Bhubaneswar: Last evening, Rajarani temple in Odisha capital, reverberated with soothing melodies of Carnatic music and mesmerizing tunes of flute and violin.
Rajarani Music Festival, a celebration of Indian music where maestros perform different forms from Hindustani to Carnatic to Odissi, is being organized by Odisha Tourism every year since 2002.
This evening, the temple premises will come to life and your heart will experience spring when four different ragas of Odissi music will be performed by Himansu Sekhar Swain and Matruprasad Das, Odissi vocalists and disciples of Guru Ramhari Das.
Odisha Sun Times caught up with them and they shared their thoughts on the evolution of Odissi music, its current status and the future.
Himansu Sekhar Swain affirms an evolution in Odissi vocal. He said, “If we go back to early years of Odissi music, it was a tradition-oriented system practised in royal courts. In the reign of King Kharavela, that is in 1st century BC, the true evolution of music in Odisha began. According to inscriptions at Udaygiri hills, especially the Hathigumpha, there was vocal and instrumental music. The music performed then, belonged to jati-gana form of classical music in Udra Magadhi Pravritti (style) and was an integral part of every festival and function. Since then, it has been in continuous practice and what we do today, is much evolved and systematized version of initial Udra Magadhi or Odissi music. The biggest achievement of this musical evolution is that we can sing one raga for hours which wasn’t possible before. Our art has definitely strengthened with time. Guru Ramhari Das has played a very important role in it.”
Himansu further explained how it is different from Hindustani vocal and other forms of Indian classical music, “Usually the bandish, summary of the raga, is of two lines in Hindustani, but Odissi classical has eight-lined bandish. The emotions, the language, the raga, they are all equally important and the tempo is neither too fast nor too slow. There is a unique chhanda or say, pattern, of Odissi beats.”
Matruprasad Das said people across the country who have heard this music have themselves accepted this fact.
Keeping Pace With Time
According to the two vocalists, Odissi music is only getting better but what it lacks is a platform. “Most of the time, we get to perform only with Odissi dancers. In a year, around two or three music-related events are organized and not everyone gets to perform every time. Independent performances are few and far between, which make it difficult to sustain ourselves solely on it. We teach music in private schools for that reason, and it allows us ample time to practice and focus on the art form,” said Matruprasad.
Himansu continued giving the topic a different dimension, “Awareness isn’t as much as it should be with this kind of technological advancements. Look out for ragas of other Indian music forms online and the search list is endless but it’s not so with Odissi. Nevertheless, I am working on video projects. I have my recording set up where I will record ragas of Odissi music along with the details, lyrics and introduction. Later, these will available on the internet.”
To promote Odissi vocal, Guru Ramhari Das also runs ‘Ramhari Das Odissi Gurukula Trust’, where he teaches around 200 students for free.
What Lies Ahead
What makes art so endearing it the optimism it instills. “We are both teachers at private schools in Bhubaneswar and we have to teach as per the curriculum. These days, very few students have an inclination towards Odissi vocal. Music is about discipline which seldom can be adhered to by everyone and those who do, will find themselves a place under the sun for sure. The need of the hour, however, is more music festivals focusing on Odissi vocal,” said Himansu.
Matruprasad further said our land is rich in art and culture and that it’s the listeners on whom the future depends. “Audience appreciate Sanskrit or contemporary more. Even in Odissi dances, Odia songs aren’t used too frequently these days,” Matruprasad expressed. Acceptance is what the Odissi music needs, they believe.
“All we see is events related to dance. Our form of music needs the appreciation and acceptance to blossom more. Or else with time, we’ll not find many singers practising it,” Matruprasad added.
The festival started yesterday and will continue till January 20.