‘Kiratham’ highlights the virtues of humility and devotion through a story of Arjuna’s encounter with Siva and Parvati.
Kiratham, composed by Irattakkulangara Rama Varier (1801-1845), is a popular Kathakali play. It is perhaps the most popular tale presented in Siva temples.
The play involves no technical complexity; avoids exhibition of valour or villainy by means of characters in the Kathi and red beard makeup. Piousness and virtuousness permeate through the play from its beginning to the end. Essentially it is the visualisation of the ultimate success of Arjuna, a sincere devotee who, passing through an array of bad experiences, realises the value of eschewing pride and arrogance, while being prepared to submit everything, including his life, at the altar of a noble cause and a well-defined goal pointed out by the sage Vyasa.
Kalamandalam Balasubrahmanian, Narippatta Narayanan Nambudiri and Mathoor Govindankutty essayed the roles of Arjuna, the hunter, and the huntress. All three veteran actors did justice to their roles in spite of the deplorably short duration of time they had at their disposal.
Arjuna proved to be the embodiment of devotion. Pointing to the hunter who was none other than Siva in disguise, Parvati, disguised as the huntress, tries her best to convince Arjuna that he was fighting against the inconquerable.
Arjuna, however, is not convinced. His determination to fight ‘barbarity’ at any cost and Siva’s decision in accepting His devotee’s challenge as an opportunity to engage Himself in His sublime play confusing, at times, even Parvati, the goddess of illusion, were portrayed dexterously by the actors.
As the performance had to come to a close in about an hour, there was little or no room for any improvisation. Seniors among the rasikas were reminded of the multifaceted perfection of yesteryear titans such as Kalamandalam Krishnan Nair, Mankulam Vishnu Namputhiri and Kutamalur Karunakaranan Nair who used to make ‘Kiratham’, a treat in itself, although, being the last story to be staged in a full-night performance, the slot this episode used to get was the wee hours of the day.
Palanad Divakaran, ably assisted by Meletam Narayanan Nambudiri, rendered the simple padams and quatrains, reviving memories of his illustrious preceptor Kalamandalam Unnikrishnakurup’s style that blended classical precision with rustic melodiousness, harmoniously. The orchestra was handled skillfully by Margi Venugopal (chenda) and Kalamandalam Venukkuttan (maddalam).
The performance was part of Drisyavedi’s programme for February.