When a poem dances…

Kavita Dwibedi
On the 21st of March ’14, Sahitya Akademi and the Ministry of Culture organized an Odissi recital by Kavita Dwibedi at the Meghdoot Theatre Complex in Delhi as part of Sabad – A World Poetry Festival. It was an amazing venue, all done up with huge cane urns and vessels and wooden figurines. The open air stage was constructed around a huge tree. There were two huge sculptures of dancers on the stage. The leaves and flowers kept falling from the tree. The koel was cooing with the most melodious sound and squirrels were running up and down the tree trunk. The pleasant evening was accentuated by soft music and diyas shimmering in the background.

Kavita is the daughter and disciple of stalwart Odissi maestro, the late Guru Hare Krishna Behera. She has performed widely in India and abroad. The recipient of many awards, she is the founder director of Odissi Akademi, Delhi. She has been awarded the prestigious Odisha State Sangeet Natak Akademi Award for the year 2013.

The production was a collaboration of an Odissi dancer, Kavita, an Odia poet, Kedar Mishra, and an Odissi musicologist, Guru Ram Hari Das. Besides that, poems by great writers like Amrita Pritam, Maithali Sharan Gupt and Guru Rabindra Nath Tagore were taken as connecting themes. The title ‘Shweta Mukti’ probably refers to the liberation of the white dove from the shackles of the world. I was pleased to see my name as a part of it. Kavita said that they chose that title because white represents purity and the shwet padam or the white lotus is the symbol of the Buddha. In the entire composition, there was no direct reference to the Buddha, who was being addressed as the shwet kapot or the white dove. It is only in the last sequence that Buddha is shown as a reflection on the tree, which Kavita said reminded her of the bodhi tree. The ambience of the place dispelled all her apprehensions of performing in an open space.

The production was about the story of five women, divided into five short episodes, each one of them associated with Buddha in her own story and each one being dazzled with self-realization in her own way. They are all different, but they share with each other a longing for mukti. For each woman, Kavita chose a colour for the angavastram or the odhni, and the manner in which it was worn.   

The first woman to be depicted was Gautami. She nurtured him in his childhood as a mother and subsequently became his disciple. Buddha was her foster son and guru. The poetry talks about a wet night with strong winds and strange sounds. Gautami talks about the omens foretelling that Budhha would be going away. Kavita wore a yellow angavastram as the queen mother. Her portrayal showed instances of Buddha’s childhood between the mother and the son. She playfully chides him for venturing out and plays with him while they share the pleasure of looking at the birds and the deer. She lovingly calls him her flower, her punya, her pavitra (pure). She puts a tilak on his forehead, a tona with her kajal to save him from the bad elements. ‘Tora sneh, mora jivan nayantara (your love is my life).’ Then she is dazzled by the brightness of her son’s presence as he heads for the nirvana path. As he leaves the house, she fares him well. Kavita portrays the emotions of a mother being protective and playful, saddened and yet resigned. Kavita’s eyes kept welling from the emotions.

Yashodhara, the beautiful and dedicated wife of Buddha, was depicted next. She loved him immensely, but she knew that she could not contain the spirit of her lover, whose incarnation was meant for the whole world and not just for her. Yashodhara dedicates her total being at the lotus feet of her husband. The poetry recitation reads – ‘The sky beckons the white dove of peace’. She asks the enlightened one to show her the path to Mukti. ‘Aaj adhik veh bhate, veh mujhse keh kar jaate’ (he should have told me his intentions of leaving). The abhinaya in dance portrayed the season of love, with lotuses blooming in ponds and birds chirping. Yashodhara beautifies her chamber by tying a toran on the door and sprinkles fragrance on her bed. She is getting ready to meet her husband, wearing ornaments and tying her hair. Shyly, she welcomes him and begins to press his feet. Suddenly, he gets up to go. He is determined to abandon his worldly pleasures and seek divinity. Yashodhara is left in misery; she too gives up the world – symbolically, by removing her ornaments - to seek the jyoti mukti path, addressing him as the shwet kapot. Kavita displayed Yashodhara’s love and then pain, followed by misery and finally determination and peace.

The next piece was about Magandhi, the beautiful Brahmin girl who loved Buddha with immense passion, but when spurned by him, became his arch rival and challenged him. Kavita wore a red angavastram for this sequence. Magandhi was possessive about Buddha. But when she cannot attain him, she hatches a conspiracy to annihilate him. In the process, she has her moment of enlightenment. Kavita’s gait, attitude and eye expressions, all depicted arrogance or ahamkar – she says, ‘tome mora, tome priya’ – you are mine, ‘tome shatru’ – my enemy. She takes a vajra shapath, a vow like a weapon, to destroy him. In her moment of realization, she wishes the white dove to fly away. The abhinaya shows emotions of love, possession, hatred and then remorse.

The following story was that of Amrapali, the wealthy courtesan of Vaishali, who was charmed by Buddha. Kavita wore a purple odhni like a dancer’s. Amrapali possesses all the material wealth, but deep down, she feels emptiness - shunyata. The longing for someone becomes her life. She dances in the court but is waiting to hear him come. When she sees Buddha, she feels that attraction or akarshan. She sees him as the mukti surja, or the sun of liberation. ‘Tame satya, tame tap, priyavrat priya kapot’ – you are the truth, you are penance, oh my dear white dove. The emotions that transpired were that of emptiness, longing, wonder and enlightenment.

Finally, Kavita depicted the story of Prakruti. What she wore now was a simple odhni, like a commoner. Prakruti belonged to a downtrodden family; Buddha liberated her from the shackles of caste and she followed him in his path. She was the first woman ambassador of equality and liberty in Buddha’s sangha. She was a chandalani, a lower caste woman, whose life was a lanchhan or a blot. While she is drawing water from the well, Buddha appears and asks her for water. She asks him to go away, for she is an Untouchable. Buddha enlightens her, gives her an identity and fulfils her longing for salvation. A shadow of Buddha appeared on the tree with the chanting of ‘Buddham sharanam gachhami’, and Prakruti prostrates herself before it. Kavita displayed the emotions of humility, fear and finally fulfillment.

Concept and choreography: Kavita Dwivedi. Odiya poetry: Kedar Mishra. Music composition: Guru Ram Hari Das, assisted by Guru K Rama Rao Patra. Rhythm composition: Guru Dhaneshwar Swain. Light design: Sandeep Datta.