Bhubaneswar, Aug 25:
Barely two weeks after celebrating a quiet 82nd birthday , the doyen of Odissi music and composer of Jaidev’s Gita Govinda, Suramani Raghunath Panigrahi lost his battle with throat cancer on Sunday morning.
His body was cremated with state honours at Swarga Dwar in Puri on Sunday evening.
The end came at about 11.30 am this morning. Pandit Panigrahi was rushed to the Capital Hospital after he faced problems in breathing, but was pronounced dead on his arrival. Though the immediate cause of the death was cardiac arrest, he was ailing for the last months after being diagnosed with throat cancer.
Born in Gunupur in the undivided Koraput district on 10 August 1932, Pandit Panigrahi did more than anybody else to popularise Jayadev’s ‘Gita Govinda’, which has been rightly hailed as the fountainhead of Odissi music, not just inside the state but the world at large. As a child, he learnt from his father the classical way of singing ‘Gita Govinda’, which describes the unique relationship between Lord Krishna and the gopis, as preserved in the traditions of the Lord Jagannath Temple in Puri.
While his singing of ‘Gita Govinda’ alone is enough to secure his place as a pioneer in the performing arts, ‘Suramani’ (a title given to him for his deeply mellifluous voice) went far beyond singing the classical 12th century text and excelled in every single genre that he tried – classical, Odissi, light, playback singing … you name it. Such was his versatility that he could carry off verses from the ‘Gita Govinda’, an Odissi song like ‘Na Jaa Radhika’ and an out and out modern love song like ‘Nali Nali Ei, Krushnachuda’ or. ‘Nupoor Bajaai Kie’ with equal ease and felicity. “He was the first – and perhaps the last – singer-composer to use the classical form even in Jananas and modern songs,” says Chitta Mohanty, a die-hard Raghunath Panigrahi fan.
Pandit Raghunath was honoured by the French government for his Gita Govinda composition way back in the 70s but had to wait till 2010 for the Padmashri award, a far lesser and much belated honour for the great master. He accepted it gracefully and with a smile though many of his admirers felt he should have declined it. Unassuming and humble to the core, making a fuss over anything is just not in Panditji’s grain.
The soft-spoken singer, however, was a man of steel when it comes to taking bold decisions in life. One example was his decision to give up a very successful and lucrative career in Chennai as a playback singer for Telugu and Tamil films to team up with his newly married wife Sanjukta Panigrahi who was then dreaming of launching a worldwide campaign to popularise the classical Odissi dance form.
It was a very tough life after that and the great couple had problems tackling bare survival issues for quite a few years. But Pandit Raghunath refused to crack under pressure and continued to pursue the ‘great dream’ together with his better half.
The rest is history.
Pandit Raghunath Panigrahi’s contribution as a singer and composer is enough to guarantee him a place in the pantheon of the great exponents of Odia performing arts. But there was more to him than just his singing. In founding the ‘Sanjukta’s Panigrahi Memorial Trust’, he has done more than anybody else in spotting and encouraging budding Odissi singer and dancers and recognising excellence in the art.
There was a deeply human side to him too. People who lived near his Ashok Nagar house, fondly recall how the maestro would take every ailing or injured stray dog in the area under his care and nurse it back to health with care and attention.