BHUBANESWAR : He was 88 and in his passing away the world of Odissi music was orphaned, literally, for he was the last living guardian of the music tradition of Orissa. Kasinath Pujapanda passed away in his home town Puri on Saturday and an era came to an end with him. It was the coveted Sangeet Natak Akademi Award from the National Academy of Performing Arts conferred on Pandit Pujapanda in 2005 that made a turning point in the popularisation of Odissi music at the national level. Critics and connoisseurs started taking note of Odissi as a distinct style of Indian classical music following his solo recital in New Delhi in acknowledgement of the award. Till then Odissi music was known as an accompanying music with Odissi dance and its classical status was being debated.
This achievement was a result of the pioneer’s seven decades of sadhana and service to the traditional Odissi music.
Pujapanda’s saga of struggle and success would inspire anyone aspiring to be different in life. Born in a priest’s family in Puri, he was expected to follow his father’s profession and serve the Jagannath temple. But with an inborn passion for music, he was rather destined to serve the cause of music. Punished by his father for pursuing his passion on a number of occasions, the 14-year-old school student left home and landed alone in the alien land of Kolkata. Here he survived as a hotel boy while waiting for an opportunity to master music. To his luck, he met the well-known music composer Dhiren Mitra with a desire to be his disciple. But Mitra would demand Rs 100 as his fee which made it impossible for the boy to groom under him. Thus the boy would stand outside the guru’s house and hear him teaching the disciples for months together till the guru’s mother, an ardent devotee of Lord Jagannath, discovered Pujapanda’s penance and pleaded with her son to accept him as a disciple. Mitra obliged his mother and Pujapanda became his disciple.
Six years later, in 1941, Pujapanda had his debut as an approved singer for All India Radio, Kolkata in 1941. He used to sing regularly for the half-an-hour daily Oriya slot being aired then from AIR Kolkata that made him dearer to the Oriya listeners in his home state. Back in Orissa, he honed his skill from his first guru - the renowned Simhari Shyam Sundar Kar of Puri and later joined the Utkal Sangeet Samaj as a singer and teacher in 1948 while performing as an approved singer for AIR, Cuttack that was set up during the same year. He was also imparting teaching in various music schools in Bhubaneswar and Puri. His disciples included Indrani Mishra, Bhubaneswar Mishra, Mohini Mohan Patnaik and Keshab Chandra Rout who are big names in Oriya music scene today.
Till the end, Pujapanda was active in training disciples in Puri and Bhubaneswar. Known for his adherence to the tradition, Pujapanda was worried about the new generation’s casual approach towards teaching and performing Odissi music. He firmly believed that Odissi music had its origin in the Jagannath temple of Puri and was disappointed over the lack of unity among the Odissi exponents in developing a uniform approach towards the theory and teaching methodology.