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 academia.edu, 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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Why I Choose to Write about Classical Indian Dance

By Donovan Roebert


Unless for various reasons one is forced to write, one writes what one writes only by choice. Indeed, in such a case, one may choose not to write about anything at all. Writing can be a strenuous task and I have never felt that it was a relaxing or pleasant thing to do. For me, writing has never been fun.


My choice to write about classical Indian dance was therefore not easily made. For the most part it has been a rather gruelling job carried out amid all my other chores and duties, more often than not with a sense of reluctance. Yet it has proved compelling enough to keep me at it regularly, at least until I feel that I have nothing left to say.

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On the Terrible Beauty of Moksha in Odissi

By Donovan Roebert


I wonder if anyone else feels as I do that the last item in the Odissi repertoire, the moksha, cannot at the heart of it be what it seems to think it is. What I mean is this : can it really have anything credibly experiential to do (apart from its surface value as a symbol) with the authentic idea of hopeful cessation understood at the vedic or dharmic level as a ceasing from the strife of being-as-becoming, and a cessation, therefore, of illusion?


From the dancer’s side this problem (if it is a problem) can be solved quite easily if superficially by taking the moksha to represent her tranquil and relieved sense of contented accomplishment at the successful completion of her own rendering of the repertoire. That certainly does make sense, though it obviously still falls far short of the full idea of moksha. Some other, less spiritually-laden term, must better have served her turn here.

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The Multilocality of Classical Indian Dance

By Donovan Roebert


In the last few years I have been caught up in a number of small controversies concerning my right, as a ‘westerner’, to involve myself with classical Indian dance. I am not speaking of my right to comment on the dance (which I take for granted anyway) but the mere entitlement to have any interest in it at all. The implication here is that, insofar as I have shown an interest and taken the trouble to examine that interest for myself and in terms of my own cultural perspective, my interest and my findings merit only outright dismissal. But let me add at once that this doesn’t trouble me at all, though I admit that it has sometimes tried my patience. I mention it here only as one of several reasons that have prompted me to write the present essay.

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Dance, Analysis, and the Willing Suspension of Disbelief

By Donovan Roebert


The Coleridgean formula for the ‘willing suspension of disbelief’, set out in his Biographia Literaria, is as follows :


The transferral from our inward nature of a human interest and a semblance of truth sufficient to procure for these shadows of imagination that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith.


The idea is that a literary work can be so constructed as to convince the reader that the imaginative world it presents to the receiving mind is, at least during the time spent reading it, a credible one. The reader is able to enter and remain in it without the immediate sense that it is, after all, only a work of fiction. A work of prose or poetry properly devised is therefore able to detain the onlooker as it were in its own world and on its own terms. Its frightening aspects arouse a corresponding fear, its joyful episodes a feeling of joy, and so on. We all of us know, for instance, how a harrowing film can hold us in its grip and leave us exhausted in the aftermath, or how a happy movie can lift our spirits – not because it presents us with a story that is true but because it conveys its fictional narrative so grippingly and so persuasively. And this is a matter of technique.

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