Odissi exponent Meera Das’ journey of two decades was celebrated at the Gunjan Music and Dance Festival in a three-day eventful happening in Saheed Bhawan, Cuttack recently. Present to celebrate the festival with her were the who’s who of Odisha. Apart from ministers and high-ranking government officials, there were music and dance gurus.  
The students of Gunjan Dance Academy provided an auspicious start to the great event by genuflecting to Lord Jagannath through Mangalacharan. 
Then Rajasree Praharaj, a Srjan product, trained meticulously by Guru Ratikant Mohapatra, performed a solo piece. Endowed with attractive petite looks, Praharaj regaled and charmed the audience by getting into the role of a devotee who is full of reverence for Lord Rama. She emoted, in the language of Odissi, the features of Rama — his lotus like eyes, face, hands, feet and one who is comparable only to the rising sun. The bhajan chosen was Sant Tulsidas’ Ramachandra Krupalu Bhajamana. 
The quality of her rendition brought Rama’s image to life — the adoration of Rama, the forgiver of sins, was aptly executed. Through the language of poetry the bhakta evoked his blessings and prayed for the purity of her devotion. The two episodes of Sita Swayamvar, and the Rama-Ravana conflict in the sanchari, gave the dancer ample scope to show her power of emoting the other rasas. In the final analysis it is a good choreographer who can bring out the best in his disciple.
Disciples of Gunjan Dance Academy, who were in the various stages of learning, were also given the platform to perform along with very senior artists. A good move no doubt, but it made the evenings rather long and connoisseurs and aficionados left before the performance could end, which was a loss. Batu is a pure dance number dedicated to Batukeswar Shiva. It was performed by well-trained students. The statuesque poses on the temple walls of Odisha were brought alive. 
Shivani Parija, a talented student of Das, danced an abhinaya piece on champu music. She displayed the grace that Odissi is well known for and emoted a conversation between Radha and one of her sakhis quite expressively. Radha Krishna milono ananodo was depicted by her disciples and choreographed by Das. The group of dancers performed a vasanta ras where the sthayee bhava was sringara or love feelings. The gopis showed the joy of being in the presence of their most beloved Krishna. Das’ choreographic piece Nagendra Haraya trilochanaya, a description of Shiva, was praiseworthy.
Clad in red-bordered sarees, Surya Stuti was performed by young enthusiasts. The tiny tots had the chance of a life-time when they performed Bande Utkalo janani, a patriotic song in praise of their land Odisha.
But what ignited rasasvada in the imagination of rasikas was the Surya Stuti choreographed by Guru Bichitrananda Swain in Odissi. Five of his well-trained disciples possessed with lissom figures enthralled the audience. Spread out movements with enviable chaukas and perfect tribhanagas and bhangis marked the presentation and effected aesthetic bliss. Be it the music, lighting, sound effects or costumes, everything to the last detail was perfectly delivered. Yogic postures coupled with Odissi form postures and movements produced magic — the muscled masculinity was vibrant and a visual delight. The rendition was like fluid poetry on stage and movements were captured for eternity.
Guest artists from Hyderabad, Sneha Sasikumar and Adraeeyyani, performed Satulara — an Annamacharya Keertanam choreographed by Natyavisharada  Guru Anupama Mohan — and a Thillana choreographed by Anuradha Jonalgadda, in Kuchipudi form on the second day of the festival. In the Keertanam they displayed Yashoda’s pride in her divine child Krishna. Ashok Kumar Ghoshal and his troupe of eight dancers also performed their choreographic work but one felt, it left a lot of room for improvement. 
In the field of music, a rhythmic presentation by Balaji and group from Chennai along with Guru Sachidananda Das was quite innovative. Cajon, a percussion instrument generally played in Afro-Peruvian music, was played by Charu, a disciple of Balaji. Rhythm of the mridangam, ghatam and kanjira joined with the rhythm of the Cajon and mardala of Odisha to create ethereal joy. 
Soon after the opening song on the third and final day of the festival, Raghunath Mohapatra, a recipient of the Padma Vibhusan from the Government of India, was felicitated with the Nibedita Patnaik Samman.    
The piece-de-resistance of the festival was the grand finale titled Nari. Nari showed the power of women from mythological and historical times. Three powerful dancers enacted the role of three powerful women. Sangeet Natak Akademi awardee Aruna Mohanty the senior most of them all, is well known for her expressive delineation of any character and in Nari, she was the miffed heroine of the Ramayana, who is required to prove her chastity by a fire test. 
Sujata Mohapatra whose name is synonymous with Odissi beautifully enacted the story of Sabari, an old woman ascetic of no consequence, whose devotion for Rama brought the lord to her for a darshan. The act of tasting the berries, prior to offering the sweetest to the one she cared for more than anyone else, was able to bring out the simplicity of the woman. 
Das was in the role of Meera Bai, the devotee who was madly in love with Krishna, and even poison could not destroy her. Das was an epitome of grace and beauty.
On the second day of the festival, a seminar was held to discuss the beauty of taala be it in any kind of percussion instrument. Sangeeta Gossain, chief executive of the Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra Odissi Research Centre, was the chief guest. It was an illuminating experience.