Kalamandalam Ramachakyar as Soorpanakha displayed his mastery during a staging of ‘Soorpanakhankam’ Koodiyattom.
With nails (nakha) that resembled winnowing baskets (soorpa), Ravana’s only sister Soorpanakha was the embodiment of ugliness; one that matched the foolishness of her husband, Vidyujjihva, who was erroneously beheaded by Ravana himself in a battle. Soorpanakha was affectionately compensated with freedom to choose any man she desired as her next husband. Accordingly she was roaming through the beautiful Panchavati region when her eyes fell on Rama, the handsome prince, dressed as an ascetic. Her assuming the form of a charming damsel (technically referred to as Lalitha) and accosting him, her being disgracefully rejected by both Rama and Lakshmana in the presence of Sita and the mutilation she had to suffer… are all well-known.
The second act of Sakthibhadra’s famous Sanskrit play ‘Ascharyachoodamani’ (‘The Wondrous Crest Jewel’) deals with this episode and is popular in Koodiyattom parlance as ‘Soorpanakhankam’. Rasikas in Thiruvananthapuram were treated to the play under the joint auspices of the Sangeet Natak Akademi’s Kutiyattam Kendra and the University of Kerala’s International Centre for Kerala Studies.
Veteran preceptor-actor Kalamandalam Ramachakyar led a team of more than 12 artistes trained mostly in the Kalamandalam style. The guru himself donned the role of the female demon. Soorpanakha’s nirvahanam or self-introduction employing spoken word (vaachikam) in Malayalam Prakrit brought out vividly the multi-dimensionality of the character. Ramachakyar’s presentation of the maimed demon, in the so-called ninam costume, was awe-inspiring. Profusely bathed in a blood-like mixture of lime and turmeric, loudly wailing and duly assisted by several torch-bearing stage attendants, he brought before the connoisseurs the highest mark of the sentiment of terror (bhayaanaka rasa).
Sangeeth Chakyar (Sree Raman), Vijitha (Sita), Prasanthi (Lalitha) and Jishnu Prathap (Lakshmanan) were careful in leaving nothing to be desired. Prasanthi’s presentation, one after the other, of Lalitha’s desire for Rama, her boundless anger towards Sita and her fathomless pity for herself was a manifestation of her quality training in emotional (saathvika) acting.
Accompanists Ravikumar, Vinish and Sachith Vijayan on the mizhavu, Aiswarya on the cymbals and Kalanilayam Rajan on the edakka contributed significantly to the flawless performance. Make-up was by Kalanilayam Sankaranarayanan.