Konark, the famous Sun temple of Odisha has on the other side been for centuries a quiet town of Odisha that begins the day blessed by the surreal sight of the first rays of the Sun shining their way through heavy morning mist hanging over the Chandrabhaga river. An admirer of such surreal and mystical resplendence can then enjoy the end of the day as a vanishing Sun behind the massive stone edifice, instills a rustic bronze hue on the intricate sculptures on the Sun temple’s walls and pillars. Then there are also days and of course nights when the tempting euphony of jingles and chimes from hundreds of anklets and musical instruments keep awake the town.
The days of the year when tens of thousands of art lovers converge in the little town of Konark to witness the awe-inspiring combination of art, heritage and history are hailed by the world as the three day Konark Music and Dance Festival. The father of this event is the late Gangadhar Pradhan who was an exponent of Odissi dance form.
Gangadhar definitely had been a soul that possessed a deeply aesthetical heart, which is well pictured in his choosing the open air Natya Mandap that is a replica of the Natyashala of the Sun Temple, as the stage for this annual celebration of performing arts. The Natya Mandap is a three-tiered structure that is dome-shaped as well, nestled on a sand dune amidst cashew and casuarina trees. The structure that is a semi-circular stage is complimented by aesthetically crafted sculptures bordering it, with every little space available, adorned with geometrically patterned tribal paintings in a beautiful white and red combination. Now, how’s that for a perfect setting to enjoy the essence of classical as well as folk art forms?
As the festival progresses every evening action begins with young boys marching from the temple of Shiva blowing a conch at the entrance of the stage. The latest edition’s opening performance was rendered by the students of Durga Charan Ranbir, a Bhubhaneshwar based Odissi master. Originally, the festival was held through five days but it has been reduced to three days presently. Still no flavour or purpose has been lost; thanks to the committed artistes, admirers as well as the disciples of Gangadhar.
The Konark Dance Festival conducted in the backdrop of the Sun Temple reflects the rich culture of Odisha. Regular attendees include a number of elite art admirers from across the world such as UK based Marina Wright, Papia Ghoshal from Kolkata, veteran Mohiniyattam and Bharathanatyam dancer Thankamani Kutty, her husband guru Govindan Kutty and scribe and artiste Chithra Swaminathan.
The stillness of last edition’s Konark festive nights were pleasingly teased by the fluid movements of the Odissi group of Guru Lingraj Swain, and rapid spins of the Kathak group of Vasuki Natyashala. The Kathak dancers performance is specially noteworthy as they appear like rising and falling waves of Chandrabhaga, leaving a striking imprint on the sands of Konark where culture rests. Then the raga expositions effected by Pt Ajoy Chakraborthy on the audience through the bajan ‘Bajere Muraliya Baje, simply kept the latter off their feet. The bhajan is a favourite of Pt Bhimsen Joshi.
The last edition of the festival also witnessed a lifetime honour being bestowed on veteran Bharathanatyam teacher and dancer Yamini Krishnamurthy. With the massive success of Konark Dance Festival many more temples and monuments are understood to be turning into presentation arena of performance art forms.