Mahabharata women find centre stage

Through dance and oral storytelling, this play will look at the various characters in the epic, like Bhanumati, Hidimba and Gandhari, using the lens of Ashta Nayika

Published: 30th July 2019 05:48 AM  |   Last Updated: 30th July 2019 05:48 AM   |  A+A-

Aparna Jaishankar (left), Dr Chamundeeswari Kuppuswamy

By Express News Service

BENGALURU: We’ve heard the story of Mahabharata many times and watched it being performed in plays a greater number of times. But this upcoming play, Shades of Love: Nayikas of the Mahabharata, attempts to do something different. Think about the women of Mahabharata and the first name that comes to mind is Draupadi. “She tends to appear more in the story but there are other female characters who also have a story,” says the play’s storyteller Aparna Jaishankar.

Through the combination of dance and oral storytelling, this one-hour long play will look at the various women characters in the epic, such as Bhanumati, Hidimba and Gandhari, to name a few, using the lens of Ashta Nayika. “This is a concept in the Alankara Shastra that looks at the eight kinds of heroines in love. For example, what kind of a nayika would Draupadi be when she meets Subhadra? She could be a Khandita (a woman who is angry with her lover),” explains Jaishankar. Some of the other nayikas could be a woman who is dressing up to meet her lover, a woman who is brave enough to meet her lover without permission and a woman who is separated from her lover.   

Work on the play, however, took a year. The team included Aparna, London-based Bharatanatyam dancer Dr Chamundeeswari Kuppuswamy, researcher Jackie Jaishankar and classical musician Balakrishnan Raghavan. A huge amount of effort went into researching the characters. “We would consider both transliterations and translations of the text. The former was a direct translation from Sanskrit to English while the latter was a more palatable version. We tried to ensure nothing is lost in translation,” shares Aparna. And it wasn’t just the written word they considered. “Keechaka’s character is a big dance piece in Kathakali, so we relied on different art forms too.”

The team also had to see how to create a narrative for the performance. Some musical pieces too were created specifically for the play, after careful exploration of the most suitable ragas and composition that “bring out the emotional journey of the character.”  

The play will be performed for the first time on August 2 at Atta Galatta and at Lahe, Lahe on August 3. But neither will be a repeat of the other, since only two nayikas will be explored per event space, with each having new nayikas and characters.

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