Sheejith Krishna, performer, teacher, nattuvanar, choreographer, and percussionist is a soul enthralled by the varied nuances of character in his godly namesake: “As I began investigating Sri Krishna’s role in the Mahabharata, what emerged as most striking in his character is the complex blending of human and divine attributes,” he says. This enrapture led to Sheejith’s acclaimed production, “Krishna Bhaaratham,” a clever and insightful perspective on the role of Lord Krishna in the Mahabharatha.
Among all the characters in Hindu mythology and folklore, none walks as fine a line as Krishna between right and wrong: He sought out the nobles, struck deals with the treacherous; was known for his powers of entrapment; stood fast by his friends even while befuddling his opponents into a misplaced expectation of loyalty. While other heroes were busy drawing firm lines between black and white, Krishna was the originator of gray.
Initially choreographed as a solo performance by Sheejith, the U.S. debut of the production will feature another Kalakshetra alumna, Paulomi Pandit, the “best in class dancer” of her batch in 1998. Pandit is the founder/director of Rangashree, a dance school for both classical and folk dances of India, in Duarte.
The epic reproduction starts with the entry of Krishna into the Mahabharata during Draupadi’s swayamwara. Here is where he meets the Pandavas for the first time, seeding their eventful partnership for the years to come. The pace picks up as does the drama with ensuing episodes—Raja Suyam leading to eventually Shishupala Vadha (slaying), the famous dice game, and so on, to culminate in the Gitopadesham.
A pivotal enactment, argued by some scholars as the raison d’être for the Mahabharata, is the episode where Krishna, in an attempt to broker peace between the Pandavas and Kauravas, approaches Duryodhana to offer the Pandavas half of his kingdom. When this proposal is not met with approval, he puts forth several others, irking Duryodhana to the extent of venomously spewing that he wouldn’t share a pinprick’s worth of land with the Pandavas. The scene is a study in complicity juxtaposed with arrogance: The mute noninterference on part of Bhishma and the elders lends no correcting course to Duryodhana’s enraged pride. One interpretation is also that this so greatly puts the Kauravas in disfavor with Krishna that he virtually turns his back on them.
This famous scene will also highlight also of the music of “Krishna Bhaaratham.” Initially, Sheejith will be acting this out solo, playing out the drama alternating between characters. Then, Duryodhana will be depicted in kathakali music and dance, Krishna in bharatanatyam.
Sheejith says, “In the saga of the Pandavas and the Kauravas, Sri Krishna appears throughout as a political agent, social reformer, and ambassador of peace. The human Krishna—a figure of cautious diplomacy, razor-sharp intelligence, and limitless wisdom—is no stranger to the ways of the world. Vyasa’s Sri Krishna is one whose vital intervention allows dharma to ultimately prevail.”
High drama begs sophisticated music that dares the mind and heart to teeter on the edge of raw emotion. Krishna Bhaaratham’s music has been the unified creation of Jyothishmathi Krishna- Sheejith’s wife and Sheejith himself. The kathakali interlude uses Sopana Sangeetham, highlighting the chenda and matdhala; Panchali’s cry etches out the evocative raga Sindhu Bhairavi; Krishna’s effortless wisdom finds a voice in Raga Durga. Keeping the pulse thumping will be the tabla and mridangam, the conch will herald the battle; and the flute will breathe effervescent life into the drama. Small touches to a minimalist costume style will get the audience centerstage. Krishna enters Kurukshetra wearing a blazing red sash over his signature yellow robes; at another mellow time, he’ll sport a garland.
As evidenced in Sheejith’s previous productions such as “Marthyan” there is a clarity of vision to be expected—a latent stream of consciousness, that will compel the audience to go wherever Sheejith’s Krishna will take them.