Theatre

Magadha recreated

‘Dharma Ashoka,’ staged in Singapore. Photos: Courtesy TFA Singapore  

The timeless grandeur of Emperor Ashoka was staged as a dance drama by the Temple of Fine Arts (TFA) in Singapore recently. TFA is a vision of guru Swami Shantananda to foster the arts.

With magnificent sets, superb lighting, grand props, sparkling jewels, beautiful costume, music and dance, ‘Dharma Ashoka’ was a spectacular venture, involving 51 characters on stage and many more backstage.

The opening scene transported the viewer into the past -the earthy tones, the costume and the fogging effect, visualized what Magadha might have been.

A time warp was created by the seeming reincarnation of Vidheesha, Ashoka’s true love. A Buddhist monk related the story, recalling previous births. The court of Ashoka played host to artists from all over his huge empire. Tribals dressed beautifully, performed vigorous dances, while the grace of Manipuri and Odissi were displayed to melodious music.

An unusual vignette showed the king dancing with his lady love, who beseeched him to forego violence. But no, the king was drunk on power, and soon launched a war on the stubborn Kalinga. An Odissi sequence at Kalinga court was well done, reflecting the amount of effort involved in achieving such coordination.

The war scenes were beautifully executed, including the arm-to-arm combat ones. A transparent large screen created a shadow play of war troops, horses and elephants, and the drumming was kept up to a good tempo.

Such large-scale violence and tragedy reformed Ashoka, changing his mantra to peace, as propounded by the Buddha. Monks took the place of dancers, charity dominated, foreign visitors at the court witnessed the Buddhist influence, and its spread to neighbouring kingdoms. A rare prop was the huge Ashoka pillar raised on stage, with monks and dancers paying homage to it.

A full house cheered the production, which was appreciation well deserved.

Buddhist monks, Chinese and Indians lauded the effort, prompting two curtain calls. A well-designed brochure, describing the production, was a keepsake. A spartan dinner was served in the foyer earlier, with people paying what they wished, for it. Textiles and artefacts related to the theme of Ashoka were on sale, sourced mostly from India. All in all, an evening well spent, in the pursuit of arts, away from India.


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Printable version | Jun 15, 2021 5:43:33 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/theatre/a-grand-spectacle-on-dharma-ashoka/article7636895.ece

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