He shaped Odissi’ renaissance

Raghunath Panigrahi’s renditions showcased an uncanny feel for ‘bhava’.

Written by Madhavi Mudgal | Published: August 29, 2013 4:17 am

Raghunath Panigrahi’s renditions showcased an uncanny feel for ‘bhava’.

In the passing away of the 82-year-old Pandit Raghunath Panigrahi,the noted Oriya vocalist,on August 25,a particular era seems to have come to an end. This was a period when efforts were being made at the revival of the Odissi dance form. The main players in this were Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra,his composer friend Pandit Bhubaneshwar Mishra and his shishya Sanjukta Panigrahi along with her husband,Pandit Raghunath Panigrahi. They were to blaze a trail and situate the dance form in its firmament.

Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra’s vision was actualised by Sanjukta’s dance and Raghunathji’s singing. The husband-wife team shared,equally,the accolades that were heaped upon them. It was in the late 1960s that their efforts started to bear fruit. It was truly a partnership of creative genius,and it was impossible to imagine one without the other. The 1970s and ’80s saw them at their peak.

An outstanding singer of the Odissi genre,Raghunathji was not just a vocalist but also a versatile composer whose work covered a wide range of forms. His soulful rendition of Jayadeva’s ashtapadis from the Gita Govinda was a class apart,and his dance compositions were outstanding for their choreographic possibilities. His facility with languages and the ease of uccarana in them made him unique. In particular,his rendition of Ramcharitmanas is memorable. He imbibed the seeds of music from his father,especially the rendering of the ashtapadis. Trained in both Hindustani and Carnatic styles,he also composed and sang many compositions in the light classical genre so popular with the common man. Before his marriage to Sanjukta,Raghunathji was exploring a career in playback singing for Tamil and Telugu films in Chennai. Endowed with a highly mellifluous voice,his renditions had an uncanny feel for bhava,and it is this quality that touched people’s hearts. For a great many of today’s Oriya vocalists,he was an icon and a role model.

He was awarded the title of Sur Mani by the Sur Singar Samsad of Mumbai,the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award as well as the Padma Shri for contribution to music. He also happened to be the first Oriya musician to be decorated by the government of France,in the early ’70s. An affable and kind man,he was always smiling. An animal lover,he used to care for the stray dogs in his neighbourhood and nurse the sick ones back to health. After the untimely death of his wife in 1997,he started a society to encourage young Odissi exponents. Raghunathji,who died just one day after Sanjukta’s death anniversary (both died of cancer),has left a legacy that one can only be grateful for.

The writer is an Odissi dancer

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