Despite little opportunity for improvisation, many of the lead artistes in a staging of ‘Kirmiravadham’ infused freshness into their performances.
In the opening scene of Kottayathu Thampuran’s ‘Kirmiravadham’ (The Slaying of Kirmira), Dharmaputra, the eldest Pandava, appears with his right palm facing downwards, aligned with his chest, while his left hand holds Panchali’s right one. Meanwhile, Panchali’s other hand, maintaining mudraakhya gesture, holds firm her head-cover.
From the back of the stage, they move centre stage in slow kita-thaka-dheem-thaam. Lines of worry are visible on their foreheads as they navigate the dusty trails of the barren forest; their faces exuding suffering, enhanced by pathos (karunam), which dominates the scene.
After gazing at Panchali from her feet up to her head, Dharmaputra says: “What a pity! My mind wavers like a swing. Oh my beloved, soft-spoken, young wife, who symbolises the fruition of King Drupada’s virtuous deeds! You are accustomed to enjoying love play on a comfortable bed, strewn with sweet-scented flowers in your gem-studded palace. How can you now live in this rough forest?”
Panchali’s response is that she can withstand any hardship but the sufferings of the thousands of Brahmins, including children as well as the aged, who accompany them, are unbearable.
Kalamandalam Balasubramanian and Kalamandalam Vijayakumar donned the challenging roles of Dharmaputra and Panchali, respectively. Dharmaputra of ‘Kirmiravadham’ is one of the most convention-bound roles in the Kathakali repertoire, made famous by maestros such as the legendary Pattikkamthodi Ravunni Menon and Kalamandalam Krishnan Nair.
Balasubramanian’s presentation was superb in all the relevant aspects of acting, namely, nuances of stylisation firmly founded in classical conventions, dance-interludes or kalaasams involving an array of graceful movements and postures, and, above all, perfect synchronisation of hand-gestures and even eye movements and breathing with rhythm, orchestral accompaniment and singing.
The excellence of Vijayakumar’s make-up and costumes were indicative of Panchali’s status as the queen, while his dexterous acting made the character the embodiment of pathos.
The next scene shows Dharmaputra seeking Sage Dhaumya’s advice to tackle the challenge of feeding the numerous. Following the preceptor’s suggestion, he propitiates the sun god, who gifts him the ‘Akshaya paatra’, a magic vessel that would provide unlimited quantity of food till Panchali finishes her meal. Dharmaputra entrusts the divine vessel to Panchali.
Subsequently, signifying Lord Krishna’s imminent visit, the sound of his sacred conch, Paanchajanya, reverberates. Responding instantaneously to Dharmaputra’s doubt as to whether he is not ashamed to see his near kin’s miserable plight, Krishna summons the Sudarsana Chakra to annihilate the Kauravas, who brought about all the miseries on the Pandavas.
But on seeing the auspicious Sudarsanam, Dharmaputra’s bitterness toward his cousins vanishes and he begs Krishna to withhold the weapon. Krishna appreciates the peace-loving nature of Dharmaputra and directs the Sudarsanam to calm down, incidentally indicating that the purpose of invoking his weapon was mainly to bestow on the noble and soft hearted king the power of balanced vision (su-darsanam).
The performance came to a close, as usual, on a note of solace. The final benedictory dance was by Kottakkal Ravikumar who essayed the role of Krishna. Madhu Varanasi and RLV Pramod performed the roles of Dhaumya and Surya, respectively.
In presenting Sudarsana Chakra, Chathannoor Kochunarayana Pillai had to face the unprecedented challenge of ensuring the stage-effect, with the help of hefty foot-work and loud roars only, in the context of recent ‘prohibition’ against the use of two hand-held burning torches, which were traditionally its most distinctive feature.
Handling the music in ‘Kirmiravadham’ is also an exacting task. But to the master singer Kottakkal Narayanan, it appeared absolutely effortless.
The percussion by Kalamandalam Krishnadas (chenda) and Margi Ravindran (maddalam) was impeccable. The valamtala melam (percussion employing the right or under surface only) proved singularly effective in sublimating the atmosphere throughout the scenes wherein Dhaumya or Surya was on the stage.
Within the limits of the valamtala, Krishnadas skilfully followed the kinaesthetic and thoughts of the lead chracters. Altogether, for the rasikas in the capital it was a rare treat of four select scenes of a Kathakali play.
The performance was organised by Drisyavedi.