Why Runs The Abhisarika


Melbourne Fringe Festival 2023 (Nominated in the category “WORDS AND IDEAS”)

Sydney Fringe Festival 2023

Adelaide Fringe Festival 2023, 2024 


Why Runs The Abhisarika (A picture recitation about the how, why, and when of running as a romantic pursuit.)
Duration: 55 mins. Language: English.

Picture recitation is the art of storytelling in verse while showing images on a visual prop, which are simultaneously mentioned in the oral narrative. Many forms of this art were performed in India but are now nearly extinct, partially suffering neglect during European colonisation. Western scholars writing about picture-recitation practices performed in villages tagged them as ‘folk art’ leading to its marginalisation and none of these practices have been included in the UNESCO List of Intangible Cultural Heritage for safeguarding. Moreover, picture-recitation cannot be learnt in any art school in India, the majority of which were also set up during colonial era in India. As a result, picture recitation is confined to small families of practitioners residing in villages, who are often forced to give up their practice for better economic prospects. Priyanka Jain’s performance has arisen from a practice-led PhD at RMIT University, Australia (2020-2022) on the topic of “Contemporising Picture-Recitation” to revive this artform and increase its appeal amongst artist practitioners.

The Abhisarika is one of the eight types of heroines mentioned in classical Sanskrit literature. Seven of the heroines wait for their lovers to come to them but the Abhisarika (not a passive character) runs out to meet her lover, sometimes even on dark stormy nights. Instead of narrating her love story, the performance ponders about her act of ignoring social conventions, running and risk-taking. This picture recitation explores the motifs of the Abhisarika’s iconography as found in various mediaeval Indian miniature paintings (such as snakes, trees, lightning etc.) and tries to interpret her psychosomatic landscape through the lenses of contemporary neuroscientific research especially related to the neurotransmitter Dopamine (about which we hear a lot these days). Just as in murder mysteries, the storyteller tries to investigate what was happening when the Abhisarika ran out of her house. Just as six blind men describe an elephant, each motif has its own answer as to why the Abhisarika runs which is elucidated in a song. The audience is invited to interact and choose the motifs one after another and decide the sequence of the performance.


(Compositing various elements from different miniature paintings for creating the set design on the performance)


With costumes, props, and backdrops illustrated profusely, and with speech and lyrics in the form of spoken-word poetry accompanied by the music of a Tanpura, let movements inspired by classical Indian dances entertain you for an hour while traversing a bridge between ancient literatures and the modern sciences.



Why Runs The Abhisarika premiered on January 14, 2023 in the proscenium space at Emami Art Kolkata Centre for Creativity in Kolkata, India. Photo credit: Tirtho Lahiri


At Parks Theatre in Adelaide during Adelaide Fringe Festival 2023. (Photo credit: Lieke Hoeften)


At Testing Grounds, an open-air public space in Melbourne.

Audience Reviews (from Australian Fringe festivals 2023)

Review: Melbourne Fringe Dance (Dance Australia)


An Indian heroine makes her Australian debut at the Adelaide Fringe (The Australia Today)

‘Why Runs The Abhisarika’ – blends Sanskrit literature with contemporary western science (SBS Hindi)

Priyanka Jain: reviving picture recitation traditions (IndianLink)

The Dopamine Effect (G’Day India)