Remembering Guru Sri Kashinath Pujapanda

By Saswat Pattanayak

Guru Sri Kashinath Pujapanda, the doyen of Odissi Music, the relentless composer and vocalist, the personification of classicism, is no more.


Orissa has lost her most promising musical revivalist, and the world of classical music is now bereft of the genius it must now look upto, in order to survive.

In his demise, Guruji has left his legacy even more relevant than ever.

Even while the state of Orissa mourns his passage, Guruji was acutely aware of his last days. He was so conscious of the remaining days of his life, he never squandered it away. He loathed recognitions, despised award ceremonies and cut short the sycophancies affecting publicly rewarded musical icons of our age. Guru Sri Pujapanda always remained occupied with what he understood was his responsibility, till the very end of his life – all throughout his life – propagation of Odissi music to grant it the rightful classical status.

“If music is widely perceived as sprung from the Vedas, then everyone has a fundamental right to claim it and take it to classical heights. Odissi music is classical music. I have been singing classical throughout my life and I shall continue to do so. If the proponents of Hindustani and Karnataki music do not agree, I am least bothered,” Guruji once told me in an interview with him for a documentary we were filming (video excerpts of the same follow in this article).

Just as in his music, composition and singing, the clarity in Guruji’s stand on the political economy of music was phenomenal. His role, he always understood, was larger than rendering. He had the added task to legitimize the genre of Odissi Music as classical, and in his tireless efforts, he faced numerous difficulties from the effete administrators and corrupt politicians.

“If our own cultural representatives who hold public offices do not understand the essence of our music, it shall be enormously difficult to legitimize it amongst the other classical musical traditions of India,” Guruji used to make public pleas to address Orissa’s collective cultural heritage.

To understand Guruji was also to understand his standpoint on Odissi from socio-historical perspectives. Merely praising him in public, or as he used to condemn the act of sugarcoating him with “blankets and certificates” do not help in the way of furthering the cause of Odissi music. In fact, one needed to radically oppose the syndrome of complacency that permeates through the land of our state with the awareness of Odissi Dance having been granted classical status.

“It is a misfortune that we overlook the fundamentals of music. There cannot be any dance without music. How could we rejoice the classical status of Odissi Dance while not lamenting the ignored state of Odissi Music? Is this how the cultural pundits make sense of the history and evolution of music?” Critical questions such as this have been posed by Guruji. The onus of reflecting back on crash commercialization of Odissi Dance tradition that has with misuse of corporate funding long ignored the contribution of Odissi Music, falls squarely upon all of us.

Born on March 15, 1921, Kashinath had a non-musical upbringing in Puri to grapple with, a job as dishwasher within Calcuttan workforce as a teenager, and a struggling All India Radio artistic career in Cuttack upon his return to Orissa. The struggles only made him more resolute, more convinced and more optimistic. Furthering his musical training from Guru Singhari Shyamasundar Kar, Kashinath had started recording Odissi songs as early as in 1945. He decided winning individual laurels was not the way to go. He started teaching and continued to teach without a break since 1952. Every week, he would teach in Bhubaneswar for three days, at Puri for three days and at Cuttack for the remaining day. Utkal School of Arts in Cuttack and Orissa Sangeet Parishad in Puri were among his institutions.

Among the innumerable luminaries who presently carry on inspired by Guruji are Mrs Urmila Pattanayak, Mahini Mohan Patnaik, Sushil Kumar Patnaik, Purna Chandra Chaini and Pyari Mohan Routray. My dear friend Shiv Narayan Patnaik (Shiv) who is a Hindi Pop Music artist is among the younger generation of singers directly tutored under Guruji.

In my personal interaction with Guruji I never imagined he was an artist widely felicitated by prestigious awards such as Sangeet Natak Akademy Award, Konark Award or was christened as Guru of Odissi Music for his most valuable contribution to the art form. The usual pomp and show, the glamor and press relations associated with contemporary Gurus, were entirely absent in his humble and most accessible presence. Music, for Guru Sri Kashinath Pujapanda, was a divine gift, perfection of which was sufficient for a lifetime to aspire for. He candidly confessed, “The only awards I cherish are the responses from the audience, be they one hundred or be they five in number, that say, ‘Aahaa, Kashinath bhala gaauchi, bahut bhala laguchhi’ (‘Kashinath is singing so well and it feels so good.’)”

Guruji shall be always missed by all of us who have been bestowed with his songs. For the unborns, they too shall be blessed.

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