Sanjukta Panigrahi – a name synonymous with modern day Odissi. A born dancer, a child prodigy, her genius evident at a very tender age. Sanjukta was born on 24th Aug 1944 at Behrampur. She started dancing from the age of four. Her mother encouraged her because she loved dance. Abhiram Mishra, her father initially discouraged her. Yet Sanjukta never gave up. She persisted and blossomed in her dancing career. From the age of six she started performing. At the age of nine, she performed at the annual festival of the Children’s Little Theatre in Calcutta. She stayed at Kalakshetra for six years. She also did her academics – senior Cambridge during that time. She got her Nrityapraveen diploma in Bharatnatyam with Kathakali as the second subject. From 1952, Panigrahi returned to Orissa each summer to study Odissi and share what she had learned of the Abhinaya Darpana and Natya Shastra with Kelubabu and others. This actually introduced the performing artists of the Orissa stage to the movement classifications and viniyogas (usages) of gestures, Sanskrit slokas on dance, angaharas, etc. of the Abhinaya Darpana. Along with Panigrahi returning to Orissa with her disciplined shastric training in dance, Guru Kelubabu introduced and gradually increased shastra into his teaching of the dance form at the elementary level, systematising the training technique and exercises to be understood and hopefully mastered before going on to complete dances, essentially the traditional starting point. Sanjukta’s forte was her Nritta, or pure dance, in which she was outstanding. Her great advantage was her musician husband, whose constant presence helped her finesse her abilities in this genre. In Abhinaya (interpretation of poetry), connoisseurs and critics were agreed on the fact that she more often than not veered towards jatra and melodrama.
Together with her musician husband, Sanjukta has left behind a rich repertoire of Odissi dance, both modern as well as classical, ranging from traditional numbers based on the Jayadeva‘s Gita Govinda to the padabalies of Surdas, Chaupais from the Ramacharitamanasa of Tulasidas and the songs of Vidyapati and Rabindranath Tagore, with piece-de-resistance being, the innovative Yugma-Dwandwa: a sort of Jugalbandi between the dancer and the musician in Raga Bageshwari, composed by Pandit Damodar Hota, of Utkal Sangeet Mahavidyalaya, and a disciple of Pandit Omkar Nath Thakur, and the sublime, Moksha Mangalam which in time had become her personal signature, which she used to end her performances, on an ethereal note.
With her pioneering efforts, she brought forth an almost forgotten Odissi style of dancing to an important position in the dance repertory of India. She died of cancer at the age of 52, on 24 June 1997.