Barnarupa Mohanty

Barnarupa Mohanty is an established Mayurbhanj Chhau and Odissi dancer from Mayurbhanj, Baripada. She has graduated in Odissi dance from the ancient art center Chandigarh as a Nritya Visarada and as a Nritya Sreepurna from Odisha Sangeet Natak Academy. Her mother Mrs. Mamata Mohanty is a retired school teacher and father Mr. Sangram Keshari Mohanty is an established Lyricist and poet.

Why did you choose Chhau dance, do you have any interest in other dances?
In my childhood, before learning Chhau Dance, I was learning Odissi dance from Guru Gaurachandra Nayak. I told my father that I will learn Chhau dance when I saw the boys dancing in the female role during the Chaitra festival. Chhau dance is a wonderful combination of classical, traditional, and folk dance. The combination of lashes with heroic gestures makes this dance different from other dances. Even more interesting is its music that gives goosebumps. The use of classical songs with various folk songs of India makes the Chhau music more melodious. As an artist, I couldn't resist myself learning it. Then Mayurbhanj is my birthplace and also of Chhau dance too. As a dancer If I hadn't learned this dance despite my hometown being Mayurbhanj, it would have been a regret for lifetime.

Who is your inspiration for this or who is your role model and why?
I am the daughter of an artist family. Dad is a lyricist and the founder of Harihar Kalamandir, a music education institution. Elder sister Arghyarupa is a singer, other sister Bishwarupa is a established painter. So, my family is my inspiration. Then there is the environment of Baripada which is the city of art and artists, one will automatically get attracted to art.

When did you start Chhau dance, did you get any support from the family, and now is anyone else in the family interested in Chhau dance?
As an Odissi dancer, I was performing in different places. Seeing my dance, Mayurbhanj Chhau Dance Institute coordinator Laxminarayan Das (Turi Sir) suggested and invited me to dance at a Chhau dance to be held at Cuttack Doordarshan Kendra in 1991. It is true that I performed the dance on behalf of Uttar Sahi without learning the master techniques, but the desire to learn the Chhau dance got stronger in my mind. Then, in 1992, for the first time with my father's efforts, official teaching of Chhau dance to girls started at Harihar Kalamandir. The guru was Guru Srikant Sen, the master of the Dakshin Sahi Chhau Dance Temple. In 1993, on the first night of Mayurbhanj's annual Chaitra festival, the rural Chhau dance troupe performed a dance called "Nithura Kalia" featuring only the girls of Harihar Kalamandir. I performed the role of Krishna. Then I joined the Dakshin Sahi Chhau Dance Temple in 1994 and have been associated till date. In 1990, I received a scholarship for Odissi dance from the Odisha Sangeet Natak Academy. Then in 1999 and 2000 I received a scholarship for Chhau dance from the Ministry of Human Research Development, Govt of India. I got the opportunity to research on Chhau dance again in 2019-2020 by receiving a fellowship from the Ministry of Culture govt of India. Speaking about the family support, I consider myself lucky. Blessed to being the daughter of the artist's family, at the same time daughter in law of an artist's family too. Everyone in my in-law's house loves art and encourages me. My husband Ladukeshwar Rana is a Chhau dancer and the source of my inspiration. Now my son is interested in this dance and has a deep interest in Chhau dance since his childhood. He is currently learning the Chhau dance from GuruBhai Mr. Ramakant Sen.

You have been representing Chhau Globally, tell us some memories your first performance nationally and internationally?
For the first time, at the national level, I performed at the 1996 republic day folkdance festival, Delhi. And in 2011, my first international dance performance was at seven different venues in the West Indies. In those places, people loved the dance and music, and we received a lot of love and respect from them. All those memories have taken a special corner in my heart.

Where have you represented Chhau dance outside Odisha?
During my 30-year long dance career, I have performed in many places outside Odisha. Like West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Delhi, Assam, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Punjab and other places too.

You are one of the female Chhau dancer in Odisha, usually men perform this dance wearing women's dance costumes. Have you ever wondered why this happens?
Between the 1950s to 1960s, some female dancers learned and performed Chhau dance. Some names which I remember are Sulachana Mahanta, Sumitra Devi, Renubala Raut. Women were no longer included in the dance troupe, as Chhau was the most difficult male-dominated dance. After a long hiatus, I and a few other girls started to learn this dance.

What kind of dance is Chhau? Is it based on some folklore or story?
Chhau Dance is of three types, Mayurbhanj Chhau, Purulia Chhau and Sadheikala Chhau. In the other two Chhau dances face mask is used, where as in the Mayurbhanj Chhau dance face mask is not used, which makes it more attractive and unique.

The Mayurbhanj Chhau dance is mainly based on traditional tales, mythology, folklore, and historical events.

What is your favorite Odia food, favorite Odia song, favorite Odia movie and why?
Favorite food - not just my favorite food but I think every Odia’s favourite food that is Pakhala and yes, Baripada Mudhi. Favourite Odia song - There is a lot ..”Dhaali dia sara dharani re aaji”, my father's writing “Ae jhuma jhuma Golapi Belare” . Favorite films - Abhilasha, Phulchandan, Chha Maan Aath Guntha and many more. I like movies that have a glimpse of Odia culture and the songs that are melodious.

What is your favorite tourist destination in Odisha? Tell us if you have any memories of that?
Favorite places to visit are Puri and Shimlipal Sanctuary. One is Jagannath Dham, the favorite place of our Odias and the other is a national park full of greenery and natural beauty.

How do you spend your free time?
Get less free time, but whenever get spend them on listening to music, reading poems, books.

Tell us about some of your favorite childhood games, memories?
I was not very good at sports. I used to play Bohuchori, kabaddi with my friends.

What is your favorite Odia book you have read?
Pratibha Ray's “Jangyaseni”, Sangram Keshari Mohanty's lyrical poem “Sapana Bika Gaan” and “Shrungara sataka”.

What do you think about the future of Chhau dance in Odisha?
The future of Chhau dance in Odisha is bright, but one must take care of it in order to preserve an ancient tradition. Government should invest more and more on research on this world-famous dance art and its growth, the revival of the dances of the ancient Kingdoms, the creation of new artists, the opportunity to dance at various festivals, the provision for dance education in schools and colleges. Children today would be encouraged and interested in learning this dance if scope and hope will be available for brighter future. Don't get me wrong. The future is bright, but effort must be given.

Odisha of your dreams 2050?
The Odisha of my dreams will be in a green, beautiful, clean state where Odia language, culture, sculpture, tourism, art, education is well developed and preserved around the world.

Do you have an interest in anything other than dance?
Love singing, writing poetry and drawing with my father and sisters. I spend spare time working in the garden or spending time with family and friends.

Tell us something about your village?
My village is Nakhra, but we have been living in Baripada since my grandfather. I have heard from my grandmother and my father about my village.

Your message for the next generation and youth of Odisha?
No matter what, whatever be the art, it cannot be bounded by any country or religion or race. I will tell the next generation that, it is good to learn or adopt Western art, but they should not forget and must take an effort to preserve their own country’s art and culture that is old, strong and very beautiful. They must feel proud of being an Odia and its culture and spread the same across corners of the world. If we do not respect our own language and culture, why should we expect others?

One last question. What would you like to change or revert if you are given an opportunity to go back to the past?
If given an opportunity to go back to the past, I must spend time building a better future. I will fulfill some unfulfilled dreams and desires and will rectify any small or big mistakes that I had committed in past. Really, could that happen? Every moment is precious, not recoverable. Everyone must understand this.

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