In the throes of undying love

Bharatanatyam Dancer Poornima Ashok Photo: V. Sreenivasa Murthy.   | Photo Credit: V Sreenivasa Murthy

As a young girl, Radha had been warned not to play outside the confines of her home. She was told that there is a notorious boy called Krishna who troubles girls to no end. So, for years, Radha never met Krishna. However, as destiny would have it, on the one day that she happened to stray into the forest, Krishna found her. He came up to her, told her she is beautiful and asked her who she was. An innocent and gullible Radha told Krishna the whole story; that she had been asked not to play in the forest because of a boy called Krishna. The boy, amused, listened to her without telling her who he really was. Little did Radha know that one day, she would fall madly in love with that boy.

Bharatanatyam dancer, Poornima Ashok’s eyes light up when she narrates this story. “This is how one of the greatest love stories in Hindu mythology began. But, what I’ve noticed is that the story of Radha and Krishna is almost always only narrated from Krishna’s perspective. Radha is such a fascinating character. She loved without any expectations and is celebrated for that very reason,” says Poornima, who for the past year has been engrossed in researching and choreographing a thematic dance presentation that has Radha at its core. “When I was a student of Hindi, I was introduced to Bhramargeet which is the story of what happens to Brindavan after Krishna leaves. Each time I read it, I cried because it is in those verses that Radha describes her anguish. As years went by, I forgot about it but the character of Radha was always close to my heart. I also noticed that in most Bharatanatyam presentations, there is just so much about Krishna. Rarely does one hear Radha’s story. She is only mentioned in relation to the hero. This bothered me and I decided to do something about it,” explained Poornima.

Next, she pulled out Surdas’ texts, the Bhramargeet and sourced other songs about Radha. “It was so difficult to find songs on Radha. Most of them mention her in a line and then go back to praising Krishna.” Later, she found Gaudiya Darshanam, a text that speaks about the sanctity of Radha and gradually a musical repertoire on Radha emerged. D.S. Srivatsa composed the music. A chance invite to Vrindavan set the entire project in motion and compelled Poornima to choreograph a draft piece in 15 days. The show, titled, Radharani, premiered in Vrindavan, or as Poornima describes it, ‘Radha’s haven’.

In February this year, she brought the show to Bangalore. The production comprises a short multimedia production that speaks about Radha followed by Poornima performing snippets from Radha’s life. The performance, for instance, has an excerpt from Radhaashtakam where Radha takes on the form of a goddess, then a geet in Brajbhasha describing the first meeting between Krishna and Radha, followed by a piece that captures the romance — both the physical and the metaphysical aspects of it. In an attempt to sketch her personality, Poornima’s production delineates the different emotions that Radha might have gone through during her relationship with Krishna. “One cannot comprehend Radha’s idea of love. She was a parakiya nayika, married to someone but in love with a younger man. She was supposed to have taught Krishna how to make love. Unaware that he is going to go from Brindavan one day, she is actually in shock when he finally leaves for Mathura,” explains Poornima.

In the coming months, Poornima plans to take Radha across the country. “Thematic productions such as these help a dancer explore one subject thoroughly. Of course, a margam has its charm too, but sometimes a topic-based production elevates the potential of a dancer.”

Having performed for 29 years now, Poornima is grateful that dance is such a crucial part of her life. “I would not have thought of taking up Bharatanatyam full-time had I not failed to secure a seat in medicine and instead got a scholarship to study under the Dhananjayans in Madras. I had already finished my arangetram here in 1986 after learning dance from Radha Sridhar. But, everyone’s a beginner when they first go to the Dhananjayan’s. So I began with the basics. In the seven years that I was there, I was given a chance to witness wonderful productions, meet a lot of nattuvanars and musicians and even learn abhinaya from Kalanidhi Maami. In fact, I lived as a paying guest at Maami’s house. It could not have been better than that,” gushes Poornima.

When she returned to Bangalore, Poornima set up Nrityanjali which completes 25 years this year.

“Teaching has enhanced my skills as a performer – something that even my gurus recommended I take up.” An A-grade artist of Doordarshan, Poornima has presented many productions such as Sammoha, Krishnam Vande Jagatgurum, Sringara Krishna, Ashtanayika, Andal, Madhura Bhakti and Jai Ganesh.

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Printable version | Jun 24, 2021 10:17:50 PM |

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