Four iconic 'Purush'
- Priyanka Narayanan

June 26, 2016

Sunday, June 19th was more than Father’s Day in NJ. It was also a celebration of outstanding fathers, in a dance drama production of Bharatanatyam dancer Ramya Ramnarayan and her Nrithyanjali ensemble. ‘Purush’ was performed at the beautiful Crossroads Theatre in New Brunswick, NJ. The presentation depicted characterization of four famous and apparently flawed fathers from Indian history.

The dance drama opened with an explanation and then background information on King Dasaratha. Ramnarayan as Dasaratha led the audience through several important chapters in the King’s life - from teaching Lord Rama and his brothers the ancient art of archery, through his dismay and woe at having to decide whether to break his vow to Queen Kaikeyi. Dasaratha's frustration and anguish were distinctly portrayed as he finally decides to banish Lord Rama (in order to maintain his vow). In particular, this writer was most impressed with this chapter and the raw emotion displayed.

The second chapter unfolded with an explanation of another well-known father, King Dhritarashtra (father of Duryodhana, who would become famous for challenging the Pandavas and forming the very epic battles of Mahabharata). Once again, Ramnarayan enraptured the audience as the blind King who tries repeatedly and unsuccessfully to coax his son away from anger. Time and time again, Duryodhana, under the influence of the manipulative minister / adviser Shakuni, insists on drawing the Pandavas into gambling, ultimately plotting against them. The raw deception and despair the King feels is pronounced and is the heart of the scene. Ramnarayan accurately portrays King Dhritarashtra and how he was torn between the principles of dharma and his love for son Duryodhana, and often ended up endorsing his son's actions merely out of fatherly love, not because he agreed/authorized them.

The third penultimate chapter revolves around the glorious reign of King Raja Raja Cholan and his grand kingdom and his first daughter Kundavai. Kundavai and her attendants danced well demonstrating their Bharatanatyam skills and leaving the viewers with a lasting impression of Ramnarayan’s tutelage. Ramnarayan makes another appearance as King Cholan, who is first appalled, then reluctant, and finally heartbroken to learn that his daughter Kundavai has fallen in love with his enemy’s son. Still, King Cholan, who shrewdly admires Kundavai's tactics to persuade him, remains unconvinced as she tries to present the alliance as a strategic maneuver. He finally breaks down, and admits that his daughter’s happiness is more important than anything else in his life, and he is willing to cede even his freedom to secure his daughter’s future. The deep sorrow and worry King Cholan experiences is prevalent and the audience feels his pain.

King Dasaratha bemoaning his fate

Bharathiyar teaching children

Shakuni smirking as blind King Dhritarashtra gives in to Duryodhana

King Raja Raja Cholan with daughter Kundavai

The final chapter encloses on a famous figure, yet of whom little is known, from a parental point of view - famed poet, independence activist, social reformer, and writer Mahakavi "Subramania" Bharathi (known eponymously as Bharathiyar). Bharathiyar, while able to preach his ideals to the world, is partially ostracized by the society for the very same ideals, particularly the views on women and freedom. The rebuke is enough that Bharathiyar is unable to attend his own daughter Thangamma's wedding. His distress, and the public criticism his daughter faces is witnessed by the audience.
Overall, the four fathers depict a prominent picture of two very revealing facts - one: all of them loved their respective children dearly (even to the point of despair); two - all four men were flawed characters themselves, and their failures bleed into their feelings. As a dance drama production, both Ramnarayan and organizer Sumitra Ramjee exceeded expectations. The audience was continually fascinated by the three hour program which involved a variety of stage props and throne kingdom sets which were moved around periodically. The brimming crowd gave the ensemble a standing ovation at the conclusion of the event. All in all, Ramnarayan and team gave a great visual gift to fathers, famous and even not so famous fathers, sitting in the gallery.

Journalist Priyanka is a Bharatanatyam artist and a graduate of Rutgers University and (UMDNJ) University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey.