Reinterpretation of Kaikeyi – Odissi performance

Sharmila Mukherjee

Kaikeyi – the multi-faceted queen of Ramayana

The accomplished Odissi danseuse Sharmila Mukherjee talks about her creative production Kaikeyi. Potrayal of Kaikeyi, one of the most unusual and most misunderstood character of Indian mythology, is a very challenging subject indeed. Sharmila shares her journey and experience in the making of ‘Kaikeyi’ in this  interesting and thought-provoking article.

Kaikeyi’  is an Abhinaya based piece in Odissi style. The presentation  reinterprets  the traditional portrayal of the character as a heartless manipulator and a wicked queen.  Despite the flaws in her persona, Kaikeyi stands out in the epic because of the multitude of layers in her personality. Kaikeyi is a warm hearted, complex woman, who loved Ram as much as she loved her own son. Her momentary emotion of despair and anger made her determined to see her son Bharat crowned as the king.

In this production,  Kaikeyi has been  portrayed as a loving wife, a doting mother, a dutiful queen and a brave warrior. She is gentle yet brave, sensitive yet strong willed and stubborn, passionate but slightly confused, a woman bent on getting her own way, even if it ultimately destroys her happiness. Her character is one of catharsis, beauty, bravery and a whole lot of love.

Portrayal of Kaikeyi through Abhinaya – An Odissi dance performance

Performing Kaikayi has always been a challenge. This is an extremely  dramatic piece which is  interspersed with pure dance ( nritta) and a lot of abhinay, an integral part of Indian classical dance. The challenge lies in portraying different characters and their emotions. The dance starts with Kaikeyi as an old woman, reminiscing about the past, about how it  all began and changed her life forever. She remembers driving the chariot for her husband, Dasarath in a battle where one of the wheels was damaged . In that moment while Kaikeyi is trying to repair the wheel , an arrow strikes Dasarath and injures him . Kaikaeyi drives him to safety and nurses him back to health .Touched by her devotion ,Dasarath promises her 2 boons, which she says she will keep for a later time.

The 30 minute long piece takes you through a series of flashbacks from specific episodes of Ramayana. The costume in the solo performance has been carefully chosen to reflect the time and setting of the epic. The  music for Kaikeyi has been composed by Shri Bijoy Jena and the script is by Pt.Nityanand Mishra.


Profile of the Production Director

Sharmila Mukherjee, is the founder and artistic director of Sanjali Centre for  Odissi Dance in Bangalore which was established in 2004. Initiated into the Uday Shankar style of dance, Sharmila, at the young age of sixteen played the main role in Tagore’s dance drama “Chandalika” in Calcutta, and caught the attention of the critics. Sharmila started learning Odissi under the tutelage of Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra from 1984 in Kolkata. She also took lessons in Abhinay from Smt.Kalanidhi Narayan. Sharmila initially taught Odissi at Calcutta School of Music. She has worked with hearing impaired children at The Oral School for Deaf Children, Kolkata. A “Grade A” artist of Doordarshan and an Established artist of the ICCR. A Singar Mani from the Sur Singar Samsad( Mumbai), Sharmila was also conferred with the prestigious Mahari 2016  award from the Guru Pankaj Charan Das Foundation (Orissa) and also the BCKA  Kala Sreshtha Award from the Bangalore Club for Kathakali and the Arts in Bangalore. Sharmila has directed  a number of productions, notable among them-Hansika(an adaptation of Swan Lake),Sookshma (based on the Flowering Tree by A.K Ramanujan) ,Kaikeyi and the poet,Kalidas’s Ritusamharha among many others.

Find more about Sharmila at

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