Forgotten hero of Mahabharatam for Auckland in 2020

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The loyalty of Karna has neither been questioned nor emulated

Madurai R Muralidharan

After the global tour of my production ‘Silappatikaram’ in 2010, I was asked by performers, teachers and students from various parts of the world about my next production.

“Karna,” I replied.

It took me more than eight years of research and development to bring this production into existence. Meanwhile, I choreographed and presented several other mega-productions including a dance musical adaptation of Kalki’s ‘Sivagamiyin Sabatham’ and ‘Avathaara Purushan,’ based on Kamba Ramayanam.

Both productions were staged in Auckland respectively on June 28, 2014 and May 22, 2016 and reviewed in Indian Newslink July 1, 2014 and June 1, 2016 issues.

A long wait

In April 2018, I conducted the world premiere of ‘Karna’ in Chennai.

Since then, Karna has been staged 14 times in major cities across the world, with local artists in each city presenting my original script and original choreography to the specially- recorded soundtrack and backdrops from the Chennai production.

I hope to present Karna in New Zealand in 2020, with local artists and students.

Neglected Hero

I have been keen to bring the story of Karna for a long time since he is one of the neglected heroes of Mahabharatam.

He was a shining example of resilience and generosity.

A dance drama must not only tell a story but should also move the hearts of people.

What drew me to the story of Karna was the many relationships and internal conflicts that he experienced during his lifetime- those with which audiences can sympathise.

Karna was both the abandoned (eldest) son of Kunti and the beloved adopted son of Radha.

Karna was an ambitious archer who was willing to lie to his Guru to gain knowledge.

He was also a devoted disciple who confesses to lying to safeguard the comfort of the Guru Parasuraman, who was sleeping.

Karna was the foster-son of a charioteer and was ridiculed for his ambitions and a famously generous king.  He was a loving, respectful husband to Vrushali (according to another version, Subhangi) and yet a participant in the humiliation of Draupadi.

Paradoxical relationship

The biggest paradox of Karna’s life was his loyalty to Duryodhana. This loyalty is so admirable because of Karna’s gratitude for Duryodhana’s true friendship, and yet so mistaken because of Karna’s blind support Duryodhana’s dishonourable actions.

Real life is not black and white, and neither is the story of Karna.

I wanted the audience to feel how Karna suffered when he was taken misused, ill-used and abused by many people, including Lord Krishna, but how he persevered without ever giving up and finally won great fame for his valor and generosity.

Magnanimity personified

Karna never refused anyone who sought anything from him; he even gave his divine armor to Indra, and the merits of his good actions (Punniyam) moments before his death on the battlefield to Lord Krishna in disguise.

This is an important message to convey in this day and age where the culture of greed flourishes all over the world.

A production of this magnitude involves substantial time, efforts, monetary, human and other resources not only in my home base in Chennai but also in every city and centre where I have presented dance dramas supported by local teachers, students and other performers.

Mammoth efforts, resources

To bring my concept to life, I crafted a storyline and script incorporating my own dialogues and lyrics along with additional lyrics by Tamil Scholar Elanthai Ramasami.

I worked with several musicians to record the soundtrack for the production, including two hours of new music with layers of vocals and orchestration.

I put together animated backdrops to immerse the audience in the production.

Finally, as with all my creations, countless hours went in editing and directing to arrive at the final production that captured every nuance of the story that I wanted to relate.

The final production presented in Chennai was the basis of all the subsequent productions worldwide.

A Guru’s privilege is to share his knowledge, and an artiste’s privilege is to share his or her creations; I am proud to share my music, script, choreography and guidance with students worldwide and to share my creative output with audiences worldwide.

It is also a Guru’s desire to be honored by his students and an artiste’s due to receive credit for his work.

Madurai R Muralidharan is a Bharata Natyam dancer, teacher, choreographer, lyricist, composer and music director. He began his dancing career at the age of seven under Chamundeeswari Pani, who lives in England.

‘Madhura Geetham, ’a Special Publication of The Times of India, recognised him as a Stalwart of Indian Classical Dance and Music. He established ‘Nrithyakshethra Dance Academy in Chennai. In 1978 and since then has trained more than 800 dancers. He serves as on the Advisory Board of the Online Dance Degree Programme of Alagappa University based in Karaikudi, Tamil Nadu.


Photographs appearing here relate to ‘Karna,’ staged by Mr Muralidharan with the support of the Tamil Nadu Foundation and Shubanjali School of Performing Arts in New Jersey, USA on May 26, 2018 at Montgomery High School, New Jersey. The event was held to raise funds for ‘Kanavagam,’ a home for Orphaned Children in India. The roles of Karna and Krishna were played respectively by Madurai R Muralidharan and Subha Parmar, Principal and Director of Shubanjali School of Performing Arts.



  1. Karna (Madurai R Muralidharan) with Krishna (Suba Parmar, Director & Principal, Shubanjali School of Performing Arts, New Jersey, USA) on May 26, 2018
  2. Karna rejoices with the Kauravas after the defeat Pandavas in the game of dice
  3. Karna learns about his ‘real mother’ from Krishna
  4. Curtain Call: More than 100 local artistes were featured in Karna in New Jersey

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