The Princess 👑 and The Odissi Dancers

The gorgeous and talented Desiree Bashi created this beautiful image and prompted me to try and write the story behind it. I hope you like it 🙏🏽

Princess Madhvi – it’s such a wonderful name, isn’t it. So pretty and graceful. You will probably be imagining a beautiful Indian princess dressed in an ornate extravagant jewelled gown. Perhaps in pink or blue or emerald green. Ok, so she was really very pretty; well actually the prettiest in the land! I know that’s such a predictable start to a story but I don’t want to lie to you all.

But that’s where the good stuff ends. I’m sorry to disappoint…but in reality she was a nightmare child! Well when I say a child she was actually 17!! And her 18th birthday was fast approaching.

Madhvi’s parents were very generous with their time and love for their people. Everyone seemed to live happily in this enchanted idyllic land. The only time that they weren’t smiling and dancing was when they came anywhere near Madhvi.

She could do everything and did it well; she could paint, she could ride, she could sing, she could run fast, she could write well. In fact, all the other children were in awe of her but no one really wanted to be her friend because she never seemed happy and if she wasn’t happy she made sure those around her were miserable. She just couldn’t help it.

No one could understand why she was not content with her life and all the pleasures that came with being a princess. I know you’re all rolling your eyes wondering what is wrong with this young woman. So let me tell you: Madhvi just couldn’t dance! No rhythm at all. Could not coordinate arms and legs, looked like a broken puppet. Not a big deal is it, you’re thinking. But if you’re a princess, you are expected to dance and be graceful and be twirled around by handsome princes at grand balls. And when does that start? You’ve guessed it! At her 18th birthday party. Like all princesses she would need to find a prince. Sorry to be peddling stereotypes.

It had been two years of planning by the king, queen and numerous minions up and down the land getting the best of everything. In the meantime in a private room somewhere in the palace Madhvi was watching different dancers and after each performance she would, with their encouragement, join them. What can I say?! it was a disaster. They would politely reassure her that this wasn’t her dance but the next one surely would be just her “thing”. Well let me tell you, that never happened and Madhvi became more irritable and, in addition, very sad. She even stopped looking beautiful.

At this point I think we need some magic to help out our princess. No fairies or magic slippers or even unicorns but a fish! And a tiny fish at that. No, I don’t know her name. But for the sake of this story let’s call her Payal.

Payal’s job was to bring the last remaining form of dance that the princes had not seen or tried to the court, Odissi. It was a dance that came from a distant land and had been made famous by Parvati, Sheeba and Desiree. When the dancers heard of the princess’s plight, they wanted to help. The three dancers set sail in a round boat that had no sail. Although very frightened they knew they would be fine as Payal appeared ahead of them and sparkled, set the route and seemed to pull them along…

The friends were at sea for many weeks but in our story it was just a few days. Delicious fruits, cheeses, bread and fresh water appeared during the night. The girls ate, drank, sang and enjoyed their time at sea. But they were starting to miss their dancing and were worried they would disappoint the king and queen. They were very proud of their Odissi dance and spent many hours practicing and preparing their vibrant costumes and jewellery. They were always immaculate and prepared. Professionals, you might say.

Payal shone and shimmered. She would swim ahead, dart back and then swim around the boat. She would smile at the girls and they would wave back enthusiastically. On day eight the dancers awoke to see that Payal was no longer in sight and their boat was now amongst others all in a row, but theirs was the only small round one!! And the only one without sails. Not a particularly cool way to arrive to a new country, they thought. They whispered amongst each other as to what they should do next. Both Desiree and Sheeba looked towards Parvati for some guidance; after all, she was the oldest and wisest. They loved and respected her.

Parvati stepped out of the boat and helped her friends out. As they stepped forward they noticed a tall beautiful woman with long flowing black hair wearing with a long silver dress. She had a very familiar smile and as they stared at her she gave them a wink. Good grief, they thought! And all of a sudden there were crowds around them creating a path behind the woman. Parvati encouraged the other two to follow…what else could they do? Payal had disappeared and their boat was trapped between these fancy ships.

You’ve guessed it! They were soon at the palace gates which were adorned with flowers and jewels. They had never seen anything so special and beautiful (I know this word is being overused but there is no other way of saying it). I really wish you could see it. The tall woman with no name knocked ever so gently that the three friends wondered who would actually hear them. However within seconds the gates swung open and they carried on in. It was your typical palace but there seemed to be an abundance of beautiful flowers, many of which the dancers had never seen before.

Once in the dance room Parvati, Sheeba and Desiree were left all alone, oh except for the musicians who sat at one end. It had been a long time since they had been in such a wonderful space that the friends started working together and danced. All were moving to the music and telling stories of the Gods, watching each other, switching places and continuing the dance. They did not notice the three people spying on them from above; all were entranced and smiling at each other with knowing and approving looks.

Guess who the three were ? The King. The Queen. The third one was the tall beautiful woman named Payal – I am sure you’ve all guessed this already. She was not your normal fairy godmother!

The plan was made. Madhvi would be initially allowed to watch the three Odissi dancers and would slowly, under Parvati’s tutelage, begin learning the basics. Over the weeks and months, Madhvi seemed to develop an aura about her. She looked even more radiant and beautiful but now she also spoke sweetly and was kind and generous – a younger version of the Queen herself.

And the other extraordinary revelation I have for you is that she was a natural and gifted Odissi dancer. I would never have guessed that part. The three soon became four. They would perform for the court and anyone else amongst the fragrant gardens. And from Odissi Madhvi learnt the connection between her body and music; she was graceful and captivating.

The eighteenth birthday celebrations were approaching and Madhvi had learnt all the rules for the day – they were endless! How to dress. How to address people. How to receive the Princes and their gifts. When to sit and stand at the party (she did wonder if this was really what a party was). With whom she could and should dance. What a bore this was going to be, she thought, and felt ashamed about feeling ungrateful. She really had changed.

The night of the party arrived. The three dancers put on a special show for Madhvi. The princess was watching intently but she longed to be with them. She mingled gracefully amongst the guests as planned. Then it was time for her to receive the good wishes and possible marriage proposals from the Princes arriving from far off lands. This seemed to take forever and she was getting visibly bored. The king was looking at his daughter encouraging her to smile. She could not. There was not one handsome man amongst this lot. I just wanted to clear up that no handsome prince was about to sweep her off! And anyway that’s not what she was unhappy about. She was sad that the dancers were leaving that evening. They had admirably completed their task and had come to love Madhvi in the process.

All of a sudden there was a gasp, then ‘oh my’s, followed by some claps. The line of Princes stood speechless and could only watch as Madhvi shouted, “I’m too young to worry about this and anyway I am going to take a gap year for dancing”. Didn’t I say she was also very bright and had a place at university? Princesses do normal things, too!

She ran bare feet alongside the sea in her ridiculously heavy embroidered and jewelled gown gown and hoped that her new friends and teachers were still there. They were waiting for her. The four friends, that included Madhvi now, ate, drank water (no alcohol as it’s a children’s story), slept and talked of nothing but their beloved Odissi and where they would dance next.

Payal sparkled and shone and was now guiding four friends across the ocean. For a tiny fish she never seemed to tire….and knew exactly where she was taking them.

To be continued I am sure …..

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