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Bezbaroa�s granddaughter dance guru Ritha Devi � I

By R K Padmapati

While searching for information on the heritage building of Sahityarathi Lakshminath Bezbaroa at Sambalpur, I came across the reminiscences of Ritha Devi recorded in the form of an article by her in a book published on the occasion of the birth centenary of Lakshminath Bezbaroa. Bezbaroa, shifted to this building on Saturday, April 19,1924. The heritage building still stands by the side of the river Mahanadi at Kachari Chowk (renamed now as Nelson Mandela Chowk). In the article, she recalled her childhood days of taking part in small plays, staged in the drawing room of this building along with her brother � Swaroop and playing with her grandfather � Lakshminath Bezbaroa. Her brother Swaroop Mukherjee is no more, he died in 1993, Ritha Devi told me. But she is still young at heart at the age of 85, physically capable of doing her regular dance practice two to three hours a day. She was born on Saturday, December 6, 1924 at Baroda. Bezboroa�s diary reads: �Aruna gave birth to a female child this morning at Baroda, got a wire just now at 2.30 pm.�

Among the grandchildren of Lakshminath Bezbaroa, Ritha Devi shot into fame internationally. She was born and spent her early days at Baroda state. After she graduated in English and Sanskrit from Bombay University (Baroda University was affiliated to Bombay University at that time), she came to Shillong.

As a fellow Assamese, I was naturally curious to know more about her, tried to gather some information from various sources like Anubhaba Doshi, a disciple of Ritha Devi of Pune, who gave me a number which unfortunately was invalid. My search went on and continued for some more time. But it was Rati Kanta Mohapatra, a dance guru of repute of Bhubaneswar who took all the trouble to give me the contact number though he was busy in the class. I was successful to establish contact with her on May 10, 2010.

It is to be mentioned here that this heritage building was gifted to Ritha Devi�s mother Aruna on November 25, 1936. In Bezbaroa�s diary there is an entry: �I have today gifted my Sambalpur house to Aruna by registered deed.�

At the very first attempt, I was able to establish contact with Ritha Devi. I was delighted when she immediately responded in positive to my query that she is the granddaughter of Lakshminath Bezbaroa of Assam.

It was a very cordial and cooperative conversation. She offered me all the help. She has indeed inherited a high order of refinement from both the families of RN Tagore and Lakshminath Bezbaroa and of course of her father Satyabrata Mukherjee, �Sonar Jamai� of Bezbaroa. At once I passed on the information to Prafulla Bezbaroa of Sibasagar, one of her relatives and I promised her to send some photographs of that heritage building of Sambalpur, that still stands, but in a most dilapidated condition.

As a youngster, she did not show any inclination towards dancing when Lakshminath Bezbaroa was living, instead Ritha Devi showed proficiency in writing poems which were published in Assamese children�s magazines at Bezboroa�s encouragement. Bezbaroa called her �Kavi Rani� (Queen of Poems) in his letters to her mother Aruna. She was hardly 12-years-old then.

Her interest in dancing grew at a later stage. While staying at Shillong, she learnt Manipuri dance from Guru Howbom Athomba Singh. She learnt many forms of Indian classical dances � Bharat Natyam from Pandanallur ChokkalingamPillai, Mohiniyattam from Guru Kalamandalam Lakshmi, Kathakali from Asan Karunakarn Panikar, Kuchipudi from Vempati Chinna Satyam. She also learmt Satriya. But, in her own words �seeing the great Uday Shankar dance, I fell in love with dance instantly and the day I watched the goddess like Rukmini Devi, I decided to be a dancer.�

In those days of childhood, she was �puppy fat� in her own words, flesh oozing out in every direction. For this reason, probably Bezbaroa had nicknamed her �pumpkin� in his letter to brother Swaroop. It was a sharp turn of circumstances and later on she shed all the fat in intense dedication of dance which she considers as most beautiful of all arts.

(To be concluded)

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Bezbaroa�s granddaughter dance guru Ritha Devi � I

While searching for information on the heritage building of Sahityarathi Lakshminath Bezbaroa at Sambalpur, I came across the reminiscences of Ritha Devi recorded in the form of an article by her in a book published on the occasion of the birth centenary of Lakshminath Bezbaroa. Bezbaroa, shifted to this building on Saturday, April 19,1924. The heritage building still stands by the side of the river Mahanadi at Kachari Chowk (renamed now as Nelson Mandela Chowk). In the article, she recalled her childhood days of taking part in small plays, staged in the drawing room of this building along with her brother � Swaroop and playing with her grandfather � Lakshminath Bezbaroa. Her brother Swaroop Mukherjee is no more, he died in 1993, Ritha Devi told me. But she is still young at heart at the age of 85, physically capable of doing her regular dance practice two to three hours a day. She was born on Saturday, December 6, 1924 at Baroda. Bezboroa�s diary reads: �Aruna gave birth to a female child this morning at Baroda, got a wire just now at 2.30 pm.�

Among the grandchildren of Lakshminath Bezbaroa, Ritha Devi shot into fame internationally. She was born and spent her early days at Baroda state. After she graduated in English and Sanskrit from Bombay University (Baroda University was affiliated to Bombay University at that time), she came to Shillong.

As a fellow Assamese, I was naturally curious to know more about her, tried to gather some information from various sources like Anubhaba Doshi, a disciple of Ritha Devi of Pune, who gave me a number which unfortunately was invalid. My search went on and continued for some more time. But it was Rati Kanta Mohapatra, a dance guru of repute of Bhubaneswar who took all the trouble to give me the contact number though he was busy in the class. I was successful to establish contact with her on May 10, 2010.

It is to be mentioned here that this heritage building was gifted to Ritha Devi�s mother Aruna on November 25, 1936. In Bezbaroa�s diary there is an entry: �I have today gifted my Sambalpur house to Aruna by registered deed.�

At the very first attempt, I was able to establish contact with Ritha Devi. I was delighted when she immediately responded in positive to my query that she is the granddaughter of Lakshminath Bezbaroa of Assam.

It was a very cordial and cooperative conversation. She offered me all the help. She has indeed inherited a high order of refinement from both the families of RN Tagore and Lakshminath Bezbaroa and of course of her father Satyabrata Mukherjee, �Sonar Jamai� of Bezbaroa. At once I passed on the information to Prafulla Bezbaroa of Sibasagar, one of her relatives and I promised her to send some photographs of that heritage building of Sambalpur, that still stands, but in a most dilapidated condition.

As a youngster, she did not show any inclination towards dancing when Lakshminath Bezbaroa was living, instead Ritha Devi showed proficiency in writing poems which were published in Assamese children�s magazines at Bezboroa�s encouragement. Bezbaroa called her �Kavi Rani� (Queen of Poems) in his letters to her mother Aruna. She was hardly 12-years-old then.

Her interest in dancing grew at a later stage. While staying at Shillong, she learnt Manipuri dance from Guru Howbom Athomba Singh. She learnt many forms of Indian classical dances � Bharat Natyam from Pandanallur ChokkalingamPillai, Mohiniyattam from Guru Kalamandalam Lakshmi, Kathakali from Asan Karunakarn Panikar, Kuchipudi from Vempati Chinna Satyam. She also learmt Satriya. But, in her own words �seeing the great Uday Shankar dance, I fell in love with dance instantly and the day I watched the goddess like Rukmini Devi, I decided to be a dancer.�

In those days of childhood, she was �puppy fat� in her own words, flesh oozing out in every direction. For this reason, probably Bezbaroa had nicknamed her �pumpkin� in his letter to brother Swaroop. It was a sharp turn of circumstances and later on she shed all the fat in intense dedication of dance which she considers as most beautiful of all arts.

(To be concluded)