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Three women, three dimensions
- G. Ulaganathan
Photos: Ravi Shankar   

November 27, 2017

Sanjali Centre for Odissi, Bengaluru last week presented an interesting evening of dance titled ‘Sucharitaa’ which showcased three exemplary, but lesser known women from Indian mythology. It was also a confluence of three dance forms - Mohiniattam, Odissi and Kuchipudi - featuring senior dancers Gopika Varma, Sharmila Mukerjee and Vyjayanthi Kashi respectively. At the show on 16th November at Seva Sadan, Odissi dancer Sharmila Mukerjee’s Kaikeyi, Kuchipudi exponent Vyjayanthi Kashi’s Sharmishte and Mohiniattam dancer Gopika Varma’s Kunti brought alive refreshing perspectives of these characters.

Gopika Varma presented a translation of Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore’s Karna Kunti Samvad by G. Shankara Kurup. The performance highlighted Kunti’s dilemma during her meeting with her illegitimate son Karna. This highly absorbing dramatic meeting between the mother and son was brilliantly portrayed by Gopika with extreme grace and fluidity of movement. With very expressive gestures, Gopika brought out the complexity in the relationship between Kunti and Karna. The highly emotional, surcharged atmosphere during meeting came out with telling effect.

Gopika Varma

Sharmila Mukerjee

Kaikeyi was an abhinaya based piece along with some pure Odissi movements. The dancer tried to reinterpret the traditional portrayal of the character as a heartless manipulator and a wicked queen. In this, Kaikeyi is presented as a loving wife, a doting mother, a dutiful queen and a brave warrior. The dancer gives some background information as to why she forced Dasarath to give her the two boons which sent Rama to the forest.  She is gentle yet brave, sensitive yet strong willed and stubborn, but slightly confused woman bent on getting her own way. With slow, measured movements and brilliant abhinaya, Sharmila Mukerjee was successfully able to present before us Kaikeyi in a new light.

Vyjayanthi Kashi
In direct contrast was Vyjayanthi Kashi’s Sharmishte which, she said, was conceived by her under the guidance of Guru Korada Narasimha Rao. Her versatile choreography brought out the complexity and intrigue in Sharmishte’s character. It tells the story of the futility of a moment’s anger and its tragic consequences. Devyani, daughter of sage Shukracharya, is the companion and bosom friend of Sharmishte, princess of Vishvaparva dynasty.  On one fateful day, as they dressed after a swim, Sharmishte accidentally wears Devayani’s blouse.  Annoyed, Devyani insults Sharmishte, her father and her clan. Furious, Sharmishte drags Devayani by her hair and pushes her into a well.  King Yayathi of Chandravamsha dynasty out on a hunting expedition rescues Devyani and accepts her as his wife. Devayani, out of vengeance, complains to her father Sukracharya and demands that Sharmishta be her  dasi for the rest of her life. Sharmishte fearing wrath of saga Sukracharya and in order to save her clan sacrifices her youth and position to serve Devayani. A queen becomes a maid for life. The lonely Sharmishte, unable to bear the humiliation, attempts to take her own life. By a strange quirk of destiny, King Yayathi comes to her rescue. They are drawn close to each other which bonds them into a secret wedlock giving birth to three sons Druhyu, Anudruhyu and Puru.                                       

As years roll by, the secret is revealed to Devayani. Furious, she blames Sharmishte and leaves the palace to go back to her father Sukracharya, who on hearing his daughter’s plight curses King Yayati to attain old age forthwith. Yayathi pleads with sage Sukracharya for forgiveness and reversal of the curse. This being impossible, the only solution if any was for one of Yayati’s sons to take upon himself his father’s old age. The selfish Yayathi resorts to pleading with his sons. When none came forward, it was Puru, son of Sharmishte, who agrees and becomes an old man much before his time. Sharmishte is shattered and shocked at Yayati’s behaviour. Abandoning worldly pleasures, she goes into oblivion. Vyjayanthi’s evocative expressions and fast movements covering the entire stage, coupled with striking postures donning the many roles was a treat to watch.

Brilliant tribute to Kanakadasa

Preethi Prashanth Menon
Preethi Prashanth Menon is a young Bharatanatyam dancer who is also an academician. She has had rigorous training in Bharatanatyam for the last 15 years and is also an accomplished Mohiniattam dancer. Since her arangetram in 2003 she has been training under guru Kalamandalam Krishnakumari and also under the tutelage of Raghunandan for the past five years.

Based in Bengaluru, she has managed to divide her time between family and dance classes and is also studying in the Reva University department of performing arts for getting a diploma in Kuchipudi. She tried corporate jobs but with passion for dance consuming her, she decided to be a full time dancer. In one of her rare public recitals this month, she gave a glimpse of her fluency over Bharatanatyam. She performed under the auspices of Abhivyakti Dance Centre.

Beginning with the keertanam, Narthana Ganapathy, Preethi’s piece de resistance was a shabdam, Shankara Parameshwara. This shabdam included two brief sancharis depicting Girija Kalyanam and the Samudramathanam wherein Lord Shiva drinks the venom Kaalakuta to save the earth and how he manages to hold his neck to prevent the venom from entering his body. Preethi was able to attractively convey the story giving attention to subtle nuances in slow motions. The Swarajathi “Kamakshi Amba” in raag Bhairavi composed by Shyama Shastri followed and was in praise of the beautiful divine goddess Kanchi Kamakshi. She is described as a beautiful lotus-eyed goddess who grants all the wishes of her devotees. Choreographed by B K Vasantalakshmi, Preethi was able to convey the bhakthi and devotion through lovely hand gestures and various bhavas.

Since the performance was on the day of Kanaka Jayanthi, a state government holiday, the dancer chose a popular devarnama composed by Kanakadasa depicting how beautifully Lord Krishna played his divine flute captivating all the residents of Gokula, and mesmerised everyone. She concluded with a rare thillana in the raga Faraaz which was attractive. Preethi rightly adjusted her speed and concentrated more on the abhinaya aspect. It will do her a lot of good if she maintains her figure and does not add to the weight. While Raghunandan did the nattuvangam and conducted the show, Bharati Venugopal rendered the songs. Vivek Krishna’s melodious flute added to the beauty of the concert.                             

G. Ulaganathan is a senior writer and journalist based in Bangalore.