As I observed my students during their weekly dance exercise, two very talented girls caught my eye. They were meticulously mastering each step that had been taught to them over the past few weeks. However, their movements did not seem free flowing, unfettered. Their excitement at competing and excelling seemed to overshadow the natural flow of their movements. Their exercise completed, the young girls looked at me longingly for approval. I nodded my head in appreciation and decided to sugarcoat my criticism of their practice session. I asked the girls, “Do you want to hear a story from Indian mythology - the story of Vikramaditya?” The excited girls responded in the affirmative, presumably expecting a story from the famous ‘Vikram and Betal’ fables. As they listened in rapt attention, I began:
The Bhavishya Purana (ancient prophetic tales) is one of the major Puranas written by Sage Vyasa. The Puranas contain the stories of kings and their reigns. One part is devoted to King Vikramaditya, the brave and powerful ruler of Ujjain, who was unrivalled in wisdom. Once upon a time Indra, the King of the celestial world and the Master of the Devas, decided to assign the important task of enticement to one of his most beautiful apsaras (celestial danseuses). Unable to choose between four of them, he declared that a dancing competition would be held, and the winner would be entrusted with the Divine task. The competition was fierce, and finally Urvashi and Rambha were left in the fray. In their one-to-one duel, the spellbound audience of the Devas could not pick a definite winner, as both the dancers were graceful, enticing and enchanting. The confused King Indra decided to take the help of King Vikramaditya, whose wisdom he had heard about. He visited Ujjain and requested the King to come to Indraloka (the celestial world) to help him out. Though Vikramaditya was surprised, he could not refuse the Divine order. The next morning Vikramaditya witnessed the dancers performing in Indra’s court. They were mystifying and divine, and the King, much like Indra, could not decide on the winner. He was torn between the skill of Rambha and the guile of Urvashi. He requested the dancers to return the next morning. At night, as he was strolling in Indra’s garden, Vikramaditya saw some beautiful insects sucking nectar from the colourful night flowers…and was soon struck by an idea. He carefully plucked the flowers and wove two beautiful garlands out of them. The next day, handing over the garlands to the dancers, he ordered them to perform with the garlands…and then sat down to observe their movements closely. While Urvashi danced effortlessly, oblivious of the flowers, Rambha looked uncomfortably at her garland from time to time. Soon her hands began to tremble. King Vikramaditya declared to Indra that he had decided, and the winner was Urvashi. The irate Rambha demanded an explanation. Pacifying her, King Vikramaditya explained to Indra that the insects sucking nectar from the flowers were still present in the garlands. Since Urvashi had danced effortlessly and held the garland softly, the insects had remained undisturbed inside the flowers. Though Rambha too had danced skillfully, she had put in too much effort, owing to which she had inadvertently squeezed the flowers, and the insects had come out and bit her hands. That was the reason for her discomfort. King Vikramaditya concluded that Urvashi was a more natural dancer. Both the dancers gracefully accepted his verdict. Indira then assigned the Divine (enticement) task to Urvashi. He rewarded King Vikramaditya with a celestial throne, which he would take with him to Ujjain.”
I paused, and looked enquiringly at the girls. One of them remarked, “Now we know that we should enjoy dancing. We will surely try to relax when we perform. That is our promise”. As I nodded approvingly, the other girl, shaking her head, said, “Though Rambha should not have squeezed the garland hard, I blame Vikramaditya. Which man in the right frame of mind would give a beautiful girl a garland filled with creepy insects? If I had been in her place, I would have punched him on his face.” Squeals of laughter echoed in the room. The loudest came from me.
The writer is a renowned Kuchipudi danseuse and choreographer