Shakuntha's kuhoooo echoed in Parangathothsava 2009
- Bhramari Shivaprakash 

March 4, 2010 

A  month long trip to India was full of memorable experiences for me.  I got to see my guru Dr. Vasundhara Doraswamy presenting a theatrical script 'Shakuntha Kujana,' Menaka and Shakunthala’s imaginative reunion, during Parangathothsava celebrations of Vasundhara Performing Art Center, Mysore. 

Shakuntha Kujana, the first sweet sound baby Shakunthala heard of a motherly bird Shakuntha on the banks of river Malini. The theme is based on the well known episode of sage Vishwamitra, the exponent of "Gayathri Maha Mantra" and his love affair with Menaka, the celestial courtesan.  The romance results in the birth of a baby girl, who is abandoned by her parents in the midst of thick forests. 

Nearby, flying Shakuntha birds nurse the crying baby by feeding fruit juice. The kind hearted saint Kanva witnesses this unusual scene and calls the baby Shakunthala and  takes the baby to his hermitage. She falls in love with King Dushyantha, who marries her by Gandharva Vivaha system, promises to take her to his palace after some time, but to the ill fate of Shakunthala, he forgets everything.

Theater director Prof. Udyavara Madhava Acharya has penned the original theme in the form of a conversation between the mother and daughter, recollecting the tragedies of each other’s life with an imaginative turn.  Shakunthala questions Menaka the reason for turning her into an orphan and explains the stages of her life where she needed the affection and support of her own mother. Menaka’s justification was to bestow her beloved daughter happiness of life on earth and not the good old position of a courtesan to the heavenly immortal bodies. Prof. Acharya’s creative thinking in the performing field has challenged Dr. Vasundhara during the last 5 years to incorporate her classical dance skills in such elaborative scripts where the main theme needs to be visualized and communicated “solely” through different characters involved, those 5 scripts being Panchali, Soundarya Lahari, Ganga Lahari, Ambe and Shakuntha Kujana. 

Prof Acharya’s experience in staging various (nearly 50) Kannada literary works,  Vasundhara Doraswamy’s mastery over classical Bharatanatyam and P Rama’s expertise in giving effective vocal support to dance performances, ensured a visual treat for the audience. The script had ample opportunities to present the technical and practical aspects of Bharatanatyam and also to explore relevant musical compositions to visually communicate various moods.  

To mention the eye catching highlights - incorporating various Karanas to choreograph the newly composed complex jathis made the audience feel the ambience of heavenly dance. To convey Vishwamithra’s rigorous penance, the dancer incorporated yoga movements. The feminine and masculine rendering and also presentation of a jathi to show the duet between Vishwamithra and Menaka conveyed the mood easily.  

The relevant music composition by vocalist Rama to represent the various moods like Shakuntha  bird’s kuhooo, Vishwamithra’s penance, his dissipated mind looking at Menaka, their life together (Raga Kurinji when both are in a swing), birds nurturing Shakunthala (Raga Vrindavana Saaranga was efficiently utilized), her upbringing, the tender feelings of a young girl etc, were powerful. 

Prof. Acharya's theatrical narration with a clear voice was touching, especially during the tragedy scenes, daughter’s question and mother’s answer. Vasundhara Doraswamy efficiently kept the energy flowing from the beginning till end and brought life to those words. Credits go to Sandesha Bhargava’s nattuvangam,  Shivashankaraswamy's powerfully supportive mridangam, Ashvathanarayana’s melodious violin,  Jayaram Kikkeri’s special effects in flute and Prasanna Kumar’s appropriate beats on the rhythm pad.  But the high volume microphones of the supporting musicians made some audience members uncomfortable.