The experience that 'Devayani Swayamvaram', presented as part of the ‘Remembering Rukmini Devi' show offered, was magical.
Guests at the Koothambalam, Kalakshetra, were welcomed by the vadyam (percussion) of the Kathakali musical ensemble – which provided an auspicious opening to the annual ‘Remembering Rukmini Devi' Festival. This year marked the illustrious founder's 106th birth anniversary.
‘Devayani Swayamvaram' in Kathakali was a thrilling three and a half hour journey that explored Kacha's visit to Asuraloka and his romance with Devayani, Sukracharya's daughter. Written by Thaalavana Govinda Asaan in Manipravalam, the play explored love, the sweetness of its blossoming and the sorrow of its loss, in a warm, humane way.
The perceptive portrayals gave life to the mythological characters and helped ‘read between the lines.' As Kacha (Sadanam Krishna Kutty) paid his respects to Sukracharya (Sadanam Balakrishnan), there was an embarrassed batting of the eyelids; Kacha had not told the Guru the whole truth -- that he had been sent there by the Devas to learn the Sanjeevani Vidya, the mantra that brought life to the dead.
Such details are not in the narrative, and that's what Kathakali does -- takes you beyond the obvious.
A segment that highlighted the sanctity of the ashram through a ‘Sikhani Salabam' or a sloka attam describing the butterflies that fall into the fire, the yaga gunda, was one of the most special. The butterflies in question do not perish but come out brighter and stronger than before!
There were also depictions of strange animal-friendships in the ashram such as the maternal tigress and the young deer, the snake shielding the pregnant mongoose and the lioness with a baby elephant, that Kacha brought to life brilliantly within a small two feet by two feet space.
There was humour in the tale as well. When Devayani (K.G.Vasudevan Nair) first sees Kacha, she is so taken in that she drops the flowers she is holding in true theatrical style...
She is eager to declare her love for Kacha but he is wary of an involvement. He decides to keep her at arm's length at any cost and how he goes about it formed the most entertaining segment.
The involved musicians added much value to the performance. The full-throated singing in Carnatic ragas (Nedumpally Ram Mohan, Sadanam Jyothish Babu) was rich with gamakas and elongated notes that filled the air with melody.
The percussionists (Kurur Vasudevan Namboodri -- chenda, Kalamandalam Achuthan Warriar -- maddalam) enhanced every movement from turning the pages of the palm-leaf manuscript to the women in the ashram watering plants to the tune of the veena with notes in different octaves.
In the final parting scene, Kacha tries to humour Devayani by recollecting their past escapades while gently telling her that on principle they are now siblings from the same womb. It was such a poignant moment -- heart-rending at one level and clownish on the other; it summed up the magic of this exaggerated-theatre experience.