Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra (8 January 1926 – 7 April 2004) was an Indian classical dancer, guru, and proponent of Odissi dance who is credited for the revival of the classical dance form.
Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra was born on 8 January 1926 at Raghurajpur, Puri. His father Chintamani Mohapatra was a painter and a mrudanga player, did not encourage his son’s interest in the art of Gotipua dance, and to stop his son from going any more to the Akhadas of Balabhadra Sahu, he virtually abandoned him with Mohan Sunder Dev Goswami, the founder and director of the famous Kunja Behari Rasa Leela party in Puri. There at the age of nine Kelucharan began to soak up experiences which were to leave an indelible stamp on his entire life. During the ten years stay with Guru Mohan Goswami, he learnt not only acting, mime and singing but also the art of make-up, stage setting and choreography. The working day began early morning with training in singing and rhythm and closed with lessons in the communicative art of abhinaya in the evening.
Guru Mohan Goswami played an important role in his life. The Guru was a father and a protector to him. The multi-faceted versatility of Mohan Goswami was seen in Kelucharan Mohapatra too, both having the same extraordinary spell over their own disciples. For about a year after leaving the Rasa Leela party he had to battle hard to earn a living. With no fixed source of income he worked as a daily labourer, watering and carrying sand for the maintenance of betel groves. This struggle for survival eased somewhat when he found a job in Cuttack with the Theatre Company of Kalicharan Pattnaik for Rs.7 a month. His job was to help stage setting, act and play percussion instruments.
Kelucharan was under the able tutelage of Agadhu Moharana in mrudanga and Khetramohan Kar in tabla training during his days with the theatre party of Mohan Goswami and he did not stop there. In Cuttack, he continued to take lessons in tabla playing from Harihara Rao.The real break came when a solo piece in a dance-drama on ‘Devi Bhasmasura’ brought Kelucharan into the limelight. His brilliant performance as Nataraja under the direction of Guru Pankaj Charan Das, established him as a mature soloist. In the role of Mohini was Laxmipriya who later became his wife. From that day till they married, in all performances either they were partners in a duet dance sequence or Laxmipriya would dance to the rhythm provided by Guruji.
All along, he provided brilliant accompaniment both on tabla and mardala for a number of musical broadcasts by All India Radio Station, Cuttack. By now, Kelucharan was well equipped to teach Odissi dance and in 1953 he joined the Kala Vikas Kendra at Cuttack, the first college of music and dance to include a course on Odissi in its curriculum. He taught there for more than fifteen years.During these years, he choreographed a number of dance-dramas in Odissi style, including ‘Panchapuspa,’ ‘Krushna Gatha,’ ‘Geeta Govinda,’ ‘Urbashi,’ ‘Krushna Leela,’ ‘Sakhigopal,’ ‘Konark’ and ‘Sri Kshetra.’ Supported by the Kendra, he did research on various folk and tribal dances of Orissa and enriched his repertory of Odissi dance poses through further study of temple sculptures especially those found on the Brahmeswara, Parasurameswara and Konark temples.
The title of Padma Shree came in 1975.In the eighties after leaving the Kala Vikas Kendra Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra travelled to different cities of India to be able to teach and spread Odissi dance, as far and wide as possible. . He also won the Kalidas Samman award from the Madhya Pradesh Government in 1987 and the title of Padma Bhushan in March 1988; the Padma Vibhushan was conferred on him by the President of India in March 2000 and Shankardev Award of Govt. of Assam by the Prime Minister of India in March 2001.
In spite of the many honours received, the amount of work produced (he has over 200 solo compositions and about 50 dance dramas) and the number of students who hail from all over the world, Kelucharan Mohapatra never lost his simplicity and childlike purity.He let his greatness sit lightly on his shoulders. For him dance was “sadhana” and teaching was “dharma.” He used to say, “Hundreds of my students are dancing today and I feel as if I am dancing in all their beings.
Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra breathed his last at the age of 79 on April 7, 2004.