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Celebrating Balarama, the royal elephant
- G Ulaganathan

December 5, 2018

Dasara and Mysuru go hand in hand. When one talks about Dasara, for those familiar with the festivities in Karnataka, especially Mysuru, the scenes that flash before the eyes are the grand palace, the Jumbo savari and the impressive procession of elephants. The leading elephant is treated with utmost respect as it carried on its back the giant throne with the goddess Chamundeswari, the presiding deity of the people of Mysuru and the royal family. The "Gaja Gourava" (royal honour) has always gone to the senior most elephant and for many years now it has been Balarama.

A thematic story celebrating the life of Balarama, the royal elephant, was presented in an impressive Kuchipudi dance drama by Guru Veena Murthy Vijay at Mysuru on the final day of the Dasara festivities in the palace premises in front of thousands of people. This was a much appreciated presentation and Veena Murthy Vijay and her team of dancers presented this grand spectacle in Bengaluru this week for those who missed it, at the Chowdaiah Memorial Hall on November 22.

"This dance drama is in honour of Balarama who has served the goddess for many years," says Veena. "He is one among us, yet revered, already a celebrity, majestic, carrying an aura that has come with time. The dance production is based on the children's story book written by D.K. Bhaskar and brings together a positive emotional tone to uplift the spirits and connect nature to kids everywhere in the world." The concept for Balarama's life through dance was given by Dr. Yellappa Reddy, the famous environmentalist. This dance drama glorifies the relationship between human beings and elephants and also stresses on the need to resolve the conflict of human and animals.

The dance begins with the journey of elephant Balarama from the wild forest, where he was freely roaming around. He becomes the target of greedy men who capture him in a Khedda operation and is later trained to become the Royal Elephant. The brilliant choreography, backed by soothing at the same time powerful musical score by the celebrated film musician Karthik Sharma, had all the dramatic elements and props to bring forest before our eyes and stir one's emotion at the sad plight of the castled majestic elephant. The sets by Sri Urs, sound and light by Surya N Rao, and masks by Ganesh Hublikar gave it a filmy touch.

Balarama was played by Manognya Balaraju, the mahut Sannappa was played by Sujay Shanbhag, and Chamundeshwari by Vaishnavi Ravikumar. Others in the cast, Raksha Ganesh as Mohini the elephant's 'girlfriend', and Pallavi in the role of Indira, the wife of Balarama, and finally Abhilash Udupa who played the role of Drona, all gave it a professional touch. This production was presented by Dr. C.N. Ashwathnarayan Foundation. Due to popular demand, the show was presented thrice the same day at 10am, 2pm and 6.30pm. More than 25 dancers participated and Guru Veena Murthy Vijay also danced showing glimpses of her mastery over the Kuchipudi genre.

The message of 'Love our environment, love and treat animals with dignity' and the need to co-exist peacefully was powerfully driven home in this grand production.

Ulaganathan Ganesan is a senior dance critic based in Bengaluru.