Adventures in paradise
‘Kalakeyavadham’, which details Arjuna’s eventful trip to visit his father, Indra, in paradise, was well-presented by Margi, Thiruvananthapuram.
‘Kalakeyavadham’ (The Slaying of Kalakeya) is among the foremost of the dominant (chittapradhana) episodes in Kathakali repertoire. Literary critics often count it as the best among Kottayathu Thampuran’s compositions. It deals with the events that follow Arjuna receiving the Pasupata arrow as a boon from Siva. Through his charioteer Mathali, Indra, the King of gods, invites his son Arjuna to visit him in paradise.
Arjuna meets Indra and his consort Indrani and slays demons Vajraketu and Vajrabahu during their attempt to carry off divine damsels. Arjuna then rebuffs Urvasi’s advances and, in turn, the nymph curses him that he would turn into a eunuch. Indra consoles him, requests Urvashi to mitigate the curse and empowers his son. Arjuna finally kills the demons Nivathakavacha and Kalakeya, who often attack the gods.
The roles of Arjuna and Urvasi involve a number of challenges in acting and are, as a rule, assigned only to veteran artistes.
The text provides for a full night performance. But the story is never staged in full these days; nor is it popular among organisers of temple festivals or most Kathakali clubs.
The Kathakali department of Margi, Thiruvananthapuram, recently arranged a performance of the first three scenes of the play, with maestro Kalamandalam Balasubrahmanian donning the role of Arjuna.
Right from his first appearance above the half-raised curtain (araththirassila), till the concluding benediction (dhanasi), the preceptor-actor maintained the dignity of the character. Arjuna’s response to Mathali’s showering praises on him was befitting his nobility and valour, and self-gratification too in winning the hand of princess Draupadi.
Balasubrahmanian’s visual interpretation of the padam beginning with the phrase ‘Salajjoham’ (‘I am bashful’) was superb on account of an astonishing series of graceful postures and movements (chuzhippu), splendid synchronisation of the gestures with the orchestra and, above all, matchless mastery of emotional acting.
Margi Balasubramanian’s Mathali exuded vigour and dexterity throughout the play. Indra, presented by Kalamandalam Ullas, left nothing to be desired. Margi (Kalamandalam) Krishnadas and Margi Venugopal on the chenda and Margi Ratnakaran and Margi Ravindran on the maddalam were excellent throughout. Music by the Margi team (Krishnan Kutty, Nandakumar and Damu), though, sounded conventional.