CHENNAI: Considered to be a shaper of the epic and the woman who led to the karmayudh between cousins Pandavas and Kauravas, Draupadi’s story is as fascinating as it is challenging. Combining narratives about the story of the princess of Panchala in Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s The Palace of Illusions and Pratibha Ray’s Yagnaseni, renowned Bharathanatyam and kuchipudi dancer Uma Murali, presented Yagnaseni, the story of a woman who married five men. The dance musical, which premiered last year in the city and later staged in the US, was recently staged again.
Talking about her production, which she created working closely with the versatile Madurai R Muralidharan, Uma says, “Yagnaseni is a name that not many are familiar with. It is another name for Draupadi as she was born out of the sacrificial fire. As a woman who has to deal with many roles, I have always been wondering how Draupadi coped with five husbands.
The dance musical raises many questions like what is the definition of a pati vrata? In one part, lord Krishna tells Draupadi that in her previous birth, she had asked Shiva for a husband with so many qualities. He had told her it would not be possible to grant all qualities in one husband. She was granted the wish in her next birth, in a different yuga, which had different moralistic values.” delved deep into her miseries, as she grappled with the struggle of being a wife to five men and having a conjugal relationship with all of them. “Veda Vyasa tells her that he will grant her a boon, which will transform her into a virgin, after she spends a year with each of them. Draupadi tells him it seems to have been designed in favour of her husbands and that she would have preferred the boon to forget the time she spent with one husband, when she is with another,” adds Uma.
With a penchant for women of substance for her performances, Uma Murali, who has been working closely with Muralidharan for six years now, has been performing the lead roles in many of his productions in the last many years. She played the part of Madhavi in Muralidharan’s Silapathikaram, senior Sivagami in Sivagamiyin Sabadham and was the lead Kuchipudi dancer in Sense Beyond. A performer of the dying form of worship Simhanandini, which is part of the Kuchipudi repertoire, Uma is one of those rare artistes, who has balanced both art forms.
Trained by KN Dhandayuthapani Pillai from the age of four in bharathanatyam, she moved to Adyar K Lakshman after the demise of Pillai. Later, she also learnt Kuchipudi from dance legend Vempati Chinna Satyam at the Kuchipudi Art Academy.
Uma, who also trains students in her dance school Subhasheelam Academy in Thiruvanmyur, says that she wishes there is a universal dance style, going by her experience. “It is not a similar struggle for singer when they start learning under another guru. If for some reason, dancers have to discontinue under one guru and start training under another, there has to be a universal style, so that they do not have to unlearn their earlier lessons,” she says.