Anisha Shekhar MukherjiAtman: Odissi Nritya Puran is both a poetic history and a dance manual. The basis for the book is the Odiya text in verse composed by Guru Surendra Nath Jena. Encapsulated in this poetry is his knowledge of the Odissi dance form. As narrated by Guruji, the history of the dance form is inextricably linked with the history of Odisha and India.
This is no pedantic or dry history, but one that is vivid and alive. In its content, as well as in its narration, it closely weaves personal experiences, myth, spiritualism, architecture, art, and music with dance. The development and techniques of Odissi are thus not confined to an enumeration of simply the dance steps or norms, but are presented as firmly rooted in the life and customs of the Odiya people. In its departure from conventional ways of writing history today—which generally follow the modernist worldview and fragment knowledge into separate, artificial compartments inhabited by separate disciplines—the book mirrors Guru Jena’s own life, which defied conventional categories of so-called folk versus classical, or rural versus urban. By explaining the context and the activities pervading the precincts in and around temples and their deities, it also adds another dimension to the understanding of historical architecture, which is generally taught merely as a development of styles.
The text is a complex conception in its constant interplay between history, theory and practice. The original text which is a continuous poem has been structured into smaller segments with sub-headings and brief explanatory lines in the contents page, for easier assimilation. The English translation runs parallel with the Odiya text.