An awe-inspiring fusion  
by G S Paul 
December 24, 2003   

For one hour and forty-five minutes, the packed audience in the Sangeetha Nataka Akademi Theatre in Thrissur sat spellbound. Even children were rendered motionless. All their eyes were glued on the solo performer on the stage: Bharatanatyam exponent Dr Vasundhara Doraswamy from Mysore. Panchali: Yaksha-Bharatha Sangama, Vasundhara’s latest choreography was being staged on the last day of the Nrithotsav 2003 organised by the newly formed outfit Bharatam. 

Interestingly, all the notable productions of this illustrious danseuse have been not only solo but also vehement expressions of her multidisciplinary approach to dance. Her exploits in yoga, her thesis ‘Bharatanatyam and Yoga’ had helped her choreograph the prolonged Sooryanamskaram in Bharatanatyam that had won her the title Natyajyothi at the South Asian Yoga Conference held in Melbourne, Australia in 1998. A dancer with ingrafted knowledge of the Vedas, she had the rare wisdom to present Sama Veda in Bharatanatyam before a body of Vedic pundits of the country in Guruvayur long back. Admittedly, Panchali is a manifestation of her insatiable urge for folklore rarely seen among the performers of classical art forms. Incidentally, she is a postgraduate in Folklore from the Mysore University as well. 

Script for Panchali is a typical Yakshagana play by the writer-scholar from Udipi, Udyavara Madhavacharya. The legendary woman has been portrayed impressively as the symbol of Indian womanhood against the backdrop of her eventful life. Anecdotes include her birth from the yaga performed by her father Drupada, childhood, advent to Hastinapura after Kunti’s insistence to marry the pancha Pandavas, the game of dice, the vastraharana, her vow that was fulfilled by Bhima, her royal life thereafter and finally the journey to the Himalayas where her dead body is consigned to the freezing ice. Birth in fire and death in the ice - a life that spans between these contrasting elements is symbolic of her trouble-torn life in a male-dominated society. Madhavacharya’s sahitya soars to dizzy heights in this singular composition.  

It demands exceptional skill on the part of a choreographer to adopt such a script to the rigours of chaste Bharatantyam. And it was here that Vasundhara had scored. Even as she had accepted some of the props like the tiraseela (curtain), shawls etc peculiar to the folk theatre, the nritta and nritya sequences smacked of the typical Panthanallur School of Bharatanatyam of which she is one of the torchbearers. Explained Vasundhara, "Inconsistency of rhythms and rhythm cycles that changed from line to line, inverted syllables like ‘tha ka thimi tha kita’ as against ‘tha kita thaka thimi’ were hazards in the beginning. But once such singularities were identified, I had no problems in adjusting myself to them". Coupled with her unmatched dexterity in histrionics and the unique beauty of adavus chiseled by the continuous yoga practice, the performance turned a memorable event of the festival. 

The performance also brought to the fore the efficacy of Yakshagana music as a new branch of abhinaya sangeetham. Though nuances of ragas were missing, the esoteric style of rendition seemed to augment abhinaya in no small measure. Moreover, emotive narrations resorted to at some junctures true to the format of Yakshagana were really enthralling. Kumari Bramari Devi did a splendid job in this connection. Use of the traditional percussion including maddala and chenda provided unprecedented energy to the performer. K J Ganesh and K J Krishna were the traditional musicians. 

When asked about her zeal for the folk art forms, she pointed out, " Folk and classical forms are not antitheses to one another. They co-exist and also have to borrow and lend between them". And Panchali is quintessential of her observation.