Sanjukta Panigrahi at Kalakshetra: a Key Episode in Odissi History

By Donovan Roebert

When, at the start of 1953, Sanjukta Mishra, now in her ninth year, was accepted as a student at Kalakshetra, she was already laden with the theory and practice of dance, music and theatre. Having begun her dancing career at the age of four, she was already five years into the continuum of experience in the world of dance that would progress ceaselessly until her early death in 1997.

Not only had she had tuition from and been influenced in technique – the developing and evolving theoretic building blocks of early proto-Odissi – by such figures as Pankaj Charan Das, Debaprasad Das, Mayadhar Raut and Kelucharan Mohapatra, but she arrived at Kalakshetra also as a child-celebrity, having won a number of dance competitions in Odisha, and having staged, to popular acclaim, a performance at the famous New Empire Theatre in Calcutta and another at the Children’s Little Theatre in the same city.

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Sanjukta Panigrahi’s First Eight Years: a Tentative Reconstruction

By Donovan Roebert

1. Introductory

To prospective readers of this article I have to confess in advance that I consider myself among those persons least qualified to have written it. I’m neither from Odisha, nor a dance scholar, nor a dancer. My knowledge of Odissi technicalities is incomplete and I am not even an adequately educated rasika. This admission being made, one couldn’t be blamed for thinking it impertinent in me to have tackled the subject at all.

My reason for doing so, then, would have to be a good one indeed – and I think it is. As my interest in the history of Odissi has deepened, and as I have read more and more about the fascinating process of the reincarnation of the dance, I have noticed how little of any real substance has been written on Sanjukta Panigrahi’s contribution to this project; very little, at any rate, that is readily available to the general reader. This essay marks the beginning of a personal attempt to collect, collate and analyse the available information for my own sake in the first place. My hope is that it will be of benefit also to others interested in the life, work and meaning of this dancer of genius.

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What I Don’t Know about Sanjukta Panigrahi, Full Text

By Donovan Roebert


Part One : 1944-1958


At the end of his 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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Classical Indian Dance and Social Justice Activism

By Donovan Roebert


Increasingly one notices, these days, how classical Indian dance is becoming involved in the toils of various forms of social justice activism. The issues being addressed are themselves becoming more numerous, but those that most frequently present themselves relate, in the main, to three perceived threads of injustice and oppression : the abuse of women’s dignity and rights, the ‘patriarchy’ and its associated structures of power and influence, and the historical and ongoing injustices perpetrated against the community of hereditary dancers, the Isaivellalars.

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In Search of the Basis of ‘Spirituality’ in Classical Indian Dance

(The photo shows Pakistani Bharata Natyam exponents, Indu and Tehreema Mitha)

By Donovan Roebert


In approaching this topic on my own terms and by my own lights, I must nevertheless acknowledge from the outset the important and compelling work of certain dance scholars, work that has over a period of many months set me thinking about the problem of the basis of ‘spirituality’ in classical Indian dance. I acknowledge these scholars, though, without mentioning them by name because, as a non-scholar myself, I don’t want to be seen to be misinterpreting their theses or to be presuming to draw their premises into my own possibly misdirected search. Also, and perhaps more importantly, I don’t wish, by the adducing of scholarly sources, to create the false impression that I am myself a scholar. As with all my other essays on dance, this one is again in the first place an attempt to clarify an aspect of dance for myself.

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An Introduction to my Essays on Classical Indian Dance

By Donovan Roebert

After three decades of enthusiastic engagement with the dances of India the thought began occurring to me that I should set down the most personally important lessons that I had received from them. I began feeling that I should do this, not in the first place for the sake of my readers, but as a means for orientating myself in the context of dance, of what I had seen, experienced, read and learned about the value of classical Indian dance for my own intellectual and spiritual growth. From the outset, then, the idea was always to create a personal record rather than anything presumptuously didactic. I really did not consider that I had anything original to say by way of ‘teaching’ or informing others. I wanted only to solve certain puzzles for myself and to place these solutions at the disposal of those who might very well, for all I know, have solved them in different and better ways.

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On the Freedom of Odissi to be Itself

By Donovan Roebert


While it was still in the making, the reconstruction – or what I have preferred to call the ‘reincarnation’ – of Odissi was subjected to the kind of simultaneous myth-making that characterized other classical Indian dances being revived in that period. I am speaking of course of the period, roughly 1930 – 1960, when these dances were being refashioned not only for their own sakes but for larger cultural, national and international purposes. In these decades the rebuilding of these dance forms was accompanied by much trumpeting of their great antiquity and direct derivation from ancient texts, temple sculptures and so on. It became the norm that these myths be invoked in order to affirm their classical status and the preeminence of such a classicism among the dance forms of the world.

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