Petite and beautiful Laxmipriya Devi created history in Odisha as the first woman gotipua dancer to perform the Dasavatar on the stage of Annapurna theaters – B group for the first time in Cuttack. The date was the first of October in 1947 and her co- dancer was none other than the world famous Odissi Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra who later became her life partner . During those days Kelucharan was a tabla assistant in the theater group. Out of the ten incarnations Laxmipriya loved enacting the Vamana avatar.
Guru Ratikant Mohapatra, the son of Laxmipriya and Kelucharan, informs that, “the Dasavatar dance was partly choreographed by Guru Pankaj Charan Das, with the music created by Guru Madhu Pallei which was later modified by Guru Bhubaneswari Mishra , while the tabla beats were by Durlab Charan Singh.”
Laxmipriya Devi or Guruma, as she is lovingly called, belonged to an orthodox Brahmin family from a village in the Khurda district of Odisha. Born on the auspicious day of Sri Gundicha jatra in 1930 to Krushna Chandra and Tulasi Devi ,Laxmipriya joined Annapurna theater –B group in 1947, which was owned by Lingaraj Nanda.
“I loved to act and dance which was almost taboo during the pre-Independence days. I lived with my mother who during those conservative days allowed me to perform but also kept a hawk’s eye on me!” smiles Laxmipriya.
Once while watching a performance by a group of gotipua dancers from Banapur, Lingaraj Nanda asked Laxmipriya if she would like to learn the Gotipua dance, to which she agreed. Kelucharan who was the tabla assistant and also knew the gotipua dance became the co-dancer and they both performed the Dasavatar in a scene for the play Sadhaba Jhia. During those days Odissi was known as Odia naacha and it got its official name (Odissi) in 1960.
Laxmipriya who was an acclaimed actor herself fell in love with Kelucharan and later they got married with the blessings of her mother Tulasi Devi. “I loved him because he was very talented and compassionate. When I was not married my friends and I used to give him money to get us samosas and katki vada from the vendor outside,” giggles Laxmipriya with a far-off expression in her aging eyes.
She has acted in many plays like Kalapahada, Bandhu Mohanty, Kansa Kabata, Devi etc. “ Bhasmasura was one my favourite plays which was choreographed by Guru Pankaj Charan Das who himself played the role of Bhasmasura, my husband Kelu Charan was Shiva, I played Mohini and Mayadhar Raut was Vishnu-Narayan,” she adds.
Laxmipriya was a pillar of strength to her talented husband in promoting, propagating and putting the classical Odissi dance in the world map. Mother of a daughter and a son she was also the inspiration for many young Odia girls. The illustrious Sanjukta Panigrahi, Minati Mishra , Kumkum Mohanty etc. drew strength from her to learn Odissi at a time when dancing was treated as a bad thing for girls.
Her favorite abhinaya was naahi ke karidela kahinki go mitani and jaa nare mo rana parana mita written by Shyam Sundar Kar with the music created by Balakrishna Das. Laxmipriya also acted in lead roles in landmark Odia films like ,Surjyamukhi, Manika jodi and Amada Baata.
At a ripe age old of 87 Laxmipriya leads a full life surrounded by her beloved Odissi dance . Sitting in her chair she is the much adored Guruma who still shows mudras to students who come from far and wide to learn this classical dance at Odissi Nrityabasa , in Bhubaneswar.