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In Memory of Guru Surendra Nath Jena


"I was a student of Guru Surendranath Jena at Triveni Sangam for a very brief period more than 2 decades back.....I used to admire the uniqueness of his work. He used to tell me that this new style is my "Guru Dakshina" to my Guru. I could feel his passion for his work....."
- Mrinalini Padhi Jul 12, 2006

"...Poignant and demanding art form, which, as you know, he developed through sheer determination..."

-Nirmal Jena & Chitrita Mukerjee Apr 21, 2007


[The following has been borrowed from Dr. Alessandra Lopez y Royo's extremely informative and interesting website. Please visit for more information.]

Guru Surendranath Jena, a "lesser known master", choreographed since the 1950s, but his work was been preserved and passed on solely through embodied memory. ‘Surababu’ moved to Delhi in the 1960s and began to teach at Triveni Kala Sangam. He evolved his own style of Odissi, reconstructing it from his interpretation of the dance sculptures of the Konarak temple, which provided him with a dance vocabulary in stone and which he imaginatively exploited to fashion his new dance. His Odissi was based on the iconography of the nata mandapa (dance hall) of the Konarak temple, with the dance poses from the temple reinterpreted by him as dance movement units, turning the iconographic narratives into dances. He made a true effort to understand the dynamics of the dance/sculpture interface in the context of Indian dance performance and created choreographies on that basis.

He also challenged notions of femininity in Odissi dance and created compositions which explored the raudra (anger) and bhibatsa (disgust) sentiments, usually regarded as un-feminine and thus not suited to the neo-classicism of the dance: for this reason alone, his Odissi is regarded as somewhat 'transgressive'. In addition, he favored the solo performance, for its narrative and dramatic content rather than dance-drama style acting.


How was Guru Surendranath’s Odissi different?
In addition to the more usual tribhangi and chauka exercises, Guru Surendranath Jena devised 24 dance units which were unique to his style. Based on both tribhangi and chauka, they were flowing movements out of which whole dance phrases have been created.

Surababu’s divergence from other odissi styles and schools was significant. The main difference arose from his particular work in converting the sculpture poses into codified movement units and vocabulary.

Typically, the iconic poses of the Orissan temple sculptures in Odissi styles are linked together through the footwork and gestural language devised by the Jayantika group for the dance, whereby the poses become ‘highlights’ of a dance sequence. In Guru Surendranath’s style, the poses themselves are dynamically stretched and energised, deriving a complex movement unit from the manipulation of the initial static pose. He achieves this by reimagining the ‘missing portions’ of the movements frozen in the sculptures of the Konarak nata mandapa. In his odissi, the basic movement vocabulary is provided by 24 dance movement units, all originating from the Konarak temple.
These units can be further divided into sub-units involving movements of the upper part of the body and movements of the lower part of the body. This process of segmentation and re-assemblage can be more easily visualized if one imagines a horizontal axis along the circumference of the waist cutting the body into a top and a bottom half, and intersecting with a vertical axis which coincides with the straight spine and divides the body into a left and a right half. This imaginary partitioning of the body provides a three-dimensional geometric structure and a planar grid for the projection and extension of each sculpture and its movement.

A videoclip of Pratibha Jena Singh's students (Jaya Chattopadhyay, Timsi Bagaria, Aastha Gandhi) below at Triveni Kala Sangam, in New Delhi demonstrates a few of these unique units:

video

Guru Surendranath named his movement units borrowing the nomenclature from the silpa sastra (treatises dealing with sculpture and architecture) rather than the dance/drama treatises. Scholar Dr. Kapila Vatsyayan, who was for many years one of Guru Jena’s students, and among the first to appreciate his iconographic insights and the plasticity of his movements , discussed his work in terms of karana units. Each unit devised by Guru Surendranath was a karana, but not in the sense of being a reconstruction of any one of the 108 karanas listed in the Natyasastra and seen in the reliefs of, for example, the Southern Indian Chidambaram temple. The karanas of Guru Surendranath are conceptual, in keeping with the definition of karana given in the sastras – a movement of the upper body, a movement of the lower body and a stance – but materially new.
The conceptualisation of dance units based on the Konarak sculptures was not the only distinctive feature of Guru Surendranath Jena’s Odissi. Because of the iconicity he visualised for the dance, his basic tribhangi and basic chauka, involved deeper bends styles. The chauka in particular is performed through a slow lowering movement from middle to low level, down to a squatting position and rising again to mid-level. This is done while retaining the equidistant sideways position of the bent legs, in order to form a square – a chauka – and involving simultaneous side shifts of the torso. His tribhangi was again based on a clear shift of the torso from the central vertical axis, in a way other styles of odissi would regard as exaggerated. Another important feature is the raising and lowering of the body while dancing, creating an undulating effect through a continuous change of level.

And an arasa, a small dance section being taught by Pratibha;


video

For more information regaring Guru Surendra Nath Jena's legacy, please obtain a copy of Dr. Alessandra Lopez y Royo's DVD on the Guru Surendra Nath Jena , through SOAS bookshop and/or contact;


Nirmal Jena & Chitrita Mukerjee
Odissi Dance Company
23 Burke Street
Chifley, New South Whales, Australia 2036
Email: odcsydney@yahoo.com.au

The Odissi Dance Company was founded in Sydney in 1992 by Nirmal Jena and Chitrita Mukerjee, recognized experts in the ancient Odissi dance form.

And finally, Surababu's Dashavatar;

video


Rest in peace Guru Surendranath Jena.
You will be missed.

5 comments:

  1. Hi, I am Ujjyaini Mitra, and learning Guru Surendranath jena's style of Odissi from one of her desiple "Jaya Chattyapadhya". When I first called up Jaya Ma'am requesting her to teach me odissi, she explained me Guru's style, which is different than traditional ones, and which makes it controversial too. But it worked opposite to me. The very explanation of the beauty of Guru Jena's style made me more interested to persue this dance form. I am not only learning odissi, I am loving it, enjoying it. It has given me a bigger prospect to revisit those Konark sculptures once again and bring out those postures and the feelings sleeping beneath them into my dance form.

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  2. Dear Ujjyaini,

    Thank you so much for your wonderful comment!! Please email me at odissi_dance_moderator@yahoo.com as I would like very much to send you an invitation to to join our Odissi Discussion Group!

    Best wishes,

    ODM

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  3. I know of Guru ji and his legacy through one of his prized students Melissa Parvati. This is such a wonderful dedication to his work. Peace and love and dance.
    Suchitra

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  4. Parvati Melissa Sproul-Singh12:32 AM

    It is with great pleasure that I offer my sincere gratitude for Guru S.N. Jena, his daughters, son, and other students, as they continue to honor his work in the field of Odissi.

    Guruji, though he barely spoke English, made a way of communicating with a class of about 50 students thrice a week for ten weeks, at Naropa Institute in Boulder CO., USA in 1975 and again in 1976. This was where I met him. He gave me my Indian name, Parvati. I moved to India, as did Durga and Uma, students from those same classes, to study Odissi, and stayed for years to come. As had Arlyn and Frederique in the past, we felt deeply inspired by this incredible art form and Guruji’s unique style. At times we lived in Guruji’s home as a part of his family, learning in the traditional Gurukul fashion. I traveled with Guruji and his family to Orissa, visited the temples of Konarak, Bhubaneswar , and Jagannath Puri, and went with them to their home villages where he and his gracious wife Kumudini-Ma introduced me to their families.

    Were it not for Guruji, his foreign students might never have taken such an interest in Odissi Dance, but he presented it with such an authenticity that we saw its beauty from the start. We remain forever grateful for his dedication to the art, which gave him the impetus to share the style across the borders. It was always my intention to spread his unique dance style further. I hoped that others might have the same privilege that I did by being exposed to the world of Odissi as taught by Guruji. I meant to bring him here again before his passing. Although I was unable to make that dream come true, I am very happy that I got to spend some time with him in Delhi last year and be present for his long awaited receiving of the Sangeet Natak Akademi award presented by the President of India! That was an unforgettable experience.

    This year I am happy to be producing a performance tour for his eldest daughter, Pratibha Jena Singh, on the East Coast and West Coast of the USA from Sept. 10 – Nov. 10, 2008. Currently I teach students in Georgia so that they might have a foundation on which to build, should they decide, as I did, that this dance form is worth traveling halfway around the world to learn. The essence of Odissi Dance is absorbed much more deeply in the Indian classroom.

    Guruji went deeply into the very soul of the Oriya people to extract the essence of their unique culture and express it thoroughly and beautifully through his original dance compositions. His music is deeply moving and highly creative. His approach was completely unique. He had an uncanny ability to translate into gestures and movements the profound relationship between the Divine and the Devotee, the God and the Dancer, the Beloved and the Lover. His interpretations are intoxicating to watch and even more exhilarating to learn. They are poetry in motion, and the more one knows about the meanings and origins of the dance movements, the more amazing his compositions are to behold.

    I feel privileged beyond words, having had the opportunity to study with Guru S.N. Jena. He is among the last of a generation of masters which will never again be matched in richness of experience and purity of the native culture so deeply woven into the fiber of their very beings.

    It is my great good fortune to be one of his senior students. Thank you for letting me share my remembrances.

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  5. Durga Bor12:24 PM

    Guruji's been gone two years now, and I just found this part of the Odissi blog website. I spent five years in that classroom and watching the videos really brought back memories. I am so glad that his dance lives on in his children, and that Pratibha is sharing it internationally. He choreographed a plethora of items I never got to learn, since I had moved to Orissa to study and be closer to the source. His 64 yogini piece is definitely a masterpiece...long live Guruji's legacy!

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