Chitrangadha, the epic tale of an Indian warrior princess, was organized by Pratidhwani, a South Asian non-profit organization led by NRIs in Seattle, WA since 2003. May 9, 2017 marked the 156th birth anniversary of the versatile Nobel Laureate Shri Rabindranath Tagore and the team at Pratidhawani showcased Tagore’s ‘Chitrangada’ – a dance drama about a warrior princess from the epic Mahabaharata. The show ran through May 2017 in collaboration with Seattle local theater- ACT.
Also, 2016 was the year when it marked 100 years of Tagore’s visit to Seattle when he first came here in 1916. Moumita Bhattacharya, Director of the show is committed in changing the landscape of Indian arts in Seattle and bringing it to a larger audience. The show garnered positive reviews for the outstanding blend of classical dance with drama to unravel the story to the audiences.
The show takes you back 2000 years to the royal kingdom of Manipur, where a princess is born – Chitrangadha, who is raised no less than a male warrior trained in archery, governance and state affairs instead of the conventional finer arts – dance and music more appropriate for a princess. Feminine charisma and womanly etiquettes elude Chitra. The warrior princess grows up to find hunting to be her favorite sport and on one such escapades in the forest runs into Arjuna- ‘Archer of the land’ disguised as an ascetic. Chitrgandha is smitten by his beauty and expresses her love for him.
Arjuna, performing a hard penance requiring chastity of body and mind turns down her proposal. Chitragandha is heartbroken; wallows in her sorrow caused by unrequited love. The use of props like bedspreads wafting in the air in continuous motions to depict turmoil and distress in the mind of the princess through dance was remarkable. Turned down by the man of her dreams Chitra becomes miserable but does not lose hope. She turns to Madana (cupid), the god of love to help her win over the astute Arjuna. She prays to him to arm her with beauty and feminism. Madana, concedes to her prayers and blesses her, thereby transforming her into a flawless and beautiful damsel. Chitragandha mesmerizes Arjuna with her new found beauty and makes him a victim of his youth; leaving behind his oath of abstinence. The couple rejoice in their marital bliss but eventually languor takes over and Arjuna yearns to fight his battles.
Meanwhile, Manipur is attacked by the rival forces and the villagers valiantly guard the state even in the absence of their chief, the princess. Arjuna is in complete shock and awe of the heroic villagers and questions them as to who trained them in the art of warfare and they echo in chorus “It’s Chitragandha – our beloved princess”.
Arjuna is enthralled by the chivalrous princess and beckons his wife to help him meet her. Chitra derides her and belittles the warrior princess (herself) for not having any grace or beauty and accuses her of being a manly woman.
Yet, Arjuna yearns to meet her. Chitra who by then already feels double faced and not comfortable in her skin, although she was now the epitome of beauty requests Madana to revert her to her original self.
Real Chitrangadha meets Arjuna and tells him that she is the warrior princess. She tells him that she can be with him only on one condition; only if he would promise to neither worship nor denigrate her but only if he treats her as his equal.
The dance drama consisted of eleven different Indian and contemporary dance forms gracing the stage to unfurl the epic armed with excellent narration by the village raconteurs, Chitrangadha captured more than just hearts but also explored the actual and relevant meaning of feminism then and now.
The graceful expressions in Bharatnatyam dance form and synchronized movements depicted by a Kathak dance where Chitra’s fellow warrior friends, while polishing their swords discuss and strategize asking Chitra what happened to her after she met Arjuna was very well portrayed . The show was a great way to honor Tagore in the hearts of the Seattle audiences.
By Ranjani Ravi from Seattle