 2022

From the Dhauli-Kalinga Festival, 2022
| Photo Credit: Odisha Tourism

Why Dhauli?

After establishing the Orissa Dance Academy as one of the world’s biggest Odissi dance institutions, and Konark Natya Mandap as a unique institution that trains artistes in Gotipua, Odissi and several indigenous and marginalised art forms in gurukul system, he turned his attention towards Dhauli.

It is presumed that the Kalinga war was fought here. Emperor Ashoka, who won the war, embraced Buddhism after witnessing death and destruction. Guru Gangadhar was keen to set up a gurukul and launch a festival at this very site to promote Odisha’s rich art traditions. He invested all his earnings and even borrowed some money to acquire land at the foothills of Dhauli to set up Shanti Vihar, where, once upon a time, peace won over war.

Guru Gangadhar Pradhan.

Guru Gangadhar Pradhan.
| Photo Credit: The Hindu Archives

Along with the Indian classical dance traditions, Gangadhar decided to project Odisha’s vibrant, but marginalised, art forms such as Gotipua, Mayurbhanj Chhau, Sambalpuri dance, Danda Nata, Prahallad Natak, Mogul Tamasha, Ghoda Nacha, Dhuduki Nacha, puppetry, Odia jatra, Geetinatya, Pala, Daskathia, and Sankeertan. As a result, the festival emerged as a treat for both connoisseurs and common people.

While guru Gangadhar was hosting his Dhauli festival, the Kalinga National Martial Dance Festival, conceptualised by Bhubaneswar-based Italian Odissi and Chhau exponent Ileana Citaristi, was being staged atop the hill at the Peace Pagoda. In 2013, Department of Tourism, Odisha, merged the two popular events and renamed it as Dhauli-Kalinga Mahotsav.

Reaching new heights

lleana Citaristi

lleana Citaristi
| Photo Credit: Siva Saravanan

After the untimely demise of Guru Gangadhar in 2010, and the merger of the two festivals three years later, his prime disciple and Odissi exponent Aruna Mohanty took over as the festival director. As curators, Aruna and Ileana have taken the festival to newer heights with the inclusion of contemporary and experimental art forms. Over the years, apart from several Indian martial art forms such as Kalaripayattu, Thang Ta, Paika Akhada, and Malkhamb, those of Japan and South East Asia have also been featured. Innovative productions like ‘Bibiddha Barna’ (seven folk art forms of Odisha), and ‘Charishnu’ (seven Indian classical dance styles), and instrumental ensembles have widened the festival’s repertoire.

While Guru Gangadhar involved people from nearby villages in the festival, Aruna has been bringing in college students to watch the performances and understand the significance of art and heritage. The Department of Tourism offers special package tours to increase footfalls during the festival.

Aruna Mohanty

Aruna Mohanty
| Photo Credit: Biswaranjan Raut

Visionary Gangadhar has inspired the government and the people of the state to come up with more such festivals at ancient temples and monuments, including Konark dance festival, Mukteswar dance festival, Rajarani music festival, Kharavela festival at Khandagiri Jain caves, and Chausathi Yogini festival at Hirapur shrine. Odisha tops the table in India when it comes to festivals that celebrate culture and heritage.

“Tomorrow, when I am gone, there will be many more Gangadhars to promote and preserve Odisha’s arts across the seven seas. I will then shed tears of joy from above, remaining indebted to Lord Jagannath for giving me the courage to dream,” the legendary artiste had once said.

The Bhubaneshwar-based writer is an independent journalist.

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