Dancers with unlimited abilities
Text & pics: Lalitha Venkat, Chennai

January 25, 2012

For the first time in Chennai, Guru Syed Sallaudin Pasha’s Ability Unlimited Foundation from Delhi   ( presented two dynamic programs by young artistes with disabilities – BHARATANATYAM ON WHEELS on Jan 23 and SUFI DANCE ON WHEELS on Jan 24 – at the Chinmaya Heritage Centre. Their positive energy and pride in their dance was touching and inspiring. The shows have been conceived and choreographed by Pasha who has been involved in working with differently abled people for the past 30 years.

Bharatanatyam on Wheels

Three wheelchairs were suspended on top of the stage and one lay at the rear of the stage, all shrouded in a reddish or bluish glow. From the very first scene, the monumental efforts put in by the dance teacher / choreographer and the young artistes on wheelchairs were evident. A Kathak and Bharatanatyam dancer, Pasha recalled how about 30 years back, a dance teacher had refused to teach him Navasandhi nrityam since he was a Muslim, motivating him to do his own research and what evolved was the Dasadikpalaka Stuti that 2 male performers presented with vibrant professionalism. The next group item was titled ‘Yoga Jathi’ in ragamalika that “incorporated the structure of a varnam with yoga.” To see the performers do yogic stances interspersed with Bharatanatyam was mind boggling. Wheelchair even turned into a chariot. Wheels assumed life in keeping the beat without fail and direction just like a dancer would do with his/her legs and body. Even able bodied people cannot do half these movements. The Bharatanatyam segment ended with a thillana in Hindolam, unique because the male performers were joined by female performers who were hearing impaired but performed in wheelchairs, both groups supporting each other. Poses were apt, turnings were precise and synchronization good. In the highly innovative choreography, wheels became the extension of the limbs and the audience did not miss the legs in any way.

The adavus, jathis and teermanams were executed with timing and appropriate speed as any Bharatanatyam performer. The precision and speed of jaru adavu (sliding), rangakramana (covering the stage) and bhramari (spins) were amazing, the body spin replaced here with the smooth wheelchair spin. The evening ended with a delightful preview of Sufi on Wheelchairs. Pasha’s challenge was to replace the legs with the wheel and yet make it move with life and his amazing group of young dancers brought life to that vision.
Sufi dance on Wheels

The program on Jan 24 started with a brief intro about Sufism by Pasha followed by the performance to music by a Turkish composer and another piece by AR Rahman. ‘Sufi on Wheels’ is about the story of the encounter between Mevlana Rumi and the wandering mystic Shamsuddin Tabrizi in Konya, Turkey, around the 13th century. Pasha said it was not a performance but meditation and the rituals (followed by the sufis) before starting their spins to connect with divinity and oneself did have an overall meditative mood. The artistes have mastered the ability of spinning their wheelchairs at all speeds. The original production is a full fledged dance drama and features 30 performers. Due to popular demand, the group presented ‘Yoga Jathi’ in Bharatanatyam and those who had missed the performance the earlier evening, gazed in wonder at the angashuddam of the performers and yogic stances like sirasasana and mayurasana. The evening concluded with an excerpt from BHAGAVAD GITA ON WHEELS and was a joy to behold. The chariot of Krishna, the horses, battle of Kurukshetra, Viswaroopam so beautifully choreographed and performed had the audience requesting Pasha (Bhagavad Gita is close to his heart) to bring in the complete production next time to Chennai.

The talented dancers were Gulshan Kumar, Ashiq Usman, Manish Kumar, Vijay Kumar and Dharmender, Alka Sah, Karuna Sarkar, Jyoti Dhingra and Priya Kumari. The boys have all been training under Pasha for 12 years while the girls have been under his guidance for 5 years.  One never ceased to be amazed at the quick costume changes and professional removal of props as and when needed by the performers themselves who also do their own makeup. Adept in Bharatanatyam, Kathak and yoga, they are indeed dancers with unlimited abilities. Gulshan Kumar is featured in the Guinness Book of World Records for making 63 spins in a minute!
Bhagavad Gita on Wheels

Before watching these shows, one could not even imagine that dance could be performed in such a beautiful manner on wheelchairs. Spectators, who are not aware that the male performers have challenged limbs, would think that the items are performed by regular dancers using wheelchairs as props, so fluid were they.  During his many years of research, experiment and innovations, Pasha has himself tried movements in a wheelchair, having to bind his legs to the chair to avoid getting up automatically to do his adavus! He was thus able to evolve movements suitable to be performed on wheelchairs (that have a pair of small wheels and a pair of big wheels), effectively enabling substitution of the leg moments in dance through wheel movements.

To transform, translate, innovate and present themes suitable for his special ‘children’ is a mammoth undertaking. Like Pasha said in his heartfelt speech, “Shall I call it karma, or dharma? It is a tapasya for me. The wheelchair has life, it can move. It has so much energy. They use the wheelchair like an extension of the body. My wonderful differently abled boys and girls are so able and capable. They are working so hard to have their place in the able bodied society.”  Pasha has choreographed many dance dramas for them, some of them featuring 100 to 300 participants. Some of his acclaimed works include Ramayana on wheels, Bhagavad Gita on wheels, Durga on wheels, Yoga on wheels, Freedom on wheels, Martial Arts on wheels, to name a few. His aim is to nurture the minds and bodies of the differently abled to fully integrate them into society.

“Cultural therapy plays a big role in rehabilitation of the physically and psychologically challenged. With his dedicated work, Pasha is indeed the father of Indian therapeutic theatre. Cast away words like ‘disability’ and focus on the ability,” said S Vaidyanathan, himself a wheelchair bound individual owing to an accident. There are about 70 million differently abled in India and Guru Syed Sallaudin Pasha’s immense contribution to empowering them in the field of culture has been recognized world over. Here’s wishing him continued joy in his mission. 

PS: No one should be surprised that Chennai dancers were conspicuous by their absence on both evenings! 

More pics

Lalitha Venkat is the content editor of


What an amazing performance by Pasha's Ability Unlimited dancers on wheelchairs! All those who missed it - you missed a wonderful experience. Dancers on wheelchairs, dancers who cannot hear or speak - they danced so beautifully together, radiating so much joy! To Sufi music, a tillana and excerpt from the Bhagavad Gita. Mind blowing choreography by Guru Pasha - tremendous thought has gone into it. Hope major sabhas in Chennai invite them soon to perform, and sponsors will come forward to host them too.
- Janaki Srinivasan
(Jan 26, 2012)

Pasha is doing some phenomenal work. His dancers can put many with all limbs intact, to shame. He has really worked a lot and shown how the power of art can overcome every obstacle. His patience, passion and faith in the art form are highly encouraging and deeply moving. Pasha needs as much support and publicity as any form of media can provide..... Three cheers to him and his noble and innovative work!
- Veejay Sai
(Jan 28, 2012)