The Karma of Classicism in Indian Dance

By Donovan Roebert


In an earlier essay on the Jayantika movement I tried to make a case, based on the reincarnation of karmic traces, for the genuine classicism of Odissi. I argued there that these traces were present in a number of historical givens to which the movement had access for the purpose of re-embodying the dance, and that the classicism of Odissi resided in the fact that these traces were a composite classical ‘meme’ waiting to be reincarnated in a new avtaar.


I want to take this idea a little further here in the hope of clarifying for myself how the argument which I made with reference only to Odissi, may be applied now to the concept of classicism as it relates to the Indian dances generally.

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The Foundational Ambiguity in Classical Indian Dance

By Donovan Roebert


The language of art bears a burden of ambiguity because, rather than only speaking about life, it speaks life, and life for us human beings is ambiguous in all its ways. We need look no further, if we wish to confirm this radically for ourselves, than at the simple and essential truth that death is present to life at every living, yet dying, moment. It is perhaps from this quintessential and inexorable paradox that our quotidian struggle against ambiguity derives. We want to be sure that we understand and that we are understood. But art, if it is the kind of art that speaks life, never satisfies our craving for the lucid grasp : always we are left slightly in the dark, groping our way towards its meaning.

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What I Don’t Know about Sanjukta Panigrahi, Part Three : 1985 – 1997

By Donovan Roebert

It should be clear by now to readers of this series of essays on Sanjukta that I am not attempting to write a brief account of her life. Even if that had been my intention, the materials readily available online would not have afforded me sufficient substance to write even a mini-biography or an amateurish monograph. And this has been the point I have been making all along : that a biography desperately needs to be written by someone more qualified than I, and with access to the necessary institutional resources.

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What I Don’t Know about Sanjukta Panigrahi, Part Two : 1958 – 1985

By Donovan Roebert


‘The next seven years were a trial of strength for her. Financial troubles, child births, marital discord … everything followed one after the other…’


I suppose many dancers have found themselves in the situation where the mother-in-law wants them to give up dancing and the husband acquiesces through weakness. Then everything may well come to an end one way or the other. As we shall see, this happened to Sanjukta too, but she dealt with the situation out of her free-spirited strength and her untiring commitment to dance.

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What I Don’t Know about Sanjukta Panigrahi, Part One : 1944 -1958

By Donovan Roebert


In his rather forlorn-sounding article about Sanjukta Panigrahi posted at, Kedar Mishra conludes:


Truly speaking, Sanjukta’s legacy has not been properly nurtured by her own people. Organizing festivals or distributing awards in her name is simple tokenism. The preservation of her great legacy and documentation of her life and art is an area of darkness. We are unable to publish a simple monograph on her life. Her letters, photographs, audio-visual materials, dresses; notebooks….No one can see all these. Many academic articles and interviews of and on Sanjukta are lying scattered about. No one is trying to compile all these valuable materials. Odissi Research Center, which has forgotten the word “research”, is in no way working for documentation and publication. We have failed to preserve a great artiste’s legacy. Concluding an essay on the three major Ballet artists, celebrated dance critic James Waring wrote, “The best dancers are translucent. You see through them.” The translucent personality of Sanjukta Panigrahi must be seen and shown to the next generation with a proper plan.

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Jayantika : Archaeology and Imagination in the Reincarnation of Odissi : Part Two

By Donovan Roebert


[Readers are advised to read the first part before continuing here.]


The task facing Jayantika once all their archaeological materials had been brought to the surface, studied, and applied to the dance form they were re-imagining, was to delve diachronically into the meanings these materials had yielded in the course of their history, and to draw from these meanings the three authenticating factors that would clothe Odissi with the respectable air of being grounded in a continuous past.


Their first and most concrete problem was the shaping and vivifying of an aesthetic form that would endow Odissi with a distinct and discernible body-in-motion, a recognizable and harmonious bodily persona. The second was to define for themselves the meaning of the whole notion of classicism, in both a national and an international context. The third challenge involved furnishing this classical idea with its own mythical and philosophical premises. Only by solving these three problems would they be able to establish a corporeal repertoire enlivened by an indwelling soul, and so impart to it the full attributes of a new and living avtaar.

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Jayantika : Archaeology and Imagination in the Reincarnation of Odissi : Part One

By Donovan Roebert


My intention here involves nothing more ambitious than an attempt to clear up for myself the workings of a certain congeries of factors that went into the reincarnation of Odissi. In trying to do so I am aware that I am re-examining matters that are already quite obvious to others. I therefore don’t expect to arrive at conclusions that can pretend to be original.


In recent days I have been reading, and in some cases re-reading, a number of books and articles on the work of the Jayantika movement, whose toils can nowadays quickly become the object of heated debate. About the issues that prompt these fussy quibbles I won’t say anything here. They have nothing to do with, and indeed are rather a distraction from, the kind of summary and conclusion I am hoping to make here on my own behalf.

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