India's ancient fables dance into life in modern Dubai

School children in the UAE are dramatising Indian folk tales as part of an effort to preserve their heritage.

Indian pupils rehearse their routine for Puncha-a-tantra, a dance production with a contemporary twist on traditional stories. Jaime Puebla / The National
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DUBAI // Grandparents in India often tell children's stories from the Panchatantra, an ancient collection of animal fables that teaches compassion, perseverance and teamwork.

Bhakti Harish, a dance and drama teacher in Dubai, will this week bring the animal fables to life in an hour-long dance drama titled Puncha-a-tantra.

"The teachings from ancient times are relevant even today," said Ms Harish, who auditioned more than 100 schoolchildren from the ages of six to 16 for dance parts ranging from classical Indian to hip-hop and jazz dance.

"The Panchatantra provides basic concepts simple to apply in daily life. There are similarities between the Panchatantra and Aesop's Fables since these have been handed down over the ages. Different cultures learn values, and it becomes a part of them."

She chose five fables and added a contemporary twist so the teachings would not sound preachy.

"We've made it entertaining because the younger generation will get bored if we don't catch their attention," she said.

Indian scholars believe that the works of the Panchatantra were written down thousands of years ago by an Indian sage, but that the oral tales are much older than the text.

The story of the steady tortoise trumping the overconfident hare is among the fables. Another well-known story tells how a flock of doves outwits a hunter who tries to trap them.

"Telling a story can be boring, but kids will absorb this because it is colourful and fun," said an excited Bhavana Gollapudi, 12, who plays the hare. "I reread the Panchatantra stories after I was selected for the performance." Her sister Sadhana, 16, who plays a swan in another story, said the interpretation caught her interest.

"Parents keep talking about working hard and why it's important," Sadhana said. "It's not all about being slow and steady and winning. But this drama presents a different way of looking at things when we focus on how hard work pays."

Their mother Sarita recalls her grandfather regaling her with stories at dinnertime in India.

"Hearing a story makes you attached to the character. Watching is much more effective and it's 100 per cent better if you participate," she said.

"These theme-based morals are excellent for each and every child, their nationality doesn't matter."

The performances are scheduled for Thursday evening at the Sheikh Rashid Auditorium in Dubai and on Friday evening at Ductac, Dubai.

* Tickets are available at Time Out Tickets and the auditorium box offices, and at