Ayswaria projects twin messages of Shakuntalam
- SD Desai, Ahmedabad
e-mail: sureshmrudula@yahoo.co.in

November 8, 2012

It speaks well of the continuity of our cultural heritage that the way it is done with Shakespeare (1564-1616 AD) it is not necessary to ‘reinterpret’ Kalidas (4th-5th c AD). Ayswaria Wariar, with the grace and lyricism characteristic of Mohiniattam and of her as a performer, brings to the fore in her solo dance drama Shakuntala the twin messages of our life being integrally part of the rich natural environment and the potential power of a woman as an individual.

A modern empowered woman herself, combining dedication to a lifelong pursuit of art and capability of giving it an intellectual dimension, Ayswaria has adapted the structure of the play Abhigyana Shakuntalam to her dance form. She begins with the end, as it were, where Shakuntala is rejected by King Dushyant. The deer-like fluttering teenage girl, carrying a child, out of the tapovan environment, dwarfed against the palatial grandeur and power, feels insecure and vulnerable - for the first time in life.

How secure and at home she used to feel in the lap of nature earlier! She had ties of kindred with plants, trees, flowers, deer and honey bees. In her first appearance in the play, watering the plants, she says, “Asthi me sodharasneha etheshu” – “Born of the same womb, I love them.” She won’t drink water before watering the plants and trees. In the parting scene in Act IV, when Shakuntala is leaving the tapovan, the doe throws out the mouthful and the peacock ceases dancing.

Eeshadeeshachchumbithaani bramaraihi (1.4)

Lathaamupethyavalokya cha (1)

Vipralabdhaasmi (5)

The contrasting magic of this natural environment, unpolluted by urban unconcern and indecorously superior male attitude, omnipresent across time, comes across to her consciousness with anguish and pain and Ayswaria’s abhinaya blossoms in portraying the telling contrasts. The subtly expressed underlying dramatic contrast, thoughtfully projected here in Dushyant’s court, is one of the highlights of her dance drama.  Significantly, she expresses Shakuntala’s fondness for the tapovan freedom with the use of larger space on stage with abandon and disapproval of the unsavoury experience at the royal court with constricted movement and an emoting face.

Under the gracefully pretty exterior and demeanour, a woman like Shakuntala, of substance in the modern parlance, very young though she is and has been in an alien land, is the fearless and fierce Mother Goddess, an incarnation of Shakti. Reacting to the emperor’s smug blabber on perceived ‘female low cunning,’ Ayswaria’s - as much of Kalidas’s - Shakuntala flies into rage individually and as a representative of women of all time, and tellingly pronounces her assessment of him as ‘anaarya’. With the strength of character that she possesses and the power of such a woman, she says, “You have the measure of other people after your own heart.” The performer essays approximation to the words rich in suggestion.

Select verse lines, competently rendered by Shiv Prasad in his flowing singing voice, help viewers not fully familiar with Mohiniattam’s visual vocabulary follow the dramatic situations beautifully developed by Kalidas in his play. By way of imaginative innovation, could there have been moments of silence built into the unrelenting flow of music, otherwise of a high quality?

Dr. SD Desai, a professor of English, has been a Performing Arts Critic for many years. Among the dance journals he has contributed to are Narthaki, Sruti,  Nartanam and Attendance. His books have been published by Gujarat Sahitya Academy and Oxford University Press. After 30 years with a national English daily, he is now a freelance art writer.