‘Kalakeyavadham’ Kathakali staged in Thrissur was a test of the technical and aesthetic skills of actors and musicians.

As a visionary in the kalari and on stage, Kalamandalam Padmanabhan Nair was a doyen of Kathakali who injected the notion of beauty in ‘cholliyattam’ into his disciples’ histrionics. On the sidelines of an event in commemoration of the maestro in Thrissur, an excerpt from Kottayam Thampuran’s ‘Kalakeyavadham’ (The killing of Kalakeya) was staged. Based on the Vana Parva of the Mahabharatha, Kottayam Thampuran’s four plays give much scope for actors in terms of meticulous characterisation and emotional diversities.

While Dharmaputhra and Bheema are cast as protagonists in three plays, in ‘Kalakeyavadham’, it is Arjuna. The play is anchored on the sthayi rasa veera (valour) of Arjuna in the first half and the sringara rasa of Urvasi in the second. The characters of Arjuna and Urvasi in this play were donned by Kalamandalam Saseendran and Kalamandalam (Kudamaloor) Haridas, respectively. Kalamandalam Arun Warrier handled the roles of Indrani and Sakhi (Urvasi’s maid).

Shortly after Arjuna had obtained the divine arrow ‘Pasupata’ from Siva, Indra directs his charioteer Matali to invite his son Arjuna to visit him in Devaloka. The performance commenced with the fourth scene when Arjuna meets Indrani, queen of Devaloka to pay his respects to her. After Indrani’s exit, there is a long passage of solo acting called ‘svargavarnana’ in which Arjuna describes the beauty of heaven. Though Saseendran’s facial expressions were laudable, his foray into segments of ‘ashtakalasam’ (a series of dance compositions in chemba tala) at ‘Sugrithakalil munpanayi’ of the padam ‘Vijayanaham itha kaithozhunnen Devi’, and ‘svargavarnana’ was vigorous; so much so that it lacked grace and poetry. The slightly accelerated tempo could also be the reason.

In the next scene Urvasi, a heavenly beauty, falls for Arjuna. She asks her friend how she can obtain her desire. The padam, ‘Pandavante roopam’ was enacted with a commendable potential for its lyrical sobriety. As per the counsel of her friend, Urvasi approaches Arjuna and tells him of her passion for him in the padam ‘Smarasayakadhoonam paripalayainam’. But Arjuna hesitates to accept her. An enraged Urvasi inflicts a curse on him that he would become a eunuch. Haridas depicted the terrible melancholy of unrequited love with élan. Arun Warrier too did justice to the roles of Indrani and Sakhi.

Kalamandalam Narayanan Namboodiri and Nedumpilly Rammohan on the vocals bolstered the performance with good accents and involvement in the raga bhavas. The purity of Namboodiri’s gamaka-laden rendition, especially for Sankarabharanam, enhanced the beauty of the padams. Rammohan, with his penchant for classicism, closely obliged Namboodiri’s occasional range dynamics. Kalamandalam Vijayakrishnan on the chenda and Kalamandalam Aneesh on the maddalam stood equally good on the percussion side. The event was organised by Kalamandalam Padmanabhan Nair Smaraka Trust, Shoranur.