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Panchkanya: Women of Substance

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Posted: 08 March 2011 at 9:32pm | IP Logged

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Posted: 08 March 2011 at 9:33pm | IP Logged
Panchkanya Dances:

The portrayal of the Panchkanyas in the paper read by Dr. Ratna Roy in the morning session and her dance performance in the evening were both very helpful to understand the concept of Panchkanyas as understood by the Mahari Dance performers.  

As she had explained in her paper, 'The Portrayal of Pancha kanyas in Guru Pankaj Charan Das' Odissi Dance Drama", that Mahari dance form is a unique blend of art and literature, we found it to be exactly so when all the Pancha Kanyas were depicted through Odissi Dance Drama in the evening. She has very rightly mentioned in her paper that the PanchaKanya dances - play with the connotation of the words - Sati,' 'Mahasati,' and 'Sattvika' as applied to women who were considered fallen by mainstream society.' It is really noteworthy that all the five maidens celebrated in the Panchakanya shloka led like Maharis whose lives are auspicious although they are supposedly impure. It is the similarity between these five maidens and the Maharis that is significant as it emphasizes the 'notion of being fallen' and 'virtuous' simultaneously.


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The use of Oriya in the song accompanying the dance is a significant deviation from the accepted practice of using Sanskrit and thereby rejecting Sanskritic Tradition and embracing the Tantric philosophy of Mahari dance at the temple of Jagadamba.

Had Dr. Ratna Roy not read the paper before her performance, all these seemingly small but significant details would have gone unnoticed by viewers, like yours sincerely, not much conversant with this dance form!

Ratna Roy emphasized on meditating in the five Kanyas as they symbolize the five elements. The five elements are equated with the five Kanyas: Ahalya born of water, Draupadi born of fire, Kunti born of earth, Tara Born of wind and Mandodari born of ether.

Ahalya, a devoted wife who would wash her husband's feet everyday and drink the water, is cursed by her husband only because she was deceived by Indra who was infatuated with her beauty. In an informal talk before the performance, Ratna Roy talked about her feeling of repugnance, every time she had to enact the role of Ahalya drinking water in which she had washed her husband's feet and the subsequent treatment meted out to this Kanya by her husband, shook the very core of her being, as a woman.

This represents the practice of the patriarchal society where a woman is invariably condemned for no fault of hers, whereas, one really responsible for the heinous crime is not questioned at all. So very relevant to the reality of the Maharis' lives!

Draupadi pleads to all her husbands - all five of them - to save her from disgrace in the assembly. We all are conversant with this famous scene of the Mahabharata. In this dance, their heartlessness is stressed deviating from the epic story where they are bound by dharma, having been pledged and lost by the eldest brother. Draupadi lets herself go and stretches both her arms. The scene is depicted as the complete surrender of Draupadi at the feet of Krishna. Nevertheless, we find a pleasant change that unlike Ahalya, Draupadi questions and voices her fears but ultimately becomes vulnerable and pleads with Krishna.

Kunti, the next Kanya, is shown in the act of love making with Surya, the Sun God. The music and the movement to depict the birthing of Karna by maiden Kunti gives a realistic touch to the story. Her giving birth to three more sons, shown through dance, depicts her independence and ultimately her whole life serves as an example of the strength of a single mother raising five sons, is what makes her a real Kanya.


It is Tara that held us captivated by her strength and potency of character depicted through her questioning and blaming an Aryan king Rama, the morality of killing Bali. Accusing Rama of deceit, Tara has the courage to ask him what difference does it make whether he kills a 'venire' or a 'nari', which when listened to seems like 'vanara-vanari' but was explained by Ratna Roy to be a monkey or a woman. Tara stresses that for a man killing a monkey or a woman is just one and the same thing. Women are thus equated with monkeys, a lesser human beings and was it not just what their social position referred to?

Mandodari, the last Kanya was depicted with relation to Ravana, her husband, in a soft shade. The love scene between Ravana and Mandodari, helped us to add a softer and mellower dimension to Ravana, whom as an abductor, we looked down upon.


Mandodari's unflinching love for her husband is brilliantly captured in this love scene. And even before we are to come out of this effect, we have Ravana prepared to go to war, that he knows to be his last, and Mandodari preparing to send her husband to this final war with the same gusto that she made love to him with. A real Kanya!

The depiction of Panchakanyas concept in this dance form brought all those feelings to be experienced visually that we had till now been with mentally. Draupadi's anguish and her prayer to Krishna during the sabha parva, Mandodari's love scene with Ravana and her sending him to the war were remarkable for their depiction. Tara's accusation and finally accepting Sugriva as her husband, Kunti's strength and Ahalya's penance are what moved all the audience as all these stressed upon those parts that only a sensitive composer and presenter can think of portraying.

An out of the world experience really!




Edited by Vedo - 08 March 2011 at 9:45pm

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Posted: 09 March 2011 at 12:39am | IP Logged
Awesome thread dear Vedo! Love that article! A bunch of thanks for sharing this with us Hug

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Posted: 09 March 2011 at 9:29am | IP Logged
Wowww diiii, thank u so much for this information, I just luv the Panch Kanyas for their idealism and the knowledge we gain from them !!Day Dreaming After Sitaji, my favorite is Mandodari, I always felt sooo bad for her because she was such a devoted wife but lost everything in the end.Cry

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Posted: 10 March 2011 at 4:27am | IP Logged
thanks for sharing it here vedo .. dint know about all of them in detail !

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Posted: 10 March 2011 at 2:39pm | IP Logged
I look upon this as being a disputable topic because according to the Bhagavat Geeta, everyone living in the material world is fallible. And so we do not need to focus on the mistakes that they had made as they are actually worthy of worship. We chant their names so that we may improve ourselves. Every morning, after I take a bath, the Panchakanya mantra is one of the ones that I have to say during prayer, and I look upon these great women from our mythology as true women of substance, as Vedo so perfectly put it.

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Posted: 11 March 2011 at 3:48pm | IP Logged
Thanks a ton for sharing this Vedo, really thought-provoking article indeed Clap Though there is a a bit of unsettling information in it that's expressed rather boldly (e.g. the part about Kunti's request to Pandu before they make use of Durvasa's mantra... whoa Shocked - also some of the Ahilya section, kinda unclear whether the author's conclusions were based on versions of the story that claim Ahilya was a victim versus those that say she knew what was going on), I gave it a little time to get filtered in my head... and it worked LOL Essentially it tells us that these great women all demonstrated the presence of the divine in them by exercising agency rather than letting things happen to them/around them - in one way or the other, they showed their independence and their power to change the course of history without a maternal example to follow. The part about Draupadi I really enjoyed, sometimes I'm guilty of looking at her from a one-dimensional perspective (her thirst for revenge)... but the article brought to light many more aspects of her personality that make her worthy of admiration... so, thank you article Clap And thank you Vedo Hug

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