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By Kanwal Prakash “KP” Singh



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 Shankara.

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 program.

Moumita Das