Rao Kamala Kumari’s rendition was marked by clear narration, varying rhythm and subtle gestures.

The capacity audience at Ravindra Bharathi was a testimonial to the popularity of the artiste. In this case, veteran Harikatha exponent Rao Kamala Kumari enlightened the viewers with the story of ‘Prameela Arjuneeyam’ with her style of rendition. For one, the reach and richness of her tones could give any male Harikatha singer stiff competition; the strong, clear throated voice was not just narrating a story but was singing to the accompaniment of a violin and mridangam in absolute synch to sruti and laya. There was also a sprinkling of footwork to provide the impetus to a scene as it was being told. As such, Harikatha is an art which requires a full-throated voice and knowledge of music and dance, hence it is a full-fledged performing art that gives ample scope to the artist to showcase multi-dimensional skills. And Kamala Kumari set the benchmark.

Her opening verses met the challenge in today’s scenario (Kali kaalam) which has opened the floodgates of licentiousness across the globe which in turn reflected on the changing behavioural pattern of mankind. Hence such stories culled out of ancient history are needed more in the present day than any other times. So saying, she launched into the after-effects of Harikatha: it cures the mind of destructive thoughts and paves the way for eternal joy, amity and peace.

The fascinating manner in which the artiste narrated the sequence of events, lacing them with song and dance to kartaal and percussion, never once deviating, was commendable. Even before she began the actual story of queen Prameela and her exclusively women-whelming kingdom, Kamala Kumari gave us a glimpse into the underlying connotation of the saga. “We are all vested with three modes of vision: unmeela, nimeela and prameela netralu (eyes) which mean totally closed eyes where your mind conjures visions that the eye can see without opening the eyelids, nimeela, where semi-closed eyes concentrate on just what the mind would like to see and no further and finally prameela where the eyes are fully open to see the world as it is and be able to perceive just how illusory it is!” Beautiful expression and exposition indeed! With this the audience were treated to the story of Prameela, a woman-queen of unparalleled beauty, valour, wisdom and spirituality, a misogamist who ultimately weds Arjuna (Pandava hero). She is said to have ruled the region that is now Kerala (then Seemanthini Nagara) which sort of explains the matrilineal society still prevalent in Kerala.

The story begins where Dharmaraja (post-Mahabharata victory) is advised to hold ‘Ashwamedha Yagna’ (horse sacrifice) to re-establish the Pandava sovereignity. A white handsome horse is let loose across all the kingdoms and whoever holds the horse captive is considered to question the supremacy of the Pandava king and would therefore have to battle the king or his representative who is accompanying the horse. Queen Prameela does exactly this. Meanwhile, Arjuna’s ego, which had taken a beating at the Mahabharata war front with Krishna’s Gitopadesha (sermon), re-surfaces, questioning the need for Krishna’s presence in accompanying a mere horse! Kamala Kumari was able to explicitly bring out the human tendency to bloat with self-conceit at victory and challenge the Divine (Krishna) due to one’s own egoistic blindness. The ban on entry of any male into Prameela’s kingdom confounds Arjuna who is forced to humble himself and seek Krsishna’s intervention time and again till he wins the queen’s hand.

Interwoven with direct dialogue like maata lo peadarikama? (poverty in expression?) which is sung to footwork, nee keerthi vini darshimpa vacchitimi Keraladeeshwari is also a couplet in chaste Urdu that says ‘man humbles only on tripping and falling’. The change in rhythm from slow to steady, to fast tempo as the situation and narrative demands, was another excellent aspect of this Harikatha. The agility with which she displays various emotions in her voice and subtle gestures place her amongst the best of our Harikatha exponents. Kudos to Chaitanya Art Theatres for presenting such traditional arts with a superb artiste.