It was a rare Kathakali treat that Uthareeyam presented.

Watching Kathakali in an alien land is always amazing. It is all the more enticing if the performance is not further capsulated as it often happens outside Kerala. In this backdrop, the Kathakali performance arranged by the Chennai-based Uthareeyam at the Rukmini Arangam, Kalakshetra, on June 29 was a rare visual treat – quality performance from 2.45-10.30 p.m., showcasing Melappadam and the plays ‘Lavanasuravadam’ and ‘Balivijayam.’

Melappadam (melam stands for percussion and padam means the verse), rarely presented even at the art’s homeland, is an ensemble of the maddalam, chenda, gong and cymbals with vocal music that gives the percussion artists a good chance to exhibit their talent, in addition to their role as accompanists for the actors and musicians.

Eight verses of Jayadeva’s Gita Govinda, starting from ‘Manjutara kunjalata keli sadane…(‘Oh dear Radha, your face shining with conjugal bliss, go to Madhava and enjoy yourself in the beautiful grove of creepers) are sung in various ragas and a variety of applications of the talas chemba and chembata are played. Talented young artists, such as Sadanam Jithin and Kalamandalam Venu Mohan (chenda), Kalamandalam Hariharan and Sadanam Krishna Prasad (maddalam) and Kalamandalam Vinod and Sadanam Jyothish Babu (vocal), joined to do a praiseworthy job.

It was the late Guru Keezhpatam Kumaran Nair (1915-2007), literally the bard in Kathakali acting, who enhanced the subtle aesthetics of the play ‘Lavanasuravadham,’ authored by Palakkad Amrita Shastri (1815-1877). The play starts with a shattered Sita, deserted in the forest by her beloved who is none other than Lord Rama himself. Lava and Kusa are born and grow up in the asram of Valmiki. The boys capture the horse sent out by Rama as a prelude to Aswameda yaga and Hanuman arrives to free the animal. A tussle follows and Hanuman allows himself to be conquered and the boys take the “chatting monkey” (vachala vanaran) to their mother. Emotional scenes follow and finally Hanuman leaves with the horse.

The usual act is, on seeing the boys Hanuman throws a piece of branch he breaks from a tree, leading to the encounter. Keezhpadam’s disciple, Sadanam Balakrishnan’s Hanuman carefully watched the boys and went down memory lane about Rama and Lakshmana. His Rama bhakti opens his eyes to the identity of the boys on whom he showers flowers and leaves lest a branch should hurt them. Getting ready for the fight, the boys string their bows and Sadanam quite artistically synchronised it with the real thunder that suddenly shook the stage.

During the duel, to show their prowess in archery, the children send arrows down the earth and Hanuman puts his hand inside a hole to judge the depth. His fingers touch water, indicating Mother Earth’s tears of joy over her grandsons’ prowess.

The soliloquy ended only after sprinkling the holy water on the boys and all over his body. Equally supportive was Kusa and Lava, performed by Sadanam Bhasi and Sreenath.

The trio captivatingly performed ashtakalasham, a set of eight dance compositions in the tala chemba as a part of their combat. This fascinating visual treat was later adapted to Lavanasuravadham with some modifications by Keezhpadam. Its pace is 4, 3, 2, 1 ½, followed by its reverse 1 ½, 2, 3, 4. Equally amazing was the emotional encounter between Hanuman and Sita, performed by Vellinezhi Haridasan. The extreme temperature on the stage resulted in stopping the play for about 30 minutes as Sadanam Bhasi showed signs of dehydration. The act resumed with four fans on the stage and a Bhasi returning with fresh vigour.

The second and last play of the evening, Balivijayam, showcased the defeat of King Ravana, Bali being the victor. The significance of the play, authored by Kallur Namboodiripad (1776-1835), is Ravana’s interpretation of ‘Kailasodharanam’ (lifting of Mount Kailash) and ‘Parvathiviraham’ (separation of Parvathi) that won him the mighty sword Chandrahasa from Lord Siva. In Kottakkal Devadas’s version presented that evening, Ravana (donned fairly by Kottakkal Kesavan Kundalayar), goaded by Narada, narrates how he acquired Chandrahasa from Siva.

Young Kottakkal Hareeswaran played Bali. The Ashtakalasham that he performed with the verses ‘Satrukkalude…’ was neatly executed, giving the audience a unique experience of watching two distinct versions of Ashtakalasham. Sadanam Ramakrishnan and Sadanam Devadas respectively accompanied on the chenda and maddalam for the portrayals of seniors with Kalanilayam Rajeevan and Kalamandalam Hareesh and others for vocal support.

Keywords: kathakaliUthareeyam