SAMBALPUR: Sanchar is the only art form of western Odisha, which involves both dance and music. And, while the tradition is struggling for its existence, 63-year-old Shantilata Biswal has dedicated her life to the art form. Despite her commitment to the art, she has been denied pension meant for artistes. Sanchar was used by the Bhakti cult saint Chaitanya Mahprabhu to promote Vaishnavism. The main performance of Sanchar involves Bahak or the one who plays Mridanga (drum), while those who sing the paeans are called Gahak.
A native of Pandripali village under Tabdabahal panchayat under Rengali block, Shantilata hails from a Brahmin family where dancing and singing is not encouraged. A spinster, Shantilata has performed both at national and State-level folk festivals. She has received several accolades for playing the Mridanga.
She took to dancing at a tender age of 12. Initially, she began playing Mridanga and performing Sanchar in the nearby villages. Gradually, she earned fame and since then she has been regular at folk festivals. Even as she lives all alone and finds it difficult to make both ends meet, she never let her passion for Sanchar fade away. The citation of ‘Sanchar Guru’ from Shantiniketan adorn the walls in her home.
Though Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has declared a hike in artiste pension from Rs 1,000 to Rs 1,200, Shantilata is not included in the list of beneficiaries. She had approached the authorities for providing the same. However, her pleas failed to move the District Collector or District Cultural Officer. It is the responsibility of the District Cultural Council and Culture Department to search and identify such folk artistes and enrol them under Kalakaar Sahayta Yojana. Shantilata and many like her have failed to make it under the Yojana.
While DCO Arpita Behera could not be reached, it is learnt that the State Government has not yet notified the name of the beneficiaries and instead sought fresh application from folk artistes. Till the State Government seeks fresh application, the fate of Shantilata will hang in the balance.