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Bezbaroa�s granddaughter dance guru Ritha Devi

By R K Padmapati

She was the first woman to learn Satriya Nritya in 1965 from Borboyan Nrityacharya Jatin Goswami and the first dancer to take it outside Assam as well as India.

Though other stalwarts are there in Satriya dance, Ritha Devi may be reckoned as the pioneer to take this noble dance outside Assam and abroad. She left a permanent record of it in the form of a television film in Paris, made by ORTF (a French organization). She also learnt Deodhani which was on the verge of extinction in Assam. Ritha Devi probably is among the first to publish an in-depth article on Satriya Dance, Bhaona, Ankiya Nat for the outside world. She discussed those in an article �The Dance Heritage� published in the Illustrated Weekly of India, May 21,1967.

Though she learnt seven forms of Indian classical dances it was Odissi in Mahari (equivalent to Devdasis of Assam) style which attracted her the most. She learnt Oddisi in Mahari style from Guru Pankaj Charan Das of Puri, who was an adopted son of a Mahari. She is now internationally recognised for making Oddisi in Mahari style popular and the first to take it outside India. Her name has now become synonymous with Odissi in the Mahari tradition.

Pandit Ravi Shankar introduced her to the western world in 1958 and this could be taken as a turning point in her life. Thereafter she started touring European countries, Soviet Russia and the USA for several times.

She suffered a jolt in her married life which ended in a divorce in 1970. Being a performing dancer, it was difficult for her to raise her son, and at this difficult junction, she was offered a teacher�s position in New York University in 1972. She accepted the offer and moved to New York city with her son because of the assured income, apart from thinking the offer to be a prestigious one. Once at the New York University, she started teaching Indian classical dances for ten years. Thereafter, she continued to stay there for another 21 years. There she choreographed, in Indian dance techniques, themes from the Bible and from Jewish and Greek mythology. She was awarded three fellowships from the prestigious American Institutes, namely National Endowment for the Arts and Creative Artist Public Service Programme for her contributions. She built a bridge of friendship between the East and the West.

Ritha Devi is a dazzling dance personality of international fame, extraordinary persona and celebrated dance scholar. She is contributing to dance journals like Attendance and Nartanam on a regular basis. Some of her contributions published are The Lone Torch Bearer � Adiguru Pankaj Charan Das, The Gems of Cholamandalam, 60 years of Oddisi etc.

Ritha Devi came to India from United States in 2003 and settled in Pune. Now she teaches dance at her residence and conducts workshops .

May I request the government of Assam to award her suitably by conferring on her the highest award Sankardev Award for her outstanding contribution in making Indian classical dance popular in the western world. Will Asam Sahitya Sabha give a public felicitation to this octogenarian dance guru who has devoted the whole of her life for a sole mission � to enrich the Indian classical dance tradition. She is a contemporary of legends like Indrani Rehman and Yamini Krishnamurthy.


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