With a tamboura in her hand and smile on her face, Teejan Bai prowls on the stage with innate confidence acquired in over five decades of singing and enacting the tales of Mahabharata in Pandvani style.

The Padma Bhushan awardee enthrals the audience in her rustic and fiery tone as she dwells into the details of the epic supported by her crew of musicians sitting behind her at the National School of Drama’s ongoing annual theatre festival Bharat Rang Mahotsav.

She is the most famous face of the art form that is traditionally dominated by male performers.

At NSD, Teejan greeted the audience saying she has been coming to Delhi since her childhood and will continue doing so till she has the strength to perform.

Slicing the air with her hand and tamboura, Teejan and her team of harmonium and tabla players narrated the whole episode about how Draupadi got her revenge in Mahabharat.

Recalling one of her first performances, Teejan said her first audience was a group of labourers at a primary school near her village and it’s head gave her Rs 10 as a reward as he was impressed with her voice and rendition.

Teejan’s community, the Pardhi tribe, had ostracised her from the community for singing Pandavani as she was a woman but now she gets many requests from people willing to train their daughters in the art form.

Born in 1956, in Durg Chhattisgarh, Teejan was introduced to the art of Pandavani singing by her maternal grandfather Brij Lal Pardhi.

She took formal training from Ummed Singh Deshmukh and gave her first performance at the age of 13. Her first trip overseas was to Paris in 1985.

She was awarded the Padmshree in 1988 and Padma Bhusan by the then President APJ Abdul Kalam in 2003.