News & Notes



By Devika Murthy             

As it did millenniums ago, the great epic has countless relevant things to teach even today, which was highlighted by the three heartfelt performances by different groups, headed by young women.

The annual theme-based dance festival, with facets from the Mahabharat, was held under the auspices of the Padmalaya Dance Foundation and the International Dance Alliance, on 5 November 2023 at the ADA Rangamandira Hall on J.C. Road in Bangalore, sponsored by the TVS Motor Group.

On the occasion, the Leela Sekhar Memorial Award was presented to guru Lalitha Srinivasan, a dancer, teacher, choreographer, research scholar, and the flag bearer of the Mysore style of Bharatanatyam. Especially lauded for her anga bhava, Lalitha Srinivasan is the holder of several prestigious awards, including the Karnataka Rajyotsava Award. The Karnataka Sangeetha Nritya Academy has published two of her books as well. For more than thirty years, she has directed Nitya Nritya, a national festival of dance that has brought many gurus and talented dancers to Bangalore.

After the traditional lighting of the lamp, the audience witnessed a wonderful rendering of the tales of Ekalavya, Karna, and Gandhari respectively, with the undercurrent of, every action or inaction by them ended up being a game changer in the entire itihasa.

The event titled Mahaan was indeed so! Poornima Kaushik, also a part of Padmalaya, and Padma Murali’s daughter-in-law, gave the introductory speeches.

Dakshina, from Chennai, is the youngest of the three foundations and was envisioned by Divya Nayar in 2022, to create and stage works that inspire an appreciation of classical dance, poetry and music of the Indian diaspora through innovative and engaging narratives.

That evening’s offering was conceived and choreographed by her, and she was matched by Sayujya Srinivasan, Shrinaagi Venkatesh, Srimalli, Swathi Karthik and Padmesh Raj. And the musicians whose contributions were recorded and mixed at 2bq studios in Chennai were Abhishek Ravishankar (vocal), Kiran Pai (mridangam), Anjani Srinivasa (veena), Prasanna (ghatam) and Divya Nayar (nattuvangam).

Bengali poet Toru Dutt’s (Tarulata Datta 1856-1877) precise and poignant lines of rhymes from Buttoo, aptly added to the whole. The tillana was in raga Purvi composed by T. Vaidyanathan Bhagavathar.

The proceedings started with the inspiring tale of Ekalavya, a self-made individual, who as demanded by his guru, immediately gave up what he loved most, and the craft that was most necessary to him for his livelihood, being the forest dweller that he was, is truly heroic and heartrending.

Ekalavya is the singular – the seeker, the simple soul. Dronacharya in this piece is a collective symbolising power, society and the learned, interestingly represented by a set of dancers.  Some readings revealed that the present-day tribe in the region practices archery without the use of the thumb. Did Ekalavya go on to devise this ingenious method after he relinquished his thumb to Drona? Maybe this story doesn’t have such a sad ending after all. An uplifting sequel, that Ekalavya’s surrender was perhaps his biggest strength and success!

The second piece was Satpurusha, by the Padmalaya Dance Ensemble, based on the ill-fated firstborn of Kunti. Right from his birth to his death, Karna was a man torn between his abandoned self and the loved child, torn between his instincts as a leader and his duties as one who abides.

Janani Murali, the Associate Artistic Director and daughter of Padma Murali, who created the piece led from the front in the role of Karna, clearly expressing his anguish, with the others being Poshini Zunjarwad, Anindita Ashok, Ranjitha Kumar, Niveda Balaji and Anushka Kiran. Everyone played their part extremely well, whether it was the helpless Draupadi, the hapless Karna, or the dancer in the role of the egoistic and arrogant Duryodhana!  Rohit Bhatt’s vocals were resonating, and he was accompanied by Shrihari Rangaswamy on the mridangam, Narasimhamurthy on the flute and Padma Murali on the nattuvangam.

The third performance was presented by the Nirali Collective, born in 2016 and based in Bangalore, headed by Priyanka Chandrashekhar. Nirali means unique and colourful and began with a dream to re-imagine Indian classical dance. The piece titled Kaafi elucidated the personality and the purposeful step taken by Gandhari, who by blindfolding herself failed to see the wrongs due to her attachment to her sons, and refused to see the world both materially and metaphorically.

Nobody told Gandhari – Kaafi! Unsurprisingly neither did she realise she was doing too much nor did she feel she was ever enough. Strangely, she resembles in many ways the lives of women even today. Aspiring to be ideal, she is always doing a lot, yet always falling short. The act introduced by Garima Mishra began resoundingly. Most amazingly the dancers kept their eyes closed throughout and not once did they miss a beat! One can only imagine the consistent practice that must have gone into it. A part of the dance had one linked to another by ropes, and yet through all the intricate movements they never got entangled!

The artists in this group were Adithi Ravi, Ganashree Gowda, Karuna Kirtivasan, Priyanka Chandrasekhar and Talin Subbrayya. The music compositions and direction by Dheeraj Banerjee were notable, as were the vocals by Deepti Baskar, supported by Karuna Kirtivasan and Talin Subbrayya.

The Urdu poetry of Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Akthar were from excerpts of the book Sheerani; Until the Lions, was translated into Hindi by Karthika Nair, and the creatives were by Arvind Sridhar. The lighting and special effects by Keerthi Kumar were spot on, and the excellent photos are by Srivatsa Shanndilya.

As the curtain fell, we were compelled to reflect on the Ekalavya, the Karna and the Gandhari within ourselves... Would we have behaved otherwise, and would the outcome have been different?  

(The author is a freelance creative writer with a Master’s Degree in Literature from the U.K.)