Kalamandalam Balasubramanian’s majestic ‘Thapaassattam’ traced the evolution of Ravana in ‘Ravanolbhavam.’
The performance of ‘Ravanolbhavam’ commenced with the spectacular debut of Ravana, donned by Kalamandalam Balasubrahmanian. Catching all eyes, the demon king’s majestic face appeared, in excellent kurumkathi make-up, within the frame created by the colourful canopy (melappu), two ornamental hand-held fans (aalavattam) and the multi-coloured curtain cloth (thirasseela).
During the first three steps of the gradual and steady lowering of the thirasseela, the demon’s face brimmed with the sentiment of valour, which was displaced in the fourth and final step by his boundless arrogance. His body language continuously contributed to the unique grandeur of the scene – he placed his left foot on the stool at the outset, and, while sitting, rested his left leg on the right; he fanned with one of his several scapulars (uthariyam) in different stylised patterns; his body swung sideways, as if he was on the pinnacle of self-gratification. And above all, his intermittent roars varied in voice quality and loudness so as to suit the ambience, appropriately ensured by the scintillating percussion.
In an extra-long solo dance-acting (ilakiyattam), Ravana reminisced about his extraordinary feat of obtaining all the desired boons from Lord Brahma, namely, paramount power that provides supremacy over all the three worlds, top-flight fame and limitless wealth, all crowned by invincibility from any one other than a man (as he did not expect danger from any mortal).
The reason for his taking to penance for propitiating Brahma was explained in detail.
Ravana’s brothers, Kumbhakarna and Vibhishana had followed him to Gokarna, the place he chose for intensive penance. Standing on his right foot in the midst of a blazing fire and his eyes fixed on the sun Ravana prayed fiercely for thousands of years.
To receive the Lord’s first boon Ravana stretched both his hands and bowed most respectfully before Him. From that point onwards, his haughtiness increased steadily. The moment he received it, without any hesitation, he asked Him to clear off! Learning that the boons Kumbhakarna and Vibhishana received from Brahma were deep sleep and steadfast devotion to Lord Vishnu, respectively, Ravana pities them, scoffs at them and determines to fulfil his life’s goal fighting alone.
‘Thapasaattam’ (literally ‘penance dance-acting’) is a brilliant interlude of highly stylised solo dance-acting, appropriately infixed with supreme aesthetic beauty, in the choreography of ‘Ravanolbhavam’. It has come to be a formidable test of even veteran artistes’ dexterity and rigour.
Balasubramanian’s mastery of the tradition of Kalluvazhi, diligence in transformative role playing (pakarnattam) and emotional acting and, above all, his sustained stamina, stood him in good stead till the end of the three-hour performance, which was, in the opinion of one and all among the rasikas, superb.
The minor roles of Kumbhakarna and Vibhishana were enacted skillfully, with sparkles of humour by Margi Harivalsan and Kalamandalam Ullas, respectively. The music by the Margi team consisting of Kalamandalam Krishnankutty, Margi Nandakumar and Margi Mohanan was traditional but lacked in clarity.
The connoisseurs were in full appreciation of the excellence of the percussion handled by Margi Krishnadas, Margi Venugopal and Margi Krishnakumar on the chenda and Margi Raveendran, Margi Ratnakaran and Margi Rajeev on the maddalam. It contributed significantly to the aesthetic beauty and effectiveness of the performance. The rise of the rhythm from the first step of thriputa to its fourth step and its subsequent movement to chempada were astonishing.
The performance marked the grand finale of Margi’s Kutiyattam Kathakali festival in July.