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Lord Krishna: Ever ancient, ever new
Constant additions and subtractions make up the colourful mathematics and pageantry of the Shriram Bhartiya Kala Kendra's annual dance-drama presentation, Krishna. Ever since it was conceived and put on stage more than 35 years ago, the one-woman think-tank behind it, Shobha Deepak Singh, has worked not just to retain the same freshness it had when first staged in 1977 but also to bring something new to the interpretation. "Why give audiences the same story-line when the legend of Krishna is replete with stories that lend themselves to different styles of presentations, interpretations and thoughts all the time? In fact, that is what keeps the interest of our audiences alive, " says Singh, director of the Kendra.
While some changes are brought in every year, what is always retained are the spectacular sets, colourful costumes, music, dance and drama. This year, in reenacting the birth of Krishna, evil has been given a larger role "in a bid to highlight Krishna's divinity". According to myth, Krishna, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, descends to rid the earth of evil. And in a bid to uphold dharma (social order), he does that, in the words of mythologist Devdutt Pattnaik, "by breaking rules". In Singh's two-hour-long presentation, representations of the mischievous boy Krishna include that of him as the "biggest chor (thief) - he's the one who steals not just makhan (butter) from his mother's kitchen and the gopis' (milkmaids) clothes while they are bathing in the river, but their hearts too. "
This time, in a first, the rakshashi (demon) Putana has been worked into the script. Says Singh, "The drama that ensues when Putana tries to breast-feed the infant with her poison-filled breasts. To her horror, the infant suckles the very life out of her. This is amazingly portrayed by our actors. Normally, Kansa, the evil maternal uncle of Krishna, makes an appearance much later in the ballet, but this time, he comes in even before Krishna is born. The idea was to play with his fear and desperation right from the moment he hears that his sister Devaki's child will be the one who will kill him. " Singh has changed the choreography and costumes of the maharaas sequences as well. "Instead of the usual red, the milkmaids this year will be adorned in white - a hue that stands not just for purity but also takes to stage lights very well. I checked all this in the dress-rehersals and am sure the audience will love the change too, " she says. Also, in a first, the ballet will feature Jayadeva Ashtapadi lyrics from the Geet Govind.
Based on the creative and Mayurbhanj chhau folk dance styles, Krishna is built around the blue god's two distinct identities - one that is full of his playful, childhood feats and youthful romancing, and the other of him as statesman and philosopher as seen in the epic Mahabharata. "It never ceases to amaze me that the Bhagvad Gita's message continues to be as pertinent today as it was when it was written thousands of years ago, " says Singh. "No wonder, each time we sit down to do our research, there's always something new that emerges about Krishna. "
While it is Krishna that brings in captivated audiences during Janamashtami, the Kendra is equally famous for its other production Ram that goes on stage just before Dusherrah. "We have a dance-drama festival every year in May when we put up our productions like Abhimanyu, Dance of Shiva, Meera, Durga and Khajuraho, " says the 69-year-old Padma Shri recipient who learnt classical dance and music from greats like Birju Maharaj and Amjad Ali Khan and has a degree in the performing arts and creative direction. "I've always maintained that unless you yourself are interested enough and proficient in the arts, you'd never be able to translate your feelings and emotions to others on stage. "
('Krishna' will be presented from August 6 to 12 at the Kamani Auditorium, New Delhi)
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