A three-day festival in Irinjalakuda paid homage to Kathakali vocalist Kalamandalam Unnikrishna Kurup.

A three-day programme at Unnayi Warrier Memorial Kalanilayam, Irinjalakuda, featured a Carnatic music recital and Kathakali performances.

A three-hour-long concert by K.N. Ranganatha Sarma showcased a repertoire that adhered to tradition. He was accompanied by Attukal Balasubrahmaniam, Nanjil Arul and Vazhappilly Krishnakumar on the violin, mridangam and ghatam, respectively. Sravan Narayanan provided vocal support.

Ranganatha Sarma took off with a varnam of Lalgudi G. Jayaraman in raga Valachi, set to Adi tala. Dikshitar’s ‘Vallabha nayakasya’, composed in Begada and rupakam, was the next, which was laced with madhyamakala sahithya and kalpanaswaras in the madhyasthayi.

Balasubrahmaniam took over the ending phrases of the swaras in his refrain. Sarma delved into a calm and composed Varali after the derivative of Sankarabharanam.

The chosen composition was ‘Bengaru Kamakshi nannu brovave’ in misra chapu, the tala in which the composer was very adept.

‘Parakelanannu paripalimpa murari sodhari,' a Syama Sastri kriti, exhibited the singer’s tryst with the libretto of the vaggeyakara. The composition was in Kedaragoula, set in Adi tala and it was preceded by a neat alapana. He went on for detailed elaboration of the upanga raga Dhanyasi. The violinist, who supported the singer perfectly, reproduced the exact phrases.

Tygaraja’s ‘Dhyaname varamaina ganga snaname’, soaked in devotion, set to two kala adi, had a niraval of precision at ‘Dharanu velayu sreeramuni’ in slow tempo. Balasubrahmaniam and Arul responded to it with off-beat strokes.

The pièce de résistance was a ragam tanam pallavi in ragamalika comprising Ramapriya, Shanmukhapriya and Rasikapriya. The pallavi carried the ragamudra – ‘Jayathu Sree Ramapriye Sive Shanmukhapriye sangeetha rasikapriye’. Set in a much complicated tala, Chaturarasrajathi ata, the rendition exhibited a traditional fervour in treating the lyrics with chaturasram, tisram and chataurasram in allegretto. Arul and Krishnakumar designed a reverberating tani that included awesome korvais and mohra.

Ranganatha Sarma wound up his session with a thillana of Lalgudi G. Jayaraman in Sivararanjani, set to Adi tala, and a viruttham in Surutti.

The concert was organised in association with Nadopasana, Irinjalakuda.

‘Nalacharitham Onnam Divasam’ and ‘Balivijayam’, penned by Unnayi Warrier and Kalloor Nambudiripad respectively, were the two Kathakali plays chosen for the third day. The morning session included seminars on stylisation of Kathakali music under the auspices of Kerala Kalamandalam Deemed University for Art and Culture.

Septuagenarian Sadanam Krishnankutty enacted the role of Nala in ‘Onnam Divasam’. Krishnankutty exemplified the character’s inner quest for the concept of love, a hero who questions himself, rather than standing for a singular virtue such as valour, righteousness or virtue, as had been done by several unidimensional heroes. The actor’s visualisation of ‘Harimandiram’ (abode of Lord Vishnu), which has been structuralised by Kalamandalam Gopi and the detailed enactment of ‘vipralambha sringaram’ at ‘Avaravar chollikettenavalthan gunaganangal’ of the vicharapadam (soliloquy) in raga Kalyani were noteworthy.

Kalanilayam Unnikrishnan and Kalamandalam Vinod who gave the musical accompaniment embellished the scenes with sustained delineation of the lyrics of this part at the swara, nishadha.

Kalamandalam Vaisakh excelled in the role of Narada. Narada seemed successful in evoking thoughts about Damayanthi, in Nala’s mind, which then drives him to ponder over how to make her love him, rather than just possess her.

Hamsa was enacted by Kalmandalam K.G. Vasudevan. He maintained emotional stability in all the padams.

Kottakkal Narayanan and Kalanilayam Rajeevan came up with awe-inspiring classical rendition of the chaste libretto, traversing through all the essential octaves of the ragas, with janda and dhaat prayogas.

Kalamandalam Rajasekharan as Damayanthi, Kalamandalam Vaisakh and Kalamandalam Anilkumar as maids of Damayanthi, who took over the stage in the next scene, were supported by Kalamandalam Subrahmanian and Pathiyoor Sankarankutty on the vocals. Percussion accompaniment was provided by Kalamandalam Raman Nambudiri and Kalamandalam Krishnadas (chenda), Kalamandalam Raj Narayanan, Kalanilayam Prakasan and Kottakkal Ravi (maddalam).

In the second play, Kalamandalam Balasubrahmanian was in the lead role of Ravana and Mathoor Govindankutty donned the role of Narada. As a custodian of the Kalluvazhi school, Balasubrahmanian set the pace for the entire play with a good start of Thiranokku to essay Ravana’s persona.

In the first scene, Ravana describes the beauty of his wife Mandodari with the padam ‘Aravindadalopanayane’ in raga Paadi.

Most Kathakali plays with the anti-hero as the protagonist commence with a pathinja sringara padam (romantic song in slow tempo) to display romance. Balasubrahmanian utilised the padam to come with an aesthetic portrayal of each word with his pristine mudras. Reacting to this padam is Mandodari’s ‘Pankthikanda mama mozhi kelkuka’. Kalamandalam Anilkumar dealt with this very well. This scene was musically and rhythmically enriched by Palanad Divakaran and Krishnakumar (vocal), Kalamandalam Raman Nambudiri (chenda) and Sadanam Bharatharajan (maddalam).

In the second scene, Narada appears and the play proceeds with Narada and Ravana. Mathoor Govindankutty as Narada elegantly enacted the character, especially during the ilakiyattams (improvised acting).

In ‘Kailasodharana’ (lifting of Mount Kailasa), Balasubrahmanian came out with an outstanding performance.

For ‘Parvathi viraha’, the actor has to adopt the method of pakarnattam (transformation to another character, more often, of the opposite gender by the same artiste on the stage). Here some of the hypothetical doubts of Parvathi are revealed, seeing Ganga on Siva’s head. Balasubrahmanian’s paarnattam was commendable.

Nelliyode Vasudevan Nambudiri donned the role of the valorous king Bali. He kept up the sthayibhava of the character (consistency in expressing the state of mind) right from the time the curtain went up on his act.

Earlier there were purappad by Kalamandalam Chinosh Balan and Kalamandalam Bajio; and melappadam by Kalamandalam Krishnadas and Sadanam Ramakrishnan on the chenda, and Kottakkal Ravi and Sadanam Bharatharajan on the maddalam, vocally backed up by Madambi Subrahmanian Nambudiri and Kalamandalam Babu Nambudiri.

It was the silver jubilee of commemoration of the legendary Kathakali musician Kalamandalam Unnikrishna Kurup. He was the only one who epitomised the genre with eclectic approaches. On October 9, 1987, Kurup performed his last at Guruvayur with the padam ‘Orunalum nirupitham’ from ‘Nalacharitham Randam Divasam’.