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Abbakka Rani

The Queen of Spices


·         Asia Centre Bangalore

·         Abbakka Rani – The Queen of Spices



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Deccan Herald

Impressive production

Abbakka, who ruled from the present Dakshina Kannada, is a legend having inspired generations of artistes in their creative pursuits.

The latest by “About What is India” was a multi-media production, staged on Saturday evening, at the Ravindra Kalakshetra. Having divided the presentation into a number of interesting scenes (written by Aravind Sitaraman), it was successful in depicting the various facets of Abbakka – a good administrator and warrior who with a tactful diplomacy kept the Portuguese at bay, with her valour and might.

The dancers portraying different roles were equal to their task – especially Chitra Arvind (as Rani Abbakka) and Mysore B Nagaraj’s names must be mentioned here.

Beautiful photographs and video (Soumya Aravind Sitaraman and Usha Kris) and melodious, purposeful music (Jayanthi and Kumaresh) and meaningful words – made the production an impactful one.

The Hindu
DANCE The opera based on Rani Abbakka's life was absorbing

For someone who is regarded as India's first freedom-fighter against colonialism, it is ironical that Abbakka Rani is better known in the historical literature of Western Europe than in her own country. There has been very little said or written here about this intrepid queen of 16 th-century Tulunadu, who was an able administrator, expert in warfare, feminist, and great patriot who fought against and sank the dreaded Portuguese Armada.

Fortunately, an enterprising team of artistes and art-patrons are beginning to change all that.

Aravind Sitaraman and Usha Venkateswaran and their team have created an opera Abbakka Rani, the Queen of Spices. This superb multimedia production by What is India, premiered last week and was a successful attempt to make known Abbakka's achievements and her contribution to keeping India independent of foreign rule.

Scriptwriter and producer Aravind is founder of and a person with an abiding pride and interest in Indian history and culture. “We believe there is a need to spread awareness about the great Indian heritage especially among the youth.” Hence, they chose Abbakka Rani, who is an unsung queen and richly deserving of a tribute.

The talented and much-respected Usha Venkateswaran, who has a long experience as dancer, teacher and choreographer, directed and choreographed this absorbing show. The opera which lasted around 80 minutes was a fluid and gripping narrative in multimedia of Abbakka's life. Commencing with an introduction in English by Soumya Aravind Sitaraman, there was a Sutradhar who spoke Kannada.

he scenes unfolded to take us through the life of Abbakka, the magnitude of her achivements, and the times she lived in. Groomed by her maternal uncle Tirumala Nayaka, she became queen of Tulunadu with Moodabidri as her base and Ullal port as financial capital.

A competent administrator also trained in warfare she kept the invading Portuguese at bay for over four decades often using ingenious methods. She even sank their Armada which was considered near-invincible by the rest of the world in those days. However, she was finally undone by the treachery of her estranged husband who had allied with the Portuguese.

Though Bharatanatyam was the chief vehicle of expression, Usha also made intelligent and creative use of elements from Kathak, Kalaripayattu, and Rajasthani folk dance and even a dash of flamenco-inspired style, to suit the character and the occasion. The fight scenes stood out — they were intense, quick-paced, and fluid. An imaginative use of background graphics and video created by Soumya Aravind Sitaraman, and good music contributed to making the production vivid and interesting.

The slender and graceful Chitra Arvind was impressive as Abbakka. With deft, precise movements and an expressive abhinaya which was never overdone despite the kind of strong emotions she was required to convey, Chitra brought Abbakka's character to life. Mysore B. Nagaraj played Lakshmanappa competently while Deepa Shivananda was convincing as Seeta (Abbakka's sister-in-law). Rupesh K.C. and Ujval played well the scheming Portuguese and Shekhar Rajendran was an effective Sutradhar.

However, the initial background visuals (stills) could have done with captions (to make them more meaningful for viewers) and Abbakka's costumes could have been more eye-catching considering she was the protagonist and always occupying centre-stage (the dress was particularly dull in a middle-of-the-drama scene).

The original music score of the production is by Jayanthi and Kumaresh, while Usha Kris is credited with the photography. The other dancers were Nagaraj, Nishant Aravindakshan, Prasanna Kumar, Pawan Kumar, Rajesh, Vishwa, Aparna Shastry, Aarti Mohan, and Josephine Savita. Lighting was done by Preetam Kumar.




Other Resources


Abbakka Invitation

Queen of Spices Cast

Photos from the Abbakka Rani Bangalore show

Abbakka show reviews

 Bangalore Show: November 13, 2010 at 0645pm

Bangalore Venue: Ravindra Kalakshetra

Bangalore Mirror

Dance drama hails our first fighter queen Posted On Saturday, November 13, 2010 at 08:03:34 AM

When the production team of the opera Abbakka Rani, The Queen of Spices, reached Ullal to research on the 16th-century leader, they knew they were on the right track, especially the choice of subject. 

“There’s a statue of her astride a horse that’s been erected there. The plaque reads ‘India’s first freedom fighter’ and nobody even knows of it,” says Soumya Aravind Sitaraman, co-producer of the opera. “There is so much of Indian history and heritage to feel proud about and yet, we are either berating our own country or looking outside for inspiration. Imagine this woman, a Kannadiga, commandeered her incipient navy to destroy a dreaded Portuguese Armada,” she says, adding that’s why What is India chose Abbakka Rani as the theme of their dance drama.

“Choreographer Usha Venkateswaran has used multiple classical dances to bring out the story.

The inherent drama in Abbakka Rani’s story meant that the 18-member dance troupe had to take lessons in the Kerala martial arts form from exponent Dil Sagar and also learn how to wield swords and shields during the two-month preparation time.
“The more we learn of the greatness among us, the faster we will rid ourselves of the coolie-complex we are riddled with,” says author Soumya who, with her husband, runs online and offline activities through What is India, to encourage patriotism.

Grand Spectacle
 Abbakka, who ruled from Moodabidri, developed a strong armed and naval force and kept the Portuguese at bay for four decades. But she was let down by her husband, the king of Mangalore, who plotted against her, leading to her death and that of her twin daughters.









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