Director’s Note

Brhannala _ 01

Brhannala & Arjuna in the Mahabharata

The story of the Mahabharata is woven around the conflict between five brothers, the Pandavas, and their hundred cousins, the Kauravas. Both want to rule the same kingdom; and this is resolved with the great war of Kurukshetra, in which all are killed except these five essential heroes of the epic. But, Arjuna is the preeminent hero. For all the outstanding actions of the story: wife winning, decisive victory in the war, engendering the royal succession; were performed by him. Even in childhood it is Arjuna who stands out by virtue of being the most skillful archer. Having the ability of total concentration upon his target, to the exclusion of all his surroundings. Another aspect of the Indian hero, which Arjuna embodies, is that he is capable of great ascetic feats. These are at the root of his power. And in an astounding act of self-control, astounding for one who was reputed for his propensities for relationships with women, he rejects the advances of a celestial dancer, doing what even great seers and mystics had failed to do before him. Thus though a warrior{ feminine} he outdoes the Brahmin intellectual{ male} in cerebral power and self-control.

An episode, which adds to the complexity of Arjuna’s personality, is when he learns to dance, sing and play instruments during a visit to heaven. And in the thirteenth year of exile, Arjuna the great warrior hero becomes Brhannala. She teaches the ladies of the court to sing and dance; tells them stories and acts as friend and playmate to the king’s children; till the war breaks out and he goes back to his functions as a warrior.

The Indian hero is a figure of positive and effective action in support of dharma. “Dharma means literally that which one lays hold of and which holds things together, the law, the norm, the rule of nature, action and life.”- Sri Aurobindo. And although it is his elder brother Yudhishtra who was known as the son of Dharma and therefore its incarnation, it is Arjuna who actively supports and upholds it in his warrior aspect through out the course of the epic.

The poignancy of Arjuna’s dilemma at the battlefield of Kurukshetra, when he refuses to fight, has to be understood in this context. For this hero of dharma faces a moral revolt against the very action and its standards which he was satisfied with and which he had earlier upheld. He has no alternative to that now; and no moral standing ground left, nothing to lay hold of and walk by, no dharma. The war raises many issues, which touch the human half of Arjuna’s semi divine heroism. And with the meaningless and tragic death of his son Abhimanyu his depression over its moral ambiguity deepens. And he is paralyzed with grief. Ultimately it is this human half of him which redeems Arjuna. For Arjuna is Nara: essential man / the man moving towards godhead, who is complete only with Narayana/ Krishna, the man whom God became. And it is only when he fails as a hero and has no yardstick to act by as a man that he looks beyond for a meaning in his life. From failed hero and failed human then he moves through Krishna Vasudeva towards his goal as Nara-Narayana.

Stills from the production:

Brhannala & Arjuna in the Play

Adishakti’s Brhannala draws on the episode in the Mahabharata in which the exiled hero Arjuna spends one year in the guise of a woman. The play dramatizes the consequences that accompany a dissolution of all rigid binary oppositions; bringing down thereby all polarities of time/space, reason/emotion, human/animal, right/left, us/them, self/other. Certain clues from the Mahabharata such as the meanings/symbols in Arjuna’s numerous names and certain of his natural traits led us to such an interpretation. Arjuna /Brhannala relates to Siva as Ardhanariswara through his name Savyasachin. Contemporary brain lateralisation theories develop this further, when they talk of the right hand as the male and the left hand as the female, and divide functions, capacities and processes of knowledge to different sides of the brain- right and left. Hence art, intuition, metaphor, music are the functions of the left hand because they process information in spatial terms; and physics, rationality, words, logic, war are functions of the right hand as they process information through time.

The discoveries of contemporary scientists and philosophers: Einstein’s space/time continuum, Bohr’s theory of complementarity, Sri Aurobindo’s Gnosis: support the metaphor for the union of polarities which these symbolic figures from the tradition represent; and suggest that these images are merely forerunners of a new way to think about reality.
__Veenapani Chawla


Scene 1:

Savyasachin [Arjuna]: He who shoots arrows with right hand and left hand plays the vina. Savyasachin is another name for the heroic Arjuna. Savyasachin [Arjuna] transforms into the woman dancer Brhannala, and enters the court of Virata to hide from the Kauravas. The courtiers respond – some with disgust, some with delight

Scene 2:

Brhannala [Savyasachin-Arjuna] tells the story about a dog and a tiger who have a playful and absurd conversation. The dog in turn sings the story of how polarities began. This creative chaos ends with the Kauravas about to attack the court of Virata.

Scene 3:

In a flashback. Drona is instructing Arjuna and his other Pandava brothers, as well as his Kaurava cousins in the science of warfare, Though already a master marksman, impatient Arjuna wants to shoot at the speed of light. Drona advises him to consult Siva, Great God of Time and Timelessness, creation and destruction

Scene 4:

Arjuna goes to meet Siva to learn how o shoot at the speed of light. Siva in the form of Ardhanariswara- the Lord who is half woman and half man – reveals a more important secret to him. Through dance that is both rhythmic and flowing, martial and graceful, masculine and feminine, polarities become one seamless whole.

Scene 5:

On the way to the great Battle Kurukshetra, the dog and the tiger appear again. In their philosophical search they are eager to see Man and his prospects. Indeed, Man is encountered, with dire results.

Scene 6:

On the Plain of Kurukshetra, where the Pandava brothers are at war with their kaurava cousins, Arjuna’s beloved son Abhimanyu is killed. Arjuna in despair is consoled by Brhannala [Arjuna] tells a moving tale about a family of birds and the ocean.


Savyasachin [ambidexterity] is realized: The union of Polarities.


Cast and Credits

Performer: Vinay Kumar

Music: Suresh Kaliyath, Arvind Rane, Pascal Sieger, Nimmy Raphel

Light Designer: Vinay kumar

Lights played by: Anoop Davis

Music Director, Choreographer,Scriptwriter & Director: Veenapani Chawla

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