The Rediff Special/Sanjukta Panigrahi
'All through the performance Laloo Yadav and his friends were disturbing me, laughing, talking, eating, doing hulla gulla'
In an interview to Savvy magazine last year, the dancer spoke about her life, her craft and the controversies that suddenly swirled around her in 1995.
I have always been concentrating on my dance and little else.
Recently a pandit came to my house, and after looking at my palm,
said, "Don't give any statement till 1996, because anything
you say will be misinterpreted and create a controversy."
I laughed when I heard that, but yes, it does seem that of late
I have been in the news for all the wrong reasons.
papers splashed I had become a devadasi. Some went on to add that this was a desperate attempt to seek
cheap publicity. Then it was reported I had broken down on
stage and left Patna in a huff because of Laloo Prasad Yadav.
Both reports were highly exaggerated and sensationalised.
As you know, the papers reported that five girls in Orissa wanted
to be devadasis at the Lord Jagannath temple in Puri. At this
point of time, Rajaram Satpathy of the Times of India and some
people from Zee TV asked me whether I would like to dance in the
temple. My reply was, "I would feel fortunate if I could
dance before Lord Jagannath because whatever I am today is because
of his blessings. This dance form is given
by Him. As it is keep His statue on the dais whenever I dance.
It would be the opportunity of a lifetime if I could really dance
I also told them that in fact, fifteen years ago,
I had asked the collector for permission to dance in the temple
but I was denied the privilege by the pandas (priests). The
collector wrote back saying the priests had said that the
temple committee's opinion was that they couldn't allow me as I was
Anyway, the press people asked me very specific questions.
They asked me, "Would you like to dance at the temple every
day?" And I had clarified that because of my profession and
my family it would not be possible for me to dance every day but
if they gave me a block of seven or eight days I would gladly
perform or I could perform during the ritual festivals as we do
outside the Sankat Mochan temple in Varanasi every year, during
Hanuman Jayanti or the Guruvayoor temple in Kerala.
The journalists even asked me whether I was considering joining as a devadasi
and I clarified, "I cannot become a devadasi because of the
present situation in my life. I cannot follow the rules and regulations
of conduct that are laid down for devadasis. I can perform
and offer my art form at the feet of the Lord only for the sake
of culture. If you want to call me a devadasi while I perform
in such a manner I don't mind because devadasi is not a bad
word. It is a very sacred word."
There are instances in our
history where devadasis occupied a very prominent place in society.
There are instances when even daughters from royal families have
offered themselves as devadasis, like Chandrika Rage, the daughter
of Ananghabhimadeva in the thirteenth century. I told them that
in India, in Karnataka maybe and some other places, stigma is
attached to devadasis and they are looked down upon because of
some misdoing or corruption in the temple. We've never had such
instances in Orissa.
I think we should also understand how this
corruption arose. It was because of lack of social support, consciousness
and financial problems that devadasis got dragged into such sort
of corruption and controversies. They became concubines of
the kings and began to please them. It was then that a social stigma
was attached to them and the word devadasi became debased! There
is nothing wrong in the name. There was something wrong in the
people who could not maintain the sacred and spiritual aspect
of this word and the people who could not regulate this practice.
I also told them that in the present day I'm in doubt whether
anybody will be able to retain this practice strictly as it was
and maintain it. And also if it is to be introduced again the
whole temple administration should be changed. The whole temple
atmosphere should be changed.
And what do you know! The next day -- 'Sanjukta Panigrahi to
become devadasi' was duly reported in major newspapers throughout
the country. All my stipulations had of course been left out.
People were shocked. Friends rang up to ask me, "Has there
been a quarrel? Is there a problem in your life? Why do
you want to leave everything and go away?"
The report in The Asian Age was particularly offensive. They wrote a
nasty editorial saying I was seeking cheap publicity
and carried a story without even interviewing me. I rang up M J
Akbar and asked him how somebody could write such things without
speaking to me and he said, "I didn't notice it, maybe some
sub-editor wrote it or something." I told him that I was surprised
that such a thing appeared in his paper because I thought he was
responsible as he has been in the field for such a long time. Then
he asked me to write a letter in protest and they would publish
it. And I must say, he kept his word.
Then the Laloo Prasad Yadav controversy! I have never been involved
in such a controversy before. I started in a very routine fashion.
I was invited to the Rajgir Dance Festival by the department of
tourism, government of Bihar. The programme got off to a late
start because of the lengthy speeches at the beginning, and they
now wanted to speed things up.
As soon as my musicians came
on to the stage, Laloo Yadav pointed
at them and said, "Do minute mein suru karo."
(Tune your instruments in two minutes.) My musicians were very
upset, they found it very insulting that somebody from the audience
should order them like this, and that too the chief minister!
But as we were to discover, worse was to follow. All through the
performance Yadav and his friends were disturbing me, someone
coming someone going, laughing, cracking jokes, talking, perhaps
about politics, eating, doing hulla gulla. They were not
concentrating on the dance at all. After the third item when I
came on to the stage to give a brief commentary on the fourth
item, Yadav asked me, very crudely, "Ab aap aur nachiyega
ki aap aur kisi ko karne dijiyega? Baad mein naach karo."
(Are you doing to dance some more or will you give somebody else
a chance? Dance later.)
I was, of course, very humiliated being
spoken to like this. I don't even know how to describe this feeling
because no one had ever spoken to me like this before, especially
in front of a large audience and the press, but since I am too
much of a professional to leave a performance without doing my
moksha,. my last number, I said, "Aur paanch
minute lagenge," (It will take another five minutes).
Yes, I was irritated and I did ask the organisers when I got back
to the wings as to what was going on. I told them, I am supposed
to perform for one hour so why should anybody disturb me -- that
too a chief minister of a state that had invited me! Yes, I did
come back while all the other artistes stayed on, but I was scheduled
to leave early anyway. The issue just began to grow and grow.
The next day various papers reported the incident in various ways
-- that I had broken down on stage, that I had walked off in a
huff. Prannoy Roy spoke to me and I spoke to the Ananda Bazar
group but then when the Mahila Congress spoke to me saying they
wanted to stage a demonstration, I decide that I didn't want to
get dragged into a political controversy, so I thought I should
stop it. As it is both these controversies had resulted in endless
phone calls and distraction and I didn't want t be diverted from
my work any longer.
By then Laloo Yadav had given a statement
in the Indian Express expressing his regret. He also apologised
to the Orissa chief minister. Biju Patnaik also rang me up and
told me that Laloo Yadav wanted to be excused, so I let the matter
drop and put an end to it.
Did I expect Laloo Prasad to apologise?
No, and I didn't want him to. I didn't want him to apologise to
me because I don't think he's the kind of person who realises
his mistake. If he was that kind of a person, even if he didn't
like something he wouldn't have behaved so carelessly in front
of the audience.
If a man openly goes and claps after my exit
for the nautanki type of dance it means his understanding
level is lacking. And he even openly said in a paper, "I
can relate only to Bihar culture!" My only question is, 'Why
do you invite people from other states if you cannot appreciate
Now, I have started teaching dance.
I find that you can analyse
dance much better as a teacher. You can see the mistakes much
more clearly when someone else is dancing. A dancer's life is
very short. So now, I do not know for how long I can be mentally
and physically strong enough to dance. I don't want to live long.
I will be very happy if some day I die on stage.
I don't know how people will remember me. All my life, I have
known only dance but still I wish that people remember me as a
good human being, a sincere person. I know that many people misunderstand
me. They think that I am not sociable because I do not attend
weddings or go to parties or clubs. But I don't enjoy going to
these places to discuss saris and jewellery. Yes, there are some
social obligations that I have to carry out because of my professional
commitments, but otherwise, I try to take care of the needs not
only of my immediate family, but also the larger family of musicians
and technicians who help me in a performance.
At the end of the day, I do not really have many regrets because
there is a positive side to all the negative things I have undergone.
Yes, I lost out on my childhood, but I was given a great reward
in the success I had in my vision of putting Odissi dance on the
national and international map. I have been honoured the way few
individuals in my field of dance have been and for that I am deeply
grateful. Again, despite the fact that I had to shoulder my responsibility
single-handedly, even though I am a married women, has been irksome
at times, perhaps if I had married another man, a well-to-do officer
or someone like that, I may not have been able to dance at all.
My husband Raghunath, on the other hand, sacrificed his own career for my
dance and I must acknowledge that I could not have achieved what
I did without his help and support in this field. In retrospect,
I feel everything I went through had a purpose. They helped me
to become a strong person. I now feel I can handle anything in
life. And, I think God was very kind that he allowed me to experience
everything, good and bad.
I now have a dream to start a school like Kalakshetra. I want
to share every experience that a dancer goes though to evolve
and I also want to teach students to be good human beings -- not
only good artistes.
If I had to live life again I'd till want to
dance. I'd want to fulfill my desires and do all that I have not
yet achieved. As of now I'm proud that I have got where I have
without any help or influence. I have reached where I have without
any help or influence. I have reached where I have on my own merit.
With my own work and that's something I want every woman to do.
Find your priorities, your passions and work towards attaining
them -- like I did. That is where gratification lies.
Kind courtesy: Savvy magazine
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