An Ode to brave women of India
“As is your will, so is your thought; as is your thought, so is your deed; as is your deed, so is your life.”
On the 5 March 2023, Kala Sindhu Academy of Dance and Related Arts, founded by Bharatanatyam dancer and teacher Poornima Gururaja, presented “Warrior Women of Bharat” under the aegis of Nirantara Narmada Festival on the occasion of 75 years of Indian independence Azaadi ka Amrit Mahotsav and International Women’s Day at JSS Auditorium, Bengaluru.
The concept for this was visualised by renowned dancer Pratibha Prahlad and choreographed by senior dancer Shovana Narayan and well-known danseuse Anita Ratnam, as well as Pratibha Prahlad herself.
When we speak of warrior women, the names of Rani Laxmibai of Jhansi, Kittur Rani Chenamma and many other such prominent women come to one’s mind as they have been extensively discussed by most of us. However the inclusion of other, lesser-known women in the narrative, who are also a great source of inspiration, added an element of surprise, curiosity, and knowledge to the well-executed dance-drama. The show was presented by eight renowned dancers, keeping the audience glued to their seats.
Rani Velunachiar of Tamil Nadu, who took a strong stand against the British 300 years ago, fought bravely to protect the motherland. This role was played by Alekhya Punjala in the Kuchipudi style with the help of props like a sword and shield, as well as an interesting choreography to highlight the warrior woman.
Kittur Rani Chenamma, an expert swordswoman and equestrian who was known for her opposition of the Doctrine of Lapse and her imprisonment by the British, was ably portrayed by danseuse Gopika Varma in the Mohiniattam style, bringing the characters’ life in a subtle and effective way
Rani Avanti Bai, who was deceitfully dethroned by the British after the demise of her husband, gathered an army of four thousand to fight bravely and give her sons their birthright. Her character wasbrought to light effectively by dancer Meera Das, with pleasing music and props in the Odissi style.
Begum Hazrat Mahal, who helped win back the land from Lucknow to Azamgarh from the British after her husband‘s death, fought bravely alongside her army and motivated them. This was showcased by veteran dancer Shovana Narayan, who brought the character to life through Kathak in her own inimitable style.
When we speak of 1857, everyone remembers the bravery and contributions of Rani Laxmibai of Jhansi. The famous verses, Bundele har bolon ki muh humne suni kahanithi were aptly utilised and the powerful character played by senior dancer Pratibha Prahlad, showing the artist’s passion and dedication towards these strong women whom she had conceptualised for the program. This was presented in the Bharatanatyam format.
Many in the audience were unaware of this true warrior from the North East—Kanakalatha Barua, who, inspired by the freedom movement, joined a resistance group at the tender age of 17 and laid down her life while trying to hoist the national flag atop a police station. This short but heart-wrenching incident was ably portrayed by danseuse Sharodi Saikia in the Sattriya style.
Healer and truth-seeker Lakshmi Swaminathan, who later came to be known as Captain Lakshmi Sehgal, served tirelessly as a doctor in India and in Singapore. She also led the women‘s wing of the Indian National Army. This charismatic woman was beautifully portrayed by dancer Anita Ratnam to the apt tune of Kadam kadam badhaye ja in a contemporary style.
This interesting dance drama was tied together by the sootradar, scholar Avanti Medhuri who gave the audience an insight into all the characters.
The costumes, makeup, colours, music and languages chosen for the program were used keeping in mind a pan-Indian audience, to bring forth the myriad hues of our classical dances. It was an inspiring and memorable program.