World Arts West
SF Ethnic Dance Festival


Niharika Mohanty

: Odissi
: Guru Ratikant Mohapatra
First Appearance in SF EDF: 2008

Odissi is an Indian classical dance form from the eastern state of Orissa. It brings to life the vast number of dance sculptures on Orissan temple walls. Odissi is characterized by its fluid torso movements, grace, sculpturesque poses, and the dancer's intuitive connection to the haunting music. As the vocalist sings, and instrumentalists play, the dancer feels the spiritual and emotional nuance, and echoes it in fluidity of movement. The dancer also links her footwork to the percussion, extending the rhythms with stamping and bells. Odissi has two basic postures. The tribhangi pose uses three bends—at neck, upper torso, and knee—to create triangular forms in the body: it represents the sculpturesque feminine form. The chauka pose is generally square and strong; it represents the masculine Lord Jagannath, odissi's presiding deity, an unfinished idol with no hands.

Niharika, is a leading odissi dancer in North America and prominent disciple of late Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra, who is considered to have contributed the most to the field. She was raised in Canada and started odissi dance training at age five under Guru Murali Dhar Majii, late Guru Pankaj Charan Das, Ananda Radha, and Menaka Thakkar, and now continues to polish her dance technique under Sujata Mohapatra from whom she learned this piece, refining it under Guru Ratikant Mohapatra. She has recently started Guru Shradha, a unique organization in dedicated to sustaining the dance techniques of Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra.



TITLE: Vakratunda Mahaa Kaaya
: Guru Ratikant Mohapatra
Niharika Mohanty
MUSIC COMPOSER: Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia
: Ben Kunin (sarod), Arijit Mahalnabis (vocal)
INTERNATIONAL GUEST MUSICIANS: Guru Ratikant Mohapatra (pakhawaj), Abhiram Nanda (flute)

The dance Vakratunda Mahaa Kaaya was created in 2007 by Guru Ratikant Mohapatra, son of odissi legendary late Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra. This is Niharika’s premiere of this piece as a soloist. Her costume evokes the temple dancers, who wore saris with real flowers—the dress is stitched from Orissa saris, with filigreed silver jewelry and a headpiece, which represents a temple. She dances a prayer for the Hindu Lord Ganesh, the elephant-headed Lord of Wisdom and remover of all obstacles. She dances the devotee's surrender, and portrays Lord Ganesh dancing majestically with His elephant ears and trunk, as Sanskrit words sing His praise.

You, Lord Ganesh, you with the enlarged belly
with the twisted trunk and massive body
with the dazzle and radiance equal to those of a million suns
lead me on the path devoid of obstacles or hindrances
clearing the way in all that I do, ever and always.

The music for Vakratunda Mahaa Kaaya is composed by Indian classical flutist, Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia. For this performance, Niharika is honored to perform with an international group of guest artists. From India, Guru Ratikant Mohapatra, will play pakhawaj—a two-headed Indian drum—and lead the musicians and the dance performance; Abhiram Nanda, a senior disciple of the musical composer, will play flute; Arijit Mahalnabis is the vocalist; and Ben Kunin, senior disciple of great Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, plays sarod.


Niharika uses her odissi dance training and theatrical sense to help flavor the narrative interludes for Weekend Two of the 2006 Festival. Her collaboration on the material with Amanda Geroy and Eddie Madril prove to be a successful and stunning combination of elements.

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